Jun 4 2014 Looking Back: Poetry Out Loud 2013-2014

Slideshow of the 2013-2014 Poetry Out Loud competition in New York State.


Featuring 2014 New York State Champion, Schuyler Press, reciting her 2nd round poem (“An Autumn Sunset” by Edith Wharton) at the State Championship on March 4, 2014.

Information about the 2014-2015 POL competition coming soon here!

Jun 2 2014 What My Students Taught Me about Writing

By Laura Thompson 

Newbie writers like me, are told to seek inspiration wherever we can find it. Respected and published authors recommend that we read the works of others we admire, especially those written in our chosen genre. These sage and seasoned mentors also counsel that we learn from the experiences of accomplished writers, research the internet for tips on technique, and join a writer’s group, all of which I have taken to heart as great advice. The last thing I expected however, when I began working in the writing lab at a local state college, was to strike a colossal mother lode of inspiration. Initially, I was surprised to discover this wellspring in such an unlikely place, but as the days passed I became increasingly grateful.

When I lost my job two years ago, I decided to use the opportunity to write full time. This decision was made in part because despite the untold number of résumés I released into cyberspace, the recession was in full swing, and I was unable to find work. Although I yearned to hunker down in a romantic garret somewhere and write uninterrupted, I still needed a steady income stream to pay my bills. Eventually, the kindly woman who was to become my supervisor actually read my résumé and cover letter, something I had begun to think was an urban hiring myth, and offered me a tutoring position in the writing lab. I knew right away the job was perfect for me and jumped at the chance. I love to write, and it seemed only natural that I would enjoy helping others with their writing.  

A couple of months later, after I had frantically located the common grammatical terms and punctuation rules from the cobweb-festooned archives of my mind and remembered that coordination doesn’t only refer to the ability to put one foot in front of the other without falling down, I learned something completely extraordinary from my students.

Here is what I learned:

I learned to be approachable to the apprehensive student, since for every confident student that nonchalantly swaggers into the lab seeking assistance, there is another who is tentative and poised for flight lest any tutor seem even remotely unwelcoming or less than empathetic.
“What do you think about your writing style?”  
“What concerns you about your writing?”
“Do you enjoy writing?” 
Why do you think you’re not good at it?” were all questions I learned to ask in order to peel back the layers of misgiving and insecurity regarding their work.      

I learned to be compassionate when asking these questions as the lack of self-confidence exhibited was painful to watch.

I learned to listen even when no words were spoken.  

I learned about fear and how it sometimes lurks behind a perfunctory attitude.

I learned that many students struggle to get the words out and how those same students think that staring at a piece of paper or computer screen for at least an hour in order to arrive at the first sentence is an excruciating but requisite part of composition.

I learned to be humble and respectful toward the human condition after reading dozens of personal essays so secretive, heart wrenching and soul-baring, I was often reduced to tears.

I learned to admire and look up to the student who speaks four other languages fluently even though she might wrestle with verb forms and compound sentences in English.

Monday through Thursday every week, I teach my students how to structure an outline, and why organization brings order and sanity to what otherwise is an insane and stressful procedure. I teach them how to write a thesis statement, the art of free writing, and how to avoid word repetition by using a thesaurus. I teach them how to create topic sentences, why words are fun, the value of adjectives and adverbs, how to paint a picture with words, why writing is mechanical as well as creative, and confidence in their ability.  

Monday through Thursday every week, my students teach me how to be a more effective tutor. They teach me humility and to keep explaining even though I might feel drained and exhausted. They teach me to keep trying because clarity is usually just a heartbeat away. They inspire me, and they teach me to inspire. They teach me how to make them smile and allow me the privilege of living vicariously through their achievements. They teach me confidence in my own ability and why laughter is so crucial to teaching and learning. They teach me how to be a better me, and they teach me how to be a better writer. Most importantly, they teach me joy.  

May 29 2014 Schoolgirls to Schoolgirls: Writing Our Way to Hope

By Kineret Yardena


Concern and sadness spreads across the twenty-two faces in front of me. We are in Auckland, at an all girls’ high school. My Year 9 and Year 11 students are trying to make sense of the news reports and videos coming out of Nigeria. They hold with heaviness how much they have in common with the 276 girls who were kidnapped in April by those determined to uproot and destroy what the girls wearing uniforms of black watch tartan know they can take for granted: the promise of a Western education. 

BACCARAT by Emily Wang (Year 9) 

She is misguided and lost (because of them). It is my duty to save her.
We will destroy them and the Islam religion will be pure again.
A strange sort of burning anger stirs.
I will purify her.
She will join us. 

