Apr 18 2014 Midnight City, by Dylan (5th grade)






















Apr 11 2014 From the Archives: The Art of Writing About Teaching

Spreading the Word: The Art of Writing About Teaching by Mark Statman

In this article, Mark Statman examines a variety of teaching texts.  He writes, “When I consider the art of writing about teaching, I have to acknowledge that the books that have influenced me most as a teacher have been those that have influenced me most as a writer. That is to say, the books are less about describing a series of imitable lessons and more about engaging the reader in creative and meaningful ways.” Books discussed include Kenneth Koch's  Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?, Herbert Kohl's 36 Children, The Art of the Personal Essay edited by Phillip Lopate, Sylvia Ashton-Warner's Teacher, and Third Mind edited by Tonya Foster and Kristin Prevallet. 

 Read the full article here












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Apr 7 2014 Journal Power!

By Julia R. Graff

I joyously anticipate the second semester of first grade. The children have matured by then, and many are good readers. Because they are capable of writing simple and sometimes even complex sentences, I introduce them to journal writing. I am propelled by the students’ excitement as they each receive a brightly colored spiral notebook. They eagerly date their entry each day. I give them topics or story starters to start them off---for instance, “I Get Scared When. . .”or “My Favorite Animal.” For many, creating an illustration with their entry is a favorite part of journal keeping and is particularly important to the child who is struggling with writing skills. Quite often, too, we have a “free” writing day when they initiate all their own ideas.

Although writing in a journal is primarily a personal endeavor, the children often ask to read their writing aloud to their classmates or to me. I am gratified as a teacher when they stand close to me and----quietly, but excitedly----read what they have just written. There is magic in their effort to phonetically write and then read words freely without correction or criticism. They smile and giggle as they read their own words. Describing everything from slightly exaggerated camping trips to painful feelings of hurt and sadness, I marvel that at such a young age they are able to express themselves with great depth and creativity.  The interest the children show in each others’ journal entries is amazing, too.

They listen and laugh spontaneously as their classmates share funny experiences about learning to swim or ride a bike. They identify easily with getting embarrassed at a friend’s birthday party when they get cake frosting all over their mouth and nose.

It wasn’t, however, until one spring Open House that I truly saw the power of journal writing. The journals, like other projects, were laid out on the desks. Most parents opened the journal, turned a few pages and glanced at the words. But that day, I noticed one little boy who went to his desk and sat down. His mother knelt beside him and listened as he read. Then she put her arm around him and spoke softly. I heard her say, “I didn’t remember that! Really?” He nodded, and they both laughed.

 Here was the value of writing and the importance of self-expression. The child, through his own words, was conveying who he was. He was grownup and powerful. For an instant, his writing allowed his mother to see inside him. She grasped the journal in her hands, pressed it to her chest and said, “I’ll treasure this.” The little boy looked into his mother’s eyes, quickly put his head down and grinned





Apr 2 2014 A Poem for Poetry Month

From an anthology created by students in Staten Island, a William Carlos Williams collage poem:

















Mar 31 2014 Bring It On: How Fan Fiction Motivated a Reluctant Writer

by Beth Rose 

            “Mom,” said our oldest son, Christian. “Will you take a look at something and give my your opinion on it?”

             It had been a busy day, and there were still a dozen things I hadn't crossed off of my daily To Do List. But I remembered that our boy wouldn't be living at home forever, and for that reason alone, the dishes could wait. I settled into a nearby rocking-chair and followed his instructions to hop on Google Drive and he would share a document with me.

            “Did you write this?” I asked.

            He shook his head. “I just want your opinion.”

            I picked my way through a story that was an offshoot of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series. But it was painful to read. Few capital letters, non-existent commas or persistent ones, dialogue punctuation that rendered it impossible to figure out who the speaker was in the story. Still, there was an interesting plot line, characters that held interest, and some attempt at organization. And then I saw it: the word, “Meh.” It was a reaction word by one of the characters. A word that only my son used when he was irritated with something. A word all his own.  

  “You sure you didn't write this?” I asked.

            “Just what do you think about it?” he asked, sighing as only a seventeen-year-old does when he thinks his parent is being stupidly uncooperative.

            I sat for a few minutes, thinking hard. As a former composition teacher, I knew I had to speak carefully. If he had written this, he needed encouragement. If he hadn't, the writer needed to pursue other passions. Telling him what I thought, had its risks. But I had always stressed being honest.  “I think,” I said slowly, “that this writer shouldn't give up his or her day job.”

            There was a long silence, and I could tell he was chewing on the brutality of my assessment. Our youngest son turned on the television, and for a short time we were captivated by the screen. But an hour later, when it was quiet again, Christian looked intently at me and said, “ So, why do you think the writer shouldn't give up his day job?”

