WiLATA Responses

What Do Our Staff and Faculty Think About WiLATA?

Name: Dave Hagman
Position: Director of Northern Lights Community School

The WiLATA project has improved the writing skills of our students—it has given our staff a common language and understanding and I think it will grow to be an integral part of what we do with students here at Northern Lights Community School. I was surprised by the commitment of the students; they have accepted it as part of NLCS life. I am intrigued with the idea of a similar approach to math and reading instruction at NLCS. Writing anything takes time, but the skill has many applications and purposes—the modeling of the expectations is imperative. Can we replicate the data in other settings and programs

When Sally and I taught in British schools in Liverpool, England in 1983-84, one of our lasting impressions was that British teachers took the time to teach their students how to write. Their students learned how to organize their thoughts in a written form, and this effort paid off in the thinking and speaking skills for their students. Our WiLATA efforts have the potential to do the same thing with our students here at NLCS. 



Name: Benita Hassell
Position: Project Manager

The most important thing I learned from the WiLATA project was that everyone is able to do it. The principles of WiLATA can be taught wherever you are in your writing skills. I was really surprised at how easy it was to use; I was able to teach my students how to write, and I even improved my own writing skills. As I watched the students write, it was fun seeing the effort they put into their writing, and they gained the freedom to ask for help as needed. The principles were easy to understand.

Relating the WiLATA principles to a burger was creative and made it fun for the students. They could relate the parts of the burger to the parts of a paragraph, essay, or whatever they are writing. I really benefited from the project because my skills have improved, and I am able to use them in my classes, work, or personal writings. This project would benefit anyone who wants or needs to write for any reason, and I would recommend WiLATA to anyone.



Name: Donna Hanson
Position: Advisor, PE Teacher

The most important thing I have learned from the WiLATA project is that given the correct tools and teachers, anyone can improve their writing. By teaching the burger analogy, students are able to have a visual and know what is expected. I never would have imagined everyone in my advisory getting to a 6/5/5, nor did I think they would stick with it this long.

Pat has actually taught the process of writing- something not one teacher in my career has done in my 17 years of education.  This was one of the largest benefits of WiLATA because now I can actually write!  I have been given the tools and encouragement to write my personal biography. I have already written, edited, and created 50+ pages of my book.  

If I could give advice to teachers just starting out with WiLATA, I would start by saying “Believe!” I would also tell them to set their expectations high and watch students succeed at something they would have never dreamed possible!  

Keep it up to continue developing the WiLATA project.  Students have no idea how much they can do until you give them the opportunity. Become a guide on the side after you go through the teaching process of WiLATA.  Students actually understand and want to do a good job!  

Before WiLATA, students would just turn it in and get a grade- now, they want you to grade it so they can quickly make corrections to get the best possible essay.



Name: Christopher Morque
Position: Project Manager

We first heard about WiLATA at summer staff meetings. Most of the staff was very skeptical at first. We were being told we were going to totally revamp our writing curriculum, and had only a few days to prepare. However, once the staff bought in and we were all on the same page, we just ran with it. When you see where the students started and how far they’ve come, you can easily see how WiLATA has improved the writing in this entire school. If a class or school is looking for a new direction in writing, take a look at what WiLATA can do for your students and staff.


Name: Don Vidal
Position: Project Manager/Music Teacher

One of the main benefits I found using WiLATA is that there is an approachable way to teach writing to students. I believe one of the key points that make WiLATA an approachable tool to teach writing is having a set of rules or guidelines to use. These guidelines are not only useful when correcting student’s papers, but also for teaching them how to write papers. Another tool I found useful when teaching students how to write was Pat Mathias’ example of a burger with the works. This visualization of how a paragraph is constructed really helped bring home to the students and teachers alike how to construct a paragraph. In conclusion, I feel very lucky to be a part of this project and I would urge other educators to keep an open and progressive mind and give WiLATA a chance.


Name: Ellen Coffel
Position: Cook

The WiLATA project is all the buzz around the school. Being the school cook, I don’t see the paragraphs or essays the students are writing or the progress they are making. What I see is the reward the kids earn at the end of the program. The mountain of hamburgers with all the fixings was quite impressive. It tells me they have made tremendous strides in their writing skills. The lessons they are learning now will be important throughout their lives. WAY TO GO KIDS!


