Archive for the 'Teaching Arts' Category

Teaching Huck Finn in the Classroom

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Should a bowdlerized version of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn replace the controversial original version? That’s the subject at the heart of this Mother Jones piece, which addresses censorship in the classroom. Tadd Scott, one of the English teachers at Mission High School that WritersCorps works with, weighs in — and also offers his own take on how English classes can better serve a more multicultural society than Twain’s by offering their students alternative narratives alongside classics like Huck Finn.

AWP Recap

Friday, February 20th, 2009

WritersCorps attended AWP in Chicago last week to present our new book: “Days I Moved Through Ordinary Sounds: The Teachers of WritersCorps in Poetry and Prose.” We had a panel reading on Saturday, February 14. Yes, it was Valentine’s Day. And lots of people shared their love of WritersCorps.

The panel featured several writers from the anthology, all writers who had served in WritersCorps.

Here are the panelists: Chad Sweeney (who also edited the book), Maiana Minahal, Hoa Nguyen, Thomas Centolella, Elissa Perry, and Jeffrey McDaniel. It was great to hear everyone’s different styles and voices.

We also had a lot of fun checking out other panels at AWP, plus the big bookfair.

In fact, it was such an action-packed conference that it took us a week to recuperate and write this post. Thank you to everyone who came to our panel and to Elaine, our publisher from City Lights. And to the great city of Chicago. We had a lovely time.

Judith’s New Site

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

Our training coordinator, Judith Tannebaum, has revamped her personal website. It’s full of information about teaching arts and prison arts, so if you’re looking for resources on those subjects, check it out.

Training: History of the Field

Thursday, April 10th, 2008


By Judith Tannenbaum, WritersCorps Training Coordinator
Photo by Katharine Gin

This year we’ve added a class “The Work of a Teaching Artist” to the training WritersCorps offers our teachers. The class meets monthly, and today I shared information on the history of the field. I discussed six strands of this work that we do, and here is a very brief account.

The first is literary arts programs, including such models as Teachers & Writers Collaborative and Writers in the Schools.

A second strand is government programs. In Europe, and much of the world, cultural authorities are included in development agencies and are an integral part of a town’s planning. Animateurs are paid to help neighborhoods develop theater, murals, readings, etc. A most helpful source of information on cultural development is Arlene Goldbard’s “New Creative Community.”

In the United States, the New Deal gave work to the unemployed — including unemployed artists — during the Depression. The Public Works Project and the Works Progress Administration gave us murals in public buildings, and sent visual artists, musicians, theater people and writers to do a variety of work in a variety of community settings.

In the 1960s, Great Society mandates established the NEA and state art councils. Nancy Hanks, Director of the National Endowment for the Arts in late ’60s, established a national model that would provide money for local communities to create programs catering to their constituents’ needs. This funding enabled our very own San Francisco Arts Commission to develop the Neighborhood Arts Program, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

In the 1970s, high unemployment rates led to the Comprehensive Employment Training Act of 1973. CETA jobs gave many artists, in all disciplines, funding for real cultural development.

A third strand is that of nonprofits. The Settlement Houses of the late 19th century existed before the notion of nonprofits, but they offered services to immigrants in ways similar to many contemporary nonprofits. The most famous was Hull House in Chicago, started by Jane Addams in 1889.

One of the ancestor programs I most treasure is Highlander Center which Myles Horton founded in 1932 to serve as an adult education center for community workers involved in social and economic justice movements. The goal of Highlander was, and is, to provide education and support to poor and working people fighting economic injustice, poverty, prejudice, and environmental destruction. Since 1966, the Highlander Research and Education Center has administered the We Shall Overcome Fund, which is generated by royalties from the commercial use of the song “We Shall Overcome.” (The version we all sing came from Highlander.)

The 1960s, of course, were a time of political change, and claiming the arts as central to the lives of regular people was an important part of the Civil Rights Movement, the Liberating Education of Paulo Freire and Augusto Boal, El Teatro Campesino, the Black Arts Movement and San Francisco’s Mime Troupe.

Alternate Roots was founded in 1976 at Highlander by a group of southeastern performing artists creating original, community based work. High Performance magazine documented much of this work, and this documentation can now be viewed at the Community Arts Network — the single best source for information about community arts.

A fourth strand is that of educators and universities. In the early 20th Century, University Extension Programs were begun to share the educational and cultural resources of universities with larger community. Currently, a number of college and universities give degrees in community art and teaching art work.

