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Sharon Bishop - Award-Winning Nebraska Place-Based Writer

All Roads Lead Home

We’ve wanted to spotlight the great work being done by the Nebraska Writing Project in linking the teaching of writing to “place consciousness,” so we are delighted to have a talented practitioner from that program on board for our conference.

Sharon Bishop has taught high school English in small town, rural Nebraska for 25 years. Through those years, Ms. Bishop believed in the power of a place-based curriculum that combined literature, art, and science to help her students write well and become stewards of their communities and the resources that supported them. At her teaching post in Henderson, part of the Heartland Community Schools system, Sharon developed her own literature and composition class and drew on the voices and stories of prairie families and communities to serve as texts.

At the same time, Sharon sought resources from national organizations that had begun to understand the teaching philosophy she already used. She became a consultant and co-director for the Nebraska Writing Project. She joined the “Rural Voices, Country Schools” project sponsored by the National Writing Project and the Annenberg Rural Challenge. She served as a pilot teacher for the “Keeping and Creating American Communities” initiative funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2000, she received an Exemplary Classroom Award from Foxfire.

Sharon helped to edit All Roads Lead Home, a compilation of Nebraska student place-based writing funded by the Nebraska Center for the Book and available through the Univeristy of Nebraska.  Her own writing appears in Rural Voices: Place-Conscious Education and the Teaching of Writing, Teachers College Press, 2003. And her 2004 article “The Power of Place,” published in English Journal, 93(6) received honorable mention in the Kate and Paul Farmer Awards Competition.

This important article--”The power of place”--was included in an annotated bibligraphy on place-based education prepared by Clearing Magazine:

Bishop, S. (2004).
The power of place.
English Journal, 93(6), 65-69.

Place-based education can not only help to improve rural schools, but also the communities that support those schools. The author, a high school English teacher in rural Nebraska, began using local authors and places as a central part of her curriculum many years before she had even heard the term place-based education. She became involved with the Annenberg Rural Challenge, which in Nebraska resulted in 11 rural communities coming together to form a consortium called School at the Center. The purpose of School at the Center is to “aid in the revitalization of rural communities through reimagining local schools as a centering force for place-conscious living.”

The author describes her curriculum and how it combines two characteristics of place-based education identified by Gregory Smith (2002), cultural studies and nature studies. In these descriptions the author shares some examples of her students writing, which they do after reading works by local authors, conducting interviews with elders in the community, and visiting a nearby tall-grass prairie preservation. This article is important because it provides one of the few formal definitions of pedagogy of place or place-based education. The definition, which comes from the Annenberg Rural Challenge, is


“pedagogy/curriculum of place is an expression of the growing recognition of context and locale and their unique contributions to the educational project . . . pedagogy of place, then, recontextualizes education locally. It makes education a preparation for citizenship, both locally and in wider contexts, while also providing the basis for continuing scholarship.”

This article also provides a good argument for why place-based education is so important to rural schools and communities and how place-based education can be seen as a way to address the growing problem of population loss in rural towns.

Posted by Marcella Sherfy
on 11/30 at 02:49 PM
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