Name: Henry Chung
Position: Information Technology Guru

The process of going through learning the WiLATA project equips the learner for life—in becoming a better researcher, thinker, and writer.


Name: Jill Hawk
Position: Project Manager

The WiLATA Project has been a fabulous project for students and teachers. I think students have realized the importance of learning and knowing the structure for different kinds of writing. I have become a better writer myself—I love that! My word of advice is “Go for it, everything good follows.”


Name: Julie Seldon
Position: Advisor

Our ‘WiLATA at NLCS’ journey has been an interesting ride. I am a lover of extreme rides, so WiLATA has been very welcome! When we first gathered and the idea was proposed that the entire school would engage in a writing project, I was skeptical. In the past, it has been hard to get an entire advisory (let alone the entire school) on the same page. But when I learned about how WiLATA redefines Bloom’s taxonomy, I was anxious to try it. I was astonished how easily everyone bought into it the very first day of school when we asked students to write a paragraph. The students were willing learners when they were taught about the scoring system and given a clear goal. For one of the first times in my teaching career, all the students had a clear vision of the exact same goal AND they felt empowered to achieve the goal. Our WiLATA experiment has surpassed my expectations. The students have not only learned to become better writers, but they have spent a significant amount of time thinking about thinking! What more can educators ask for?


Name: K. Christel Rowe
Position: Project Manager

WiLATA is a direct, efficient, understandable way to systematically teach academic writing skills. It is an adaptable method for organizing and evaluating school projects, also. WiLATA is very helpful for teachers that may be inexperienced or out of practice at teaching writing. It is not difficult to pick up the WiLATA concepts in a day-and-a-half workshop.  

It was amazing to see how students at all skill levels were able to improve their writing skills in such a short period of time. Students, who in the past were unwilling to go through the revisions process, became willing and often anxious to improve their rough drafts.  This made teaching writing a much more enjoyable process. Having a few prompts to choose from tended to be effective in pulling students in.  It is important to have variety in topic areas to engage a variety of student interests.  

One key element of the success of this WiLATA project was having an expert mentor to assist with the questions, prompts, and correcting. A good resource person eliminates frustration and enables the learning process for both the staff and students to run smoothly.





Name: Karen Fleming
Position: Project Manager

The WiLATA project is a program that has benefited our entire school, including students and staff. Our students and staff have learned so much about quality writing and editing. The majority of our students came to us as non-writers. With WiLATA, quality writing has become important to them. The amount of writing that is happening in all grade levels in our school is so amazing. Even more amazing is how willing the students are to edit their writing as many times as it takes to reach a quality level. One of the best pieces to the program is how it gave our entire school a common language about writing and editing. It doesn’t matter what class you walk into, everyone understands the language of writing. I think the most surprising aspect of the program was the amount of buy-in throughout the program. All of our staff, including administration, teachers, and support staff, has put 100% into teaching writing using the WiLATA Program. My advice for teachers just beginning to use this program is to be patient, but keep the bar of expectation high. Our students taught us that if you set the bar high, they will meet the expectations.


Name: Kraig Dibb
Position: Art Director

One of the most important things I’ve learned from the WiLATA project is that the students can achieve when they take ownership in the project. I was very surprised how fast this project showed growth in writing skills. A particular benefit I gained is watching how the data demonstrates accountability and progress. A piece of advice I have to give is that all of the staff members have to take ownership and commitment in the project. One thing we did really well is promoted the project with rewards and congratulation. The youth looked forward to these prizes, so I think it would be beneficial to keep the reward portion of the WiLATA project.


Name: Lori Hamm
Position: AmeriCorps Promise Fellow

The things I learned from the WiLATA project are that anyone can learn how to write and use this project—it benefits all levels of learning, and you learn how to be a better writer yourself. The reason I feel that anyone can learn how to write or teach the WiLATA project is that I have seen the progress from the students that couldn’t even write a sentence to the student who spread their wings and write a great paragraph. Having it a school wide project helped make this happen. This leads me into how it benefits all levels of learning. As mentioned before, we had students who wouldn’t write because they were never inspired or encouraged to write, that now can write that paragraph. We also had teachers and staff that felt they weren’t good writers, and after teaching and helping with the project felt better about their writing. I would be in this group. I am an AmeriCorps Promise Fellow at the school who hasn’t written in years. I was hesitant at first, because I didn’t know if I could do this. The training and teacher’s encouragement helped me get over my fear of writing and now I know I can do this. As you can see, there are a lot of benefits from this project and these are the reasons I feel that the WiLATA project would benefit any school.