Strand five is that of funders and funding initatives, including government, private foundations, commercial/corporate, private/individual. Between 1957 and 1990, the Ford Foundation had a broad vision of arts funding (including the establishment of new regional nonprofit arts institutions and art service organizations. During this era, the SF Bay Area alone, went from 20-30 nonprofit arts organizations in late the 1950s to 1,000 by the late 1980s.

In 1998, the Wallace Foundation seeded the field of community arts in higher education, which led to The Community Arts Partnership program. These have elements in common with service learning and civic engagement programs, and programs include:

* Reciprocal University for the Arts Project, CSU-Monterey Bay,
* Community Arts Partnerships, Cooper Union
* Native American Youth Outreach Program, Institute for American Indian Arts, Santa Fe
* Community Arts Partnerships, Maryland Institute College of Art
* Community Arts Partnerships Program, Xavier University, New Orleans
* Center for Community Arts Partnerships, Columbia College Chicago

The sixth strand is that of research, advocacy and arts policy. and includes: The Arts Education Partnership, Americans for the Arts, Center for Arts Policy, Project Zero at Harvard.

Two other central sources of information for the field are: the Association of Teaching Artists and Teaching Artist Journal.

Training: Building Foundations

Friday, March 14th, 2008

By Judith Tannenbaum, WritersCorps Training  Coordinator
Photo of Myron Michael Hardy by Katharine Gin

Foundation, scaffolding, windows. Lately, in training, we’ve been playing with an extended metaphor that reflects WritersCorps’ long-term, in-depth, vision and practice. Our teaching artists spend many hours each week with their students. They not only have to prepare excellent single lessons, but also a curriculum that extends week after week over the eight months of our program year.

I asked the group to describe how they perceive, design and construct the foundation of this building project; what scaffolding they use in the process; and how they take advantage of windows that suddenly open for a particular student or for the whole group. Here are some responses shared at our recent mini training:

* Ask about family and people my students love.
* Read poems that speak to my students.
* Notice what my students respond to.
* Give clear feedback on successful moments.
* Build the skill, the muscle, of doing our best.
* Focus not only on the poet in the class, but speak and call on everyone.
* Bring in objects so my students can be visually stimulated.
* Play games (I love hearing my students laugh like very young kids for ten minutes.)
* Translate the skill of writing and revision into a life skill.
* Model writing as a container/tool to hold our experiences of the world.
* Think about something that is culturally relevant to my students. Think of a genre of poetry that can hold (or best hold) the subject my students write about. Imagine and research games that can serve as ice breakers and team building exercises. Find a poet who can serve as an example.

A few of our teaching artists requested questions that they can ask themselves as they continue to build their teaching practices. Here are a few I came up with:

1. What are concrete ways you encourage students to claim their own stories (histories, points-of-view, dreams)?

2. What are concrete things you do to encourage respect (among the youth, from youth toward you, from adults at site to youth, from youth to adults)?

3. What are some examples of windows, those moments when something opens in the group, or with an individual student, and big learning can occur?

4. Describe a moment when you’ve seen a student’s face open in understanding or delight.

5. Describe ways you encourage students to take an image deeper. For example: he’s written, “I love my dog.” What questions do you ask? I might ask the young poet to close his eyes and let his dog appear in his imagination. What’s the dog doing? Is his tail wagging? Is he rolling over?

Former poet laureate Bob Hass said that the task for a poet is not to think more, but to see better.

6. Myron uses the term “attention getters” for activities that accomplish that goal. What are some attention getters you’ve used?

7. How do you approach particular tools of poetics (image, line break, voice, etc.)?

8. How does awareness of your own creative process inform your teaching?

9. Describe some specific challenges involved in turning an academic, scholastic, grade-based environment into a creative, imaginative safe space.

10. What have been some of your feelings and responses when you find a classroom teacher’s or community program leader’s values and styles different from yours?

11. Describe some pluses and minuses you’ve noticed about integrating your teaching art work with formal class curriculum.

12. Give examples of some ways you balance attention on going deeper in the art form while also creating products with students (single poems, publications, readings, etc).

13. Give examples of some ways you hold the whole (the whole class, the whole week, the whole program year) while simultaneously being present in the moment (noticing the clock and figuring out how you’ll fit everything in before the end of class; noticing who’s spoken a lot and who hasn’t spoken yet; noticing the need to follow a tangent, and also how to get back to the task).


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