Contact Information

Myrna Johnson,, 617-727-5944

Outdoor Writers Workshop Shows Benefits for Boston Literacy Instruction
Boston, MA (September 25, 2012) -

The Boston Schoolyard Initiative today released a report about the academic impact of its Outdoor Writers Workshop (OWW) program in Boston's public elementary schools.  The evaluation, conducted by the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy, found that the program offers benefits for both teaching and learning.

Read the report here.

Specifically, the report includes the following key findings:

  • Outdoor writing increases interest in writing for some students and shows promise for improving student outcomes.
  • Outdoor Writers Workshop shows particular promise for improving outcomes among English Language Learners and students in special education.
  • Outdoor writing activities provide valuable academic and enrichment experiences for urban students.

Over the past four years, BSI has developed and piloted the Outdoor Writers Workshop model in partnership with the Boston Public Schools (BPS).  The professional development program trains teachers to use outdoor classrooms as a venue for writing instruction.  The Rennie Center evaluation notes that teachers report the OWW approach being effective in helping students find topics to write about, develop vocabulary and voice, add descriptive language to their writing, and otherwise improve their writing skills.

"This report affirms that Outdoor Writers Workshop offers teachers a powerful new set of strategies to engage students in high quality writing instruction," said Myrna Johnson, Executive Director of the Boston Schoolyard Initiative. "We are so encouraged by this early evidence that OWW is helping to energize writing lessons for students and teachers alike in outdoor classrooms across the city."

Dr. Carol R. Johnson, Superintendent of the Boston Public  Schools, said, "Today's creative world demands that all our students become proficient writers, beginning at a young age, regardless of background, native language, ability or family income.  As we work to strengthen writing instruction throughout the district, we are fortunate to offer teachers the Outdoor Writers Workshop as an innovative approach to improving writing skills and help close achievement gaps."

BSI has trained 100 teachers from 29 elementary and K-8 schools in Outdoor Writers Workshop. The Rennie Center conducted this evaluation in the Spring of 2011 in two schools that piloted the program, the Adams and Bradley elementary schools, both in East Boston.  Last year,with support from BSI, teachers from the Conley, Condon and Perry elementary schools used OWW to teach Information and Opinion writing units, reporting benefits for their students that echo and deepen the finding in this report.  This year, BSI is providing on-line communication and resources to support all BPS teachers trained in OWW; helping teachers share lesson plans and student work with colleagues across the district; developing OWW teacher leaders; and documenting best on-the-ground practices for using OWW to help students learn to write non-fiction.

About the Boston Schoolyard Initiative

Since 1995, the Boston Schoolyard Initiative (BSI) has transformed Boston's schoolyards from asphalt lots into vibrant spaces for recreation, learning and community life.  The Initiative also offers professional development for teachers to incorporate outdoor spaces into lessons in writing and science.  BSI is a public-private partnership among the City of Boston, Boston Public Schools and the Boston Schoolyard Funders Collaborative.  To date, BSI has completed 89 projects on 81 schoolyards, including 30 outdoor classrooms.  For more information, visit