Sign up for the WITS Fall Writing Festival 2013

Posted September 10, 2013 & filed under Notebook.


WITS Fall Writing Festival for Educators: Teaching Writing from Experience
This conference is presented by Writers in the Schools (WITS). The keynote speaker will be Andrea White. The conference is specifically:

For educators, grades 3-12 who want to:
  • Improve their own writing skills
  • Explore creative brainstorming methods
  • Support their students’ writing
  • Experience the WITS method of teaching
Participants will:
  • Attend two workshops
  • Work with professional writers
  • Gain hands-on writing experiences
  • Discuss classroom applications
  • Receive 6 hours of TAGT-approved G/T credit

Please join us!

Saturday, October 5, 2013
Houston Baptist University
8:30 AM-2:30 PM
Cost: $125 {Lunch is included}

5 Writers Tell Us How WITS Teaching Transformed Them: Susan Bernstein

Posted March 25, 2013 & filed under Notebook.

susanSusan Naomi Bernstein’s most recent book is Teaching Developmental Writing, Fourth Edition. Her articles on basic writing, social justice, and learning differences have been published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Journal of Basic Writing, Modern Language Studies, and elsewhere. She is a past co-chair of the Council on Basic Writing and a past co-editor of BWe: Basic Writing e-Journal. Susan has worked with students for more than two decades in urban and rural settings in New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Her essay is the second in a series of five installments where former WITS teachers tell how their WITS teaching taught them valuable life lessons.

4th Grade Goes to College: Writing in the World a Decade after WITS

By Susan Naomi Bernstein

In 2004, the fourth grade students I wrote with in WITS visited the introductory college writing class I taught at a local university. The purpose of the visit was for these two groups of students to write together across the differences that usually divide people from one another, including race, ethnicity, language, social class, and age.  I wrote more about that experience,“4th Grade Goes to College,” in the WITS publication A New Leaf.  Based on a lesson from the book We Dream of a World, the students documented their dream: “We dream of a world where everyone is treated equally and fairly because everyone deserves it.”

Nearly a decade later, three of us who gathered together on that day continue to enact that dream in our everyday lives. A, one of the college students at the university where I once taught, now teaches multilingual students at an urban elementary school. During the holidays, A and I visited in person for the first time in many years and discussed our shared interest in compassionate pedagogy.

Desireé Mina Baktiar, one of the 4th grade students in my WITS class, keeps in touch on Facebook. Desireé studies musical theatre and writes poetry and spoken word. Last year she published one of her villanelles on

Ciao World of Old By Desireé Mina Baktiar

Ciao world of old, hello world of new.

I’ll hold your hand as we jump frame to frame.

Take what you’ve learned but not what taught you.

Oh! Glistening looking-glass to step through!

Even reflections are not the same.

Ciao world of old, hello world of new.

Heavy on my shoulders are anchors I rue.

On our journey we’ll sweat off all shame.

Take what you’ve learned but not what taught you. 

Through old world’s scorns, wings I grew;

Now I fly, though as an outcast I came. 

Ciao world of old hello world of new. 

The looking-glass shatters, that is my cue!

Still a victim, but now of wonder’s fame.

Take what you’ve learned but not what taught you. 

Past failures, heartbreaks, and happiness too

Transform into paint to fill the next frame.

Ciao world of old, hello world of new!

Take what you’ve learned but not what taught you.

Currently, I write a blog for Bedford/St. Martin’s called “Beyond the Basics,” which focuses on the writing process and social equity in higher education. Writing remains for me a conduit, a river moving toward an awakening of conscious. We pay attention. We take action. As local disruptions produce global transformations, writing carries us through the moment, and leaves a record of our strivings. Nearly a decade after teaching with WITS, I am dreaming still.

The WritingFix Project

Posted August 17, 2011 & filed under Notebook.

If you’re a teacher trying to figure out her first-day-of-school writing prompt, visit the Northern Nevada Writing Project (NNWP) for some wonderful, interactive writing lessons that will get you off to a brilliant beginning.  The NNWP WritingFix page is set up for teachers and features many helpful ideas, routines, and practices for the writing classroom.  Many of them involve art or other forms of fun, hands-on inspiration that will get students in the mood to write!

One of the best parts of WritingFix is YOUR STUDENTS.  That’s right.  NNWP posts high-quality lessons and resources provided by NNWP workshop presenters, but you don’t have to live in Nevada to take advantage of them!  You are welcome to use these lesson plans, available online for free, and then report back on how they manifested in your classroom.

What’s the coolest part of WritingFix?  YOU!  You get to submit work by your students, and many of them are posted as student samples on the website.  This is a fantastic publishing opportunity for your students.  I used the countdown and count-up stories from WritingFix last year in my classroom, and they were a huge hit!

By Marcia Chamberlain, Writers in the Schools

Through the Eyes of an Intern: My Summer at WITS

Posted July 27, 2011 & filed under Notebook.

When I applied to intern at Writers in the Schools (WITS), I wasn’t exactly sure what I would learn. As an education major, I had no background in creative writing and very limited experience with non-profits. I wondered what sort of insights would I gain from working with WITS. Two short months later, I am leaving 1523 West Main with an armful of incredible experiences and valuable lessons learned.