To think that in some parts of the world girls and boys are not encouraged, inspired and challenged to think critically and compassionately, and not given permission to cultivate a personal voice, eludes my girls. “I don’t get it,” one girl says. “Why are they so afraid of girls going to school?” Another tags on, “Seriously, what is so dangerous about getting an education?” 


So with maps and photographs and videos in hand, we spend an English lesson interrogating the value of an education—and, by extension, its danger. We reach no conclusions. Instead we build intricate anthills with our questions that burrow into new questions. 

WHAT I WANT TO KNOW by Anna Peat (Year 9) 

What is wrong with the world?
Why can humans be so vicious to each other?
What are we doing with our lives?
What went wrong?
What is wrong? What is right? What is good? What is bad? What are we meant to believe?
How am I meant to feel?
How am I meant to act? 

By the end, the girls look at me with despairing eyes—like I’m their teacher, like I should make sense of this for them, like I should know. I notice my temptation to whip out answers, to smooth out their frowns and fears with aphorisms of hope. 

I don’t want to stay with the questions either. I also grasp for anchors of certainty: unshakably moral good guys and devilish evil ones, neat timelines that explain the past and accurate maps that point the way forward. Staying with the questions feels hard—sometimes too hard—taking more compassion than I want to have, and more courage than I believe I ever could. 

JUST A BUNCH OF LINES by Maria McCoy (Year 11) 

I don’t know how many grains of rice are in the container in my cupboard 

I don’t know when some are missing 

Tiny, smooth and uniformed; they don’t have eyes 

It’s ok that I don’t know how many grains of rice are in the container 

But far out it’s not ok for me to not know how many people are kidnapped from their container and their home 

Every girl that was taken from Nigeria has eyes 

Fingers like my fingers 

She will wince and murmur 

It’s not ok that I didn’t know these girls had been missing for a long time 

No one really seems to be talking about it lots 

But far out people should be 

They all belong to a container 

Wonderfully, it does not prove hard to traverse the space between the imagined landscapes of our studied literature—be it Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran or a unit on deconstructing gender representations in the media— and real political and social terrain. Together, we look at the worlds we dream of and those we find around us. We talk about literature as a tabernacle of faith, a coded map that needs courage and a willingness not to know. 

The girls ask a thousand questions and debate, discuss and collate a legal team’s worth of advice that they would personally like to deliver to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. Then we pause and offer a minute of silence: some offer hope to the girls, some peace to their families, some simply hold gratitude for all that they, in that moment, suddenly realize that they have. 

A MOMENT OF SILENCE by Sophie Dixon (Year 9) 

300 Girls
A Class of 30
Kidnapping, Fear and Despair
Freedom, Hope and Gratitude 

A girls’ school in Nigeria
A girls’ school in New Zealand 

They’re forbidden to know, not allowed to understand
We have to know, to be able to understand 

They’re young, confused and alone
We’re young, confused and worried
They wonder: Will they ever be freed?
We wonder: Will this ever happen to us? 

Together we thought we were safe
That western education was not and is not a sin
But now, we are not so sure 

Land, sea and society keep us apart
They say we are different
Separated by religion and race
But underneath
We are the same.

And when we are done, they are desperate for something that they can do. It is not enough for them to know about what is happening in the world. They need some way to respond. They need some way to not feel helpless in the face of something so dauntingly amorphous. 

BEFORE ALL THIS HAPPENED by Selina Wang (Year 9) 

You would do anything to be where we are
How fortunate we are through your eyes
Freedom should never be taken for granted
Because it was all that we’ve ever wanted
We cannot do much, but we can speak up
and stand up for what’s true
We are praying, thinking of you           

If the girls who have been taken have lost their voices for now, these girls in front of me want to ensure that the voices of girls everywhere—in Auckland, New Zealand no less than anywhere else— ignite the darkness of forced silence with the match of poetry, with the light of a young girl’s voice.


About the author: For the past ten years, Kineret Yardena has been travelling, teaching, writing and making theatre in the U.S., Israel/Palestine, New Zealand, Gambia, and Senegal. Originally from Los Angeles, Kineret currently lives in Auckland, New Zealand where she teaches literature and writing, and is working on her first manuscript, an auto-ethnographic exploration of teaching at the first bilingual school for Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem in 2007.

May 2 2014 Lynn Tillman Interviewed by Matthew Sharpe

Educating the Imagination: Lynn Tillman Interviewed by Matthew Sharpe

In this interview, fiction writer, essayist, and educator Lynne Tillman discusses her decision to start writing as an eight year old and her first novel, Haunted Houses, with Matthew Sharpe. 

Read the full article here.   

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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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