Name: Mary Glasnapp
Position: Special Education Teacher

The WiLATA project is a great example of what can be accomplished if you just set your mind to something and the amazing power you can have as a unified group. The students and staff at NLCS set their minds on improving student-writing skills and they worked together to make it happen.

The writing skills of the majority of students at NLCS were so low that they interfered with the school’s project-based learning emphasis. Many students did not have the writing skills they needed to demonstrate and share the learning that was happening through their projects. In fact, the student population in general did not possess the writing skills they needed to even function successfully in life. Nor did they have the desire, the motivation, or confidence to improve their writing skills. The staff at NLCS realized this problem, and together they made a huge commitment to turn it around. With the intent of starting with a goal that was important yet obtainable by all, the first goal set for the WiLATA project was for every student to have the ability to write a quality paragraph. Once staff determined that every student needed, at the bare minimum, to be able to write a quality paragraph and were willing to do whatever it took to make that happen, change and student success were inevitable.  

All students and staff at NLCS began the school year with the same paragraph-writing goal, and success for all was built right into the goal. With so many individuals working toward the same goal, there was plenty of support and energy to keep the project moving forward. Everyone involved in the project soon understood where the bar was and that there was someone in the building who would help him or her reach it. Failing to make the bar was not an option, nor was not participating. The cool thing that happened is that when one goal was achieved, another one was brought to the table. There was a writing momentum in the building that we weren’t willing to lose and the bar just kept getting raised. Someone was always thinking forward and asking “What next?” Many positive surprises unfolded as a function of the WiLATA project.

The thing that surprised me most with the WiLATA project was the positive, committed support of the entire staff. This was a huge undertaking as staff members were being asked to be experts in an area that was outside of their teaching area for an entire school year. This is something that can only happen when there is deep commitment and dedication to students. There is no doubt in my mind, that students sensed the commitment of the staff and that this was a huge contributing factor in the engagement of the students and the success of the project. Teacher commitment spoke loud and clear: NLCS staff “believed” the bar being set was obtainable by everyone.  

The advice I would give to teachers who are just starting to use WiLATA is this: jump into this project with your heart and soul; communicate and work together as a staff team, and make adjustments to meet your needs; be patient and be content with baby steps; be flexible with staff and students who need more time and support; share and celebrate successes.  

WiLATA helped NLCS staff promote success and change in student writing because it required a clearly set goal and it provided a common language for reporting and discussing progress. However, I believe it was the commitment that NLCS staff made to the success of each individual student that made WiLATA shine. WiLATA is, after-all, only a tool. The power and success of an educational tool lies in the hands of the teachers and students that put it to use. For the students and staff at NLCS, the WiLATA project is an example of what we can do when we set our minds to something and work together.


Name: Matt Peterson
Position: Para Professional

One of the most important things I learned from the WiLATA project is that writing can actually be fun! I was also surprised how the students progressed into exceptional writers in only a short period of time. There are many benefits to WiLATA. For me personally, I’ve gained confidence in my writing, and academically I gained the means to do it. If I could give advice to teachers who are just starting to use WiLATA, I would say “Go for it!” One recommendation I have for the project is to have a larger variety of WiLATA subjects.


Name: Megan Kemper
Position: Advisor

The most important thing I’ve learned and the greatest benefit I’ve gained from the WiLATA project is that I have learned how to actually teach writing. Yes, I do have a communication arts and literature teaching degree, but I was never taught how to teach writing. In my college classes, we wrote papers, journals, observations, and notes until our hands were numb, but we were never told or shown how to get students to write structured papers. For me, writing is enlightening, it helps me think, it is something I am often compelled to do, and it is fun. At the same time, the writing process has always been kind of mysterious to me. When I write, I write—that’s all. The WiLATA project has taken the mystery out of the writing process for me and made it much more structured. It’s easier to pass this structure onto students now that it has been made clearer to me through WiLATA.