            “Well, for one thing, Whoever-it-was wrote as though he had been sleeping through his English classes for ten years, ” I said.  He snorted his laughter, and I continued, “ There are dozens of punctuation errors, capital letters apparently are banned from his life, some sentences run from here to Toledo. I can't even figure out content to see if it makes sense, because a lot of the time I can't figure out who the speaker is.”  Then I took a deep breath and asked again, “Did you write this?”

            “Yes!” he said in exasperation. “Now what did I do wrong?” With that, he guided me to use the white board function on Google drive where we could edit together.      

            I felt like a big shoe that had just stepped on a grasshopper, but I was encouraged that he wanted to press forward. Slowly we began to go through his piece line by line. “It's called Fan Fiction,” he explained. When a person likes a book or movie and wants to develop characters that are offshoots of the story, s/he writes a short story or chapter of a “book”  and publishes it on a special site online. Kids and some adults all over the nation write creatively, inspired by characters they already know, developing new plot lines, additional characters and so on. “One of the Star Wars Fan Fiction selections was apparently so good that George Lucas left a comment,” Christian said. Readers can leave comments, rate the work, or just read it. Success is determined by the number of readers that are recorded.

            When we finished his first piece, and he “published” it, I noticed he curled back up to write another chapter. While I was thrilled that he had found something more constructive to do with his time than computer games, I also knew I'd have to devote another painstaking hour of editing. But it was time well spent, if Christian could learn to write well.

            The next day he asked me to join him on the whiteboard again. After a couple of minutes of agonizing editing, I said,”Look, if you can eliminate these simple punctuation and capitalization errors, then I can really help you write better. We can get to the meat and potatoes of your work. If you can bring it farther, then I can really help you shine.”

            He nodded intently.

            “I'll be back to see this in an hour,” I said, rushing off to take care of some other chores. When I returned, it was as though the Magic Grammar Fairy had rushed over the page. Gone were run on sentences, replaced instead by periods and capital letters. Commas had thrown themselves around the page, hitting appropriate stopping spots, and sometimes lingering in corners reserved for periods.  “Ah,” I said, and he could tell I was pleased. “Much better.”

            On day three, I quit telling him what the problems were with each sentence. Instead, I placed my cursor there and said, “What do you think the problem is here?” He would adjust it accordingly, or ask for clarification. But the real work began when I would say, “Can you live without these words and still have it make sense?” or “This is passive language. If you use a verb like 'shoved' or 'clubbed', would it sound better?” or “This is seems out of character.” or “I don't understand this, and if I don't, your reader won't.”

            His inability to use the English language correctly bothered me enough to ask about it. “I don't get it,” I said. “Were you sleeping through all the lessons you had about capital letters and periods?”

            “No,” he laughed.  “It's just that this is creative writing. I mean, I never had to use this kind of punctuation before.”

            All of those papers in school that he had written didn't require grammar? Of course they had, and he had done them well! But they were, as he explained, offshoots from the Five Paragraph Essay, a writing tool he found extremely helpful. Creative writing involved dialogue, descriptive details, plot processes, and characterization development.  But then what does it matter? He's writing, a calling I have myself, almost like the need to breathe. What will his future hold in terms of a pen and paper? Whatever it is, his skills have improved, the knowledge imparted on him from his English teachers has found root.

            Last night we worked on his third installment. I found myself saying things like, “Yes, this is very good. But what does that large tentacle wrapped around his waist feel like? What is he hearing from the deck below?” And I saw a light go on in his head. “I'm taking you from just being good, to better.” And he nodded thoughtfully, ready for the new challenge.

            I'm proud to say he's had several hundred hits on his site. Better yet, he keeps working at it. Most fan fiction pieces are less than 200 words long and often end after the third chapter. The writers tire of the work, or they find the plots unsustainable, or don't have a support system to keep going. Most of all, I am proud that a seventeen-year-old computer game addict has broken out of his comfort zone into a new art. And if fan fiction is one way to encourage a new generation of writers, then bring it on.

Mar 20 2014 From the Archives: A New Paradigm for Teaching Poetry


Structure and Surprise: A New Paradigm for Teaching Poetry 

In this article, Michael Theune writes about Structure and Surprise (a Teachers & Writers Collaborative book) which "proposes that there is at least one other significant way to categorize a poem: as a structure, that is, according to a poem's pattern of turns. Structure and Surprise is based upon, recommends, and pursues the idea that an understanding of structure can be particularly helpful for learning to write poetry.”

 Read the full article here.












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Mar 14 2014 Where is the sun?

by Tania, 2nd Grade
























Mar 5 2014 Congratulations to the NY State POL Champ!

Congratulations to the winner, runner-up, and all the participants in the NY State Poetry Out Loud finals! 

Winner - Schuyler Press, ninth-grader at Professional Performing Arts School in New York City

Runner-up - Chiara Raimondo, tenth-grader at Jamestown High School in Jamestown

The judges for the event--held March 4 at Hudson Valley Community College, Troy--were Marie Howe, Reggie Harris, Grace Harrison, and Mary Panza

Schuyler will go to the national Poetry Out Loud competition, April 28-30, in Washington, DC. As NYS POL champion, she received $200 and her school received $500 to purchase poetry books.

Good luck Schuyler! We'll be rooting for you!




















Mar 4 2014 The Spring Issue of Teachers & Writers Magazine is Here!

Subscribers' copies should arrive soon, and let's hope spring itself is not far behind. The issue features Peter Markus on Poetry and Possibility, Alan Feldman on The Teacher as Poet, Maryann Gremillion on Giving Permission to a Struggling Young Writer, Jane LeCroy on a Common Core exercise combing science and creative writing, J.D. Mader on Keeping Students Focused with Flash Fiction, and Nura Rose Sala on Challenging Expectations of Failure in Students.  

Our featured piece from this issue is the following poetry lesson by poet and teacher Alan Feldman.  Feldman describes how he was inspired by the frankness and spontaneity of Frank O'Hara's Lunch Poems, and used this inspiration to create a lesson plan on teaching students to write what he calls "I-Do-This-I-Do-That" poems.  

Writing an I-Do-This-I-Do-That Poem by Alan Feldman

Thirty-five years ago, I wrote an off-hand little poem about my developing family life (my perennial subject) that I still enjoy reading, and that I’m grateful to have. It records a tiny but interesting tremor of feeling, a little landmark in my relationship with my wife, that, without this poem, would probably be long forgotten. For me, this poem is like a tiny snapshot that, when I squint at it hard, puts me into the head of my younger self.

We went more rapidly through the courtship and newlywed stage than most young people do now, and were soon (just over a year after our wedding) engaged in child rearing. Obviously, the birth of our daughter was inspiring. But this little moment of feeling occurred later, when our son was on the way:

The Quiet Years of Ordinary Objects

This pretty maternity blouse for example—
$16.95 with pastel embroidered flowers
Around the neck. Washable.
I pass it while heading for Botolph’s
Where they sell expensive, arty jewelry
But nothing I haven’t already given you
Except a hand silk-screened card
With a pastel rainbow and a pale yellow sun.
Back at the Stork Shop the salesgirl and I
Speculate on your probable size.
“Her first?” she asks.
                                   “No, second.”
She gives me the blouse in a bag.
Later, at home, with you off
To evening class, the afternoon sun
In silver pajamas, our daughter bathed
And singing herself to sleep
I find a gift box from Gilchrist’s in the closet
Pack it with tissue paper, fold the blouse carefully
With the rainbow card on top
And write something shamelessly corny
Like: For my sunlight, my rainbow—
Happy Birthday . . . and sign it
Alan. Though we’re beyond names.

I’m glad I have this poem, preserving that momentary frisson I experienced when hesitating oversigning the card—a moment of feeling, trapped like a fly in amber. But I don’t remember writing it. What if any models did I have in mind? What gave me the idea of starting a poem by recording the price of a maternity blouse?

It seems clear to me now that the poem was actually an example of mimicry. I was writing a type of poem I knew quite well: what Frank O’Hara once referred to as his “I-do-this-I-do-that” poems. Ironically, our lives couldn’t have been more different. O’Hara was urban and gay, I was a suburban dad with a wife and child and another on the way. But since I had been a teenager, I’d always admired O’Hara’s eloquent and interesting ways of conveying his (sometimes tempestuous and complicated and often amusing) feelings.

O’Hara’s “Steps” expresses the exuberance of being in love, something that most adolescents have already experienced. Perhaps it’s interesting–– or maybe it isn’t––that O’Hara was in love with the dancer, Vincent Warren. In some ways he’s like anyone who’s just “fallen” for someone. As we all know, the world looks quite amazingly different when we’re first in love, and one of the ways O’Hara draws us into his feelings is to show us how his city world (particularly Central Park) looks to him at this moment:  To read more, click here.

Mar 4 2014 From the Archives: Meditations on the Lightbox

Meditations on the Lightbox

In this article, Maurice Manning uses the metaphor of a lightbox, “a curious device for persons who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)” to explain “how poetry happens: light in darkness equals illumination. And, of course, poetry depends on paradox. As a teacher of writing, I have developed my own version of the Iightbox to enhance my students' ability to look outward in a genre often associated with introspection.”

Read the full article here










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