Archive for the 'Teaching Arts' Category

Classroom Ideas on Ferguson #FergusonSyllabus

Friday, December 5th, 2014

blacklifeisprecious mylifeismeaningful
As we heard the news about the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island, WritersCorps teaching artists began sharing teaching ideas. Here are some of our ideas on how to engage students in writing or discussion. We will update this list with more ideas as we develop them. You can also find ideas by searching #FergusonSyllabus on Twitter. Please feel free to email us at or tweet at us if you have resources you’d like us to share.

Photos by Carrie Leilam Love, who took these in WritersCorps workshops in July 2013 after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the death of Trayvon Martin.


Writing Activity: Benjamin Watson’s Response to Ferguson
by Roseli Ilano

1) Many people are posting their reactions to police brutality on social media. Using the following post by NFL player Benjamin Watson as an example, have students fill in the blanks about how they personally feel. Students may share or keep their emotions private.

I’M ANGRY because
I’M FEARFUL because
I’M SAD because
I’M OFFENDED because
I’M CONFUSED because
I’M HOPELESS because
I’M HOPEFUL because

2) Optional Personification Activity by Maddy Clifford

Next, ask students to take one emotion and personify it. Personifying emotions allows young people to create some level of distance from a trauma, but also encourages them to use their imagination.

Ask students clarifying questions…

  • What is your emotion’s favorite past time?
  • Where does your emotion live and what does it eat for breakfast?
  • Does your emotion have a gender or is your emotion gender-free?

Here is an example of personifying fear from “The Book of Qualities” by J. Ruth Gendler


“Fear has a large shadow, but he himself is quite small. He has a vivid imagination. He composes horror music in the middle of the night. He is not very social, and he keeps to himself at political meetings. His past is a mystery. He warned us not to talk to each other about him, adding that there is nowhere any of us could go where he wouldn’t hear us. We were quiet. When we began to talk to each other, he changed. His manners started to seem pompous, and his snarling voice sounded rehearsed.”


Writing Activity: Truths and Myths
by Sandra Garcia Rivera

1) Ask students to make a list of three beliefs they had about “the police” or “the U.S.” or the “justice system” that they realized are not entirely true, or are a lie. (Choose just one topic to be as specific as possible. