Turnwall receives award from Iowa Writing Project

Barbara Turnwall, assistant professor of English at Northwestern College, has garnered the highest honor bestowed by the Iowa Writing Project (IWP). She received the organization’s Star Thrower Award at a recent meeting. Only 14 people have received the honor since its inception in 1992.

“Barb has been a stalwart leader for us in northwest Iowa since the early 1990s, serving as local site director for institutes and workshops, facilitator of some of those activities, and as an advisory board and steering committee member,” says Jim Davis, director of the Iowa Writing Project. “Perhaps most importantly, Barb’s work is centered on her students and her Christian mission in their lives.”

Turnwall says she has stayed involved with IWP because it has made her a better teacher and servant leader. “With its emphasis on serving others, IWP’s philosophy is congruent with following Jesus. IWP cares about individuals and student learning, and it empowers students to develop their voices,” she says.

In collaboration with IWP, Turnwall began Northwestern’s Pedagogy Project in 2000. Through the program, 59 Northwestern professors have come together for a year of focused study, discussion and reflection on their teaching practice and to experiment with new strategies in their classrooms.

“One of the program’s goals is that pedagogy would be a common topic for faculty dialogue. You don’t do faculty development well by just attending a course here or a conference there. Change occurs over time,” says Turnwall. “We give encouragement and discuss strategies for improvement. We’ve been trying to move from delivering learning through lecture to experiential, active learning. That’s been achieved: Faculty are trying new things.”

Dr. Joonna Trapp, associate professor of English and a previous participant in the Pedagogy Project, says the program has facilitated communication across disciplines. “It has given us common words to help us talk about teaching as well as people we can talk to if we need help. There have been great conversations about improving student learning that we probably wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

The program has spawned Pedagogy Project II, which is providing six faculty members a focus on integrating writing more effectively into the learning process this year.

The Iowa Writing Project mission and connection have also infused Turnwall’s latest venture, directing the Hispanic Story Project. Under her leadership, a team has gathered, translated and published stories of northwest Iowa’s Hispanic immigrants. Two of the stories have been published bilingually by IWP and have been provided to area teachers for a variety of uses, including curriculum materials and sensitivity training.

Turnwall will focus much of her attention during a fall 2008 sabbatical on the Hispanic Story Project. An offshoot of the program is a festival Turnwall is planning for September that will celebrate Hispanic culture.

Turnwall was among five individuals who were featured in a recently published volume of memoirs of outstanding IWP leaders as part of the organization’s 30th year celebration.

A member of Northwestern’s English faculty since 1966, Turnwall earned a master’s degree from SUNY-Albany and a bachelor’s degree from Hope College.