Excite Young People about Poetry with a New Book, Open the Door

Posted June 14, 2013 & filed under Notebook, WITS People.

41wOxPaAwIL._SY300_“Worried you don’t know how to teach poetry? Frustrated that your students groan at the sight of a poem? Open the Door will change all that. The writers not only give teachers permission to approach the teaching of poetry through a fresh portal; they also provide clear directions for finding that elusive door in the wall.” –Carol Jago, past president, National Council of Teachers of English
WITS Executive Director Robin Reagler, as well as writers such as Dave Eggers and Yusef Komunyakaa, is among those experts who provide lesson plans and advice for teachers of young poets.  Open the Door is appropriate for first-time and veteran teachers, and it contains valuable and inspirational resources that you will want to keep on hand.  The collection of essays is available now through McSweeney’s. And it also currently available as a free eBook on the Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute website, along with a range of other free educational resources.

“Buzz” of the Town: The Nicola Parente Art Opening

Posted April 10, 2013 & filed under Notebook, WITS People.

Artist Nicola Parente guides his student through an art lesson

WITS is proud to share that Artist Nicola Parente will have an opening reception for his “Colony Collapse” installation, bringing light to the disappearance of bees and colony collapse disorder.

Nicola has been a longtime volunteer and WITS teaching artist, including helping kids create art from recycled materials through the Environmental Writing Project.

The opening reception is free and will take place from 6-8 pm this Saturday, April 13, 2013 at David A Brown’s micro scope 1824 experimental art space at Spring Street Studios.

The site specific installation will be on exhibit through May 31. Please join WITS in support of Nicola’s newest work that is getting a huge “buzz” around town.  Artist Nicola Parente used more than 2,700 brown paper bags to create “Colony Collapse.” The installation, bathed in amber light, is designed to look like an empty beehive.

Read more: http://www.houstonchronicle.com/entertainment/arts-theater/article/Colony-Collapse-creates-big-buzz-in-small-space-4412983.php#ixzz2Q4MlHVHb

Lessons from the Classroom: Writing that Transcends the Page

Posted April 13, 2011 & filed under Lesson Plan, Notebook, WITS People.

As I walked towards the front entrance of E.O. Smith Education Center to observe WITS Writer Deborah Wiggins, I sensed love in the air. On this Valentine’s Day, Wiggins’ writers were preparing to work when I slipped through the classroom door. An international performance poet with a commanding stature, Wiggins is a take charge teacher with a big smile and a warm heart. She wasted no time arresting the boy’s and girl’s attention, using a count-to-ten approach. By the time she reaches number 10, every bottom should be in its seat and all eyes should be on her. (She later told me her students usually are glued to their chairs by number 9.)

Deborah Wiggins inspires her 4th graders to create heart-shaped love poems. Photo by Jennifer Watson.

Getting the children to focus is one of the many challenges Wiggins learned since she took on the class last fall. WITS writers are tasked with developing innovative teaching methods that encourage children to think of language in unconventional ways in addition to showing them that writing about their everyday experiences can be fun. Although each WITS writer is given a sample curriculum as a guideline, customizing the lesson plan to each classroom is no easy feat, not even for a seasoned teacher like Wiggins.

“The biggest trick to working with the kids at Smith is [finding] engaging and active ways for them to interact with writing that transcends the page,” she said. “There are no interesting pieces without imagination. As long as their imaginations are alive, so are their emotions and stories.”

WITS student Guadalupe Hernandez and Mayor Parker. Photo by Gayatri Parikh.



In the spirit of the holiday, Wiggins shared a heart-themed prompt to inspire love poems. Everyone was given construction paper, scissors, and pencils to create a heart and decorate it and asked to write a poem beginning with a simile. The children read their work aloud, and the results were beyond charming. What impressed me most was the individual attention Wiggins gave to every student and her ability to draw on their emotions in a way that got them excited about describing their hearts’ desires.

Wiggins’ natural gift of connecting with her audience as a spoken word poet is a skill she transfers exceptionally well as a teacher. In a recent public performance she was invited to showcase both talents at the kickoff event for Public Poetry, a reading series established to celebrate poetry in the community. She brought along Guadalupe Hernandez, a 4th grader from E.O. Smith, to read poems in honor of National Poetry Month. Of the featured poets including Wiggins, Mayor Annise Parker, Rich Levy, Martha Serpas, and Eva Skrande, it was Hernandez who stunned the crowd with her two poems “Diamonds” and “Untitled” (below).
By Guadalupe Hernandez

My world feels
Cold and windy
The grass is wet
temperature around 65 degrees
it moves like a sphere
an airplane
the right way the wind is going
My world sounds like
Vibration of the wind
In my ear
Trees blowing
I could hear the freeway
When the wind blows
And the trees blow
And the leaves get in your face
And the bears migrate in the winter
And when it stops
It feels hot
I get mad
And our stuff flies away.

Her courageous performance was a testament of how writing “transcends the page” and manifests itself into an experience memorable enough to make a teacher/writer/poet’s heart incredibly proud.

by Jennifer Watson,
Writers in the Schools