Student-Teacher Spotlight

Posted May 5, 2014 & filed under Classroom Reflections, WITS People.

Teacher Student PhotoWriters in the Schools (WITS) depends on the enthusiasm and energy of many wonderful partners.

Today we recognize one teacher and one student in our Student-Teacher Spotlight.

Mrs. Borrego and 2nd grade student Livni Hernandez both participate in the Writers in the Schools (WITS) program at Eugene Field Elementary.

Below they answer a few questions about their WITS experience:

Why is writing important for 2nd graders?

Mrs. Borrego: Writing is an important skill for 2nd graders because it helps them to develop their critical thinking skills, creativity, and communication. I always say, “Writing says a lot about my students,” meaning that I can see the growth they have made throughout the year just by looking at their beginning, middle, and end-of-year writing.

What are you most proud of about your student writers this year?

Mrs. Borrego: I am proud of the imagination that my students have put into their writing and the usage of words. They have made tremendous growth, from not being able to write a complete sentence to writing whole passages.

How has WITS helped you to accomplish your writing goals?

Mrs. Borrego: WITS has taught me how to bring creativity into the classroom by bringing in prompts, reading books, and providing students with a word bank.

What do you like best about creative writing?

Livni: What I like best is thinking about everything you like and writing about it. The hardest part is that sometimes you have so many ideas that they can’t fit onto one page.

If you could publish a book about any topic you wanted, what would the title be?

Livni: The title of my book would be “The Broken Heart” because it will tell you a sad story and make your heart break.

What was your favorite WITS lesson this year?

Livni: My favorite lesson was writing about a pair of high-heeled shoes because I got to imagine being those sparkly shoes for a day.

My Life as a Pair of High-Heeled Shoes

     I am a pair of high-heeled shoes that are as glittery as diamonds on a pretty costume. I am as beautiful as a mother’s face and as smooth as dolphin’s skin. I shine like silver on a shield.

One day a girl wore me to a party with lots of beautiful lights. Then she wore me to a wedding with love. I looked perfect on her.

Then, on the way home, it was so late. My owner fell. One of my tall heels broke off into the street. Oh, no! The girl didn’t fix me. She just put me in the dumpster, and I never saw the world again.

Revision Strategy #2: ThoughtShots

Posted December 9, 2013 & filed under Lesson Plan, Notebook, Student Writing, WITS People.

The idea of the thoughtshot comes from The Reviser’s Toolbox, a great book by Barry Lane.

After a student finishes a story, encourage him to find places where he might add thoughtshots.  Barry Lane breaks down thoughtshots into three categories: flash-forwards, flashbacks, and internal monologues.

I have found that lessons on flash-forwards and flashbacks go a long way.   Students become adept at finding places in their rough drafts where they can add a related memory from the past or ruminate about the future.

Be sure to show students examples from books that they are reading or texts in their language arts curriculum.  These models will reveal to them the “code words” that signal a flash-forward (I imagine, I think, If, etc.) or a flashback (I remember, Once, In the past, When I was young, etc.).

Some WITS teachers encourage students to use arrows in their writing to indicate where they are adding a flashforward or a flashback.

Here is an example by a student, inspired by the Judith Viorst book Alexander and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, who revised his story to include a flashback and a flashforward:

When I walked into class today, the teacher said, “Test!”  My eyes popped open wide.  This was not the kind of news I needed on a Monday.  Then, I accidently forgot to put away my backpack, and Molly tripped on it, and the teacher gave me the eye!  When I sat down, I missed my chair because SOMEONE had moved it.

Now, the teacher is blabbing on and on about how nice everyone looks today, which reminds me that the teacher told us last Friday to wear a shirt and tie on Monday for School Picture Day.  I’m wearing a Hawaiian shirt with orange flowers because Mom forgot to do the laundry!   I bet this photo will turn out worse than last year’s when my hair was green.  I can picture my parents pulling out today’s photo at my wedding. “Look who you’re marrying!” they’ll say, and everyone will laugh! I knew this was going to be a horrible, messed-up, rotten egg kind of day.

Revision is difficult to teach, but given a few (but not too many) techniques, students are able to make their stories better.

-Marcia Chamberlain, WITS Houston

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:

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