Getting to be a fly on the wall at the WITS office this summer, I was given an authentic experience of the non-profit world. I was invited to sit in on meetings, converse with the WITS staff, and participate in the summer programs. From those opportunities, I have learned about non-profit structure and some of the challenges of non-profit involvement in education. I now have a true appreciation for the “behind the scenes” work of non-profit programming and am grateful for the effort that non-profit organizations put into positively affecting the community.

Interning with WITS has also influenced the type of teacher I will be in the future. Before WITS, I really hadn’t given much thought to the involvement of creativity in the classroom. That’s what the art and music teacher focused on, right? After observing the Summer Creative Writing Workshops this summer, experiencing how the students became so engaged and excited about learning and teachers who were passionate about authentic learning experiences, I will never again disregard the importance of creativity and imagination in the classroom.

I realized that when a teacher’s emphasis is moved from student performance to student experience, engaging students with opportunities to explore and create, authentic learning is the natural result. The teacher is also provided with an incredible platform to get to know a student through their artistic expression, enriching the student-teacher relationship. Through WITS, I have gained this understanding, which will affect not only how I teach, but also the students that I teach.

I am honored to have been welcomed into Writers in the Schools this summer. I am grateful for my experience of working for an organization with true passion for quality fine arts education and belief in the importance of every person’s story. Thank you WITS, for the lessons I have learned and the experiences you have given me. You will always be a part of my story.

By Megan McKitrick

[Megan McKitrick was the 2011 ExxonMobil Community Summer Jobs Program Intern at WITS. She is a rising junior at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma.]

Give Me

Posted October 5, 2010 & filed under Notebook.

Give me the fresh air you breathe.

Give me a duck that walks all night.

Give me a boot to wear.

Give me Abraham Lincoln in his chair.

Give me a Boom Box so I can hear.

Give me a teacher holding my hand.

Give me a man cheering for hope.

Give me an arrow to show which way to go.

Give me a woman holding a baby.

Give me the number, counting five.

Give me the water for my boat.

Give me a bird flying through the air.

Give me all the good things that life can bring.

By Troishel, 4th Grade


Posted September 22, 2010 & filed under Notebook.

“Checkmate,” said Mr. M.  I looked down at the battlefield of knights and pawns with awe and frustration.  I had lost again, but I was getting better.

“Good game, Mr. M.,” I said as I stood up.  “Well, I guess I’d better be getting back to class.”

“All right,” he said.  “See you sixth period.”

Paul M. was my eighth grade science teacher.  I learned a lot in his classroom that year but most was taught over a game of chess during homeroom, and the lessons were not about science but about growing up.  Four years later, I still remember and apply these lessons in my life.

First, I learned that even a lowly pawn, when maneuvered right, can become a queen.  I never really had high self-esteem in middle school.  I wasn’t popular and I didn’t do well in my classes.  Through the talks with Mr. M. my feelings about myself began to change.  He introduced me to things I was good at, like chess, he gave me advice about peer relations, and he helped me in school.  I learned that I, like the pawn, could accomplish many great things.

Second, I learned that it wasn’t a good idea for me to trade my queen for a knight.  At that moment in my life, I was making poor choices.  My grades were not up to par, and I was fighting with my parents a lot.  Mr. M. taught me to make better decisions about the future and not to sacrifice the good that I had in life for petty gains.

Third, I learned that the three-move checkmate seldom works.  I was very impatient in the eighth grade.  I gave little time to anything of importance, which usually resulted in shoddy work.  Mr. M. taught me that, just as in chess, the only way to accomplish anything in life is through planning ahead and patience.

Mr. M. gave me numerous life skills.  I can easily say that with the self-confidence, decision-making skills, and patience Mr. M. taught me, life will never put me in checkmate.

By Michael

Three favorite books to inspire young writers

Posted January 8, 2008 & filed under Notebook.

Good reading makes for good writing! Here are three books I love to bring into the classroom to engage young writers’ imaginations.

if coverIf by Sarah Perry, is a simple text with fantastic illustrations. Using ideas such as “If cats could fly…” and “If leaves were fish…” the book asks its readers to use their imaginations to ponder the possibilities of small changes to the world we know. These ideas are a great jumping-off point for young writers. I like to ask them to write stories about one day when they wake up to find one small thing has changed about the world, and the big differences that one small change can make.

my map book cover My Map Book by Sara Fanelli is a collection of surprising maps drawn with a childlike sense of the world. Using the concept of “map” rather loosely, Fanelli shows us not only maps of her neighborhood and her room, but also maps of her family, her tummy, and imaginary places. Young writers like to draw their own maps in response to this book; these maps help them focus on an idea for writing about aspects of their lives.

wilfrid gordon cover Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox is the story of a boy who tries to find out what “memory” is so that he can help his friend, an elderly woman, who he hears has lost hers. After being told that a memory is “something warm,” “something that makes you laugh,” “something that makes you cry,” “something from long ago,” and “something as precious as gold,” he assembles a box full of items that he hopes will fit the bill. I ask my young writers to create their own “memory boxes” that are filled with short memoirs about an item they have that fills each category. This helps them see how even small objects can contain and represent powerful memories and emotions.

There are so many wonderful children’s books out there that can inspire writers at all levels. What are your favorite children’s books, and how have they inspired you?tria

posted by Tria Wood, Writers in the Schools