Shortly after SUNY New Paltz secondary education professor and Hudson Valley Writing Project founding director Tom Meyer joined the board of the National Writing Project in spring 2013, he mentioned to other board members that he would love to be of service to the organization in other parts of the globe.
The executive director suggested promising leads in Singapore, Denmark, and Malta, Meyer said. And while he’d been to Denmark several times through family connections, he’d never been to Southeast Asia.
“I started thinking, ‘This is what a sabbatical is supposed to involve – new experiences. I want to go to Singapore,’” said Meyer.
Soon after, colleagues connected Meyer with a master teacher at the English Language Institute of Singapore and he began preparing for his trip.
Before taking off, Meyer, who had worked on several National Writing Project initiatives since 1991, “began to forge ideas about what I wanted to learn and how I might be of service to a country that wanted to start a writing project.”
“Although the prospect of flying 15 hours to go somewhere I knew next to nothing about seemed daunting, at the same time, the notion really intrigued me,” said Meyer. “So much gets written about the ways in which Singapore successfully addresses the teaching of math and science. So little, though, seems to address Singapore writing achievement, instruction, and/or professional development.”
While in Singapore from March 23 to April 9, Meyer gave a presentation to a team of researchers about the impact of educational networks on teacher learning, leadership, and student outcomes at the National Institute of Education, the country’s sole teacher education university; he also presented to future teachers at the same institution. He provided technical assistance to the leaders of the English Institute of Singapore in charting the country’s first-ever Writing Project, set to launch this month. In addition to interviewing preliminary candidates for the program, Meyer conducted several semiformal interviews with Singapore administrators, classroom teachers, and parents while also observing in a variety of classroom settings.
Meyer said one of the most satisfying parts of his Singapore visit involved spending time at a “niche” primary school, Fairfield Methodist, which “is renowned for its students’ academic successes – including students’ results on the big primary school exit exam.” Here, Meyer observed classroom instruction in both writing and science, as well as in teachers’ professional meetings.
“I was amazed by the volume of writing that students completed individually and collaboratively in the Fairfield classrooms, and I was somewhat surprised by the heavy emphasis on and preparation for high-stakes writing exams in and out of the classroom,” said Meyer. “One parent confided that he and his wife suspended his daughter’s extra-curricular activities after fourth grade in order to focus her closely on the sixth grade, high-stakes primary school exit exam. His wife took a job leave of one-and-a-half years to personally tutor their daughter. … It speaks to the worry of falling behind.”
He added, “Getting to meet with the teachers after observing their classes, and with teachers outside of school, provided me with preliminary insights about the relationships between classroom writing instruction and some of the country’s cultural and policy contexts that impact writing instruction.”
Meyer said he’s excited to learn more about the similarities and differences between the educational policy goals of the United States and Singapore, and the impact these goals have on young writers. He has plans to link teachers from the Hudson Valley Writing Project’s new Invitational Institute, Leadership in the Teaching of Writing, to those in the new Singapore Writing Project. He also hopes to host a Singapore teacher educator on the SUNY New Paltz campus in the fall.
Other portions of Meyer’s trip brought him to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Bali, which he chronicled in a travel blog he built with the assistance of Hudson Valley Writing Project teacher consultant and SUNY New Paltz alumni Christine McCartney ’07g, a master teacher at Newburgh Free Academy.
HVWP Director, Tom Meyer, visits Singapore English Language Institute to support the building of a Writing Project and Invitational Institute. Pictured are Wai Yin Pryke (Principal), Dr. Tay May Yin (Principal Master Teacher), Mrs. Vara Durai (Master Teacher), and Ms. Genevieve Wong (Subject Literacy Officer)