Name: Pat Mathias
Position: Writing Coach

One of the most important things I learned through the WiLATA project is that students of any age can learn to write when you teach in appropriate ways. I was surprised by all of the faculty and staff working together so well! From WiLATA, I have learned how to teach students of different age levels using the same methods I use at Itasca Community College—with very good results. A piece of advice I would give to teachers who are just starting to use WiLATA is to work together with your colleagues, be willing to ask for help, be honest, and do your best! The ability to write is very important. Students need to write, revise, and edit with a teacher at their side. It’s a process—it takes time and hard work. Don’t give up; it is worth the effort.


Name: Rachel Maki
Position: Advisor/Science Teacher

The WiLATA project has been extremely rewarding as a teacher. Since I am a licensed science teacher, teaching writing is a topic I wasn’t entirely sure of. Through the WiLATA project, I have gained tools in teaching, grading, and have had a lot of support in writing. I learned how to simplify writing first, by focusing on a paragraph, and then add layers of difficulty through the essays. I am looking forward to the next level.

The most surprising thing I have witnessed from this project is the growth my students have shown in their writing. When we started, some students struggled with putting thoughts on paper, and now they can write complete essays. It has also been surprising to see students revise their work. Before WiLATA, they would refuse to redo or expand on written work; now, the idea of revision is expected and accepted.

I would highly recommend the WiLATA project to any school where the teachers work together for a common goal. In order for the success we have seen at NLCS to occur, everyone must be on board and take it seriously. Another recommendation I have is to stay on top of the grading. At times, it is easy to let it slide, but it is the timely response and results that help students do the revisions and create outstanding pieces of writing.


Name: Rodney Lentz
Position: Maintenance Staff

I was very surprised, first of all, with the WiLATA project and its results. It taught me how to write sentences correctly, not to mention putting punctuation in the proper places. After I learned how to do both of those things, I was able to put them together to write paragraphs correctly, including paragraphs of introduction and conclusion. The most important thing WiLATA provided to me personally is the skills necessary to write and document my life story. My life has had its ups and downs, the good times and bad, and it was a neat process to reflect on my years and document the important experiences that took place throughout them. One of the most important of those is my recognition of a need for a Savior. I made the decision to trust in Christ years ago, and this is whom I try and live my life for.


Name: Sally Hagman
Position: Guidance Counselor/Teacher

An important thing I was reminded of with the WiLATA project is that students will rise to the teacher’s expectations when teachers are committed and passionate about their subject, and when they care greatly about their students. I was surprised at the measurable gains the students made in their writing skills. Through WiLATA, it has been a reminder that daily practice and coaching pays off. I’m excited that the NLCS students have learned communication skills they will use their whole lives. Despite student protests and the extra time required for writing, correcting, and teaching, WiLATA is worth it! Having regular meetings among the staff may help to energize, re-energize, and encourage buy-in among the staff.  

I feel proud to be a part of the NLCS staff and their accomplishments with WiLATA. The program has helped students learn and strengthen a basic skill they will use in school and beyond. As a guidance counselor, I believe the writing and communication skills gained through the WiLATA project will benefit students when they take the state grad tests, ASVAB & ACT/SAT tests, when they work on school assignments in high school and college, when they are applying for jobs, and at work. The WiLATA project not only teaches skills, it instills academic confidence in our students.


Name: Tim Setala
Position: AmeriCorps Promise Fellow

The WiLATA project has truly been a wonderful experience. The most important thing I have learned from the WiLATA project is that you can actually measure improvement. Other tests I have had experience with really didn’t measure anything. What surprised me the most about the WiLATA project was the acceptance by both the staff as well as the students. Students have not only been the ones benefitting from this project. I have personally become a much better writer. As a student myself finishing my master’s degree, this program has been a huge benefit. My advice for other teachers starting WiLATA would be to start slow and start from the beginning. This is vital whenever one is looking to bring about great change. I am excited to see the WiLATA project branch into other areas of study.


Name: Tom Massich
Position: Project Manager

What surprised me the most with WiLATA was the amount of work generated with the project and all the writing the students were asked to do. In the beginning it seemed to dominate, but in turn with all that work, came many hours of correcting. The second thing that surprised me was the explosive success of students who generally would not write anything and would not enjoy it, and in the end were taking great pride in getting a score of 6/5/5 or a 6/4/4 right off the bat. I like that the WiLATA project provides an ability to be used cross-curriculum, in every subject. The students have become better writers, and in turn, have become better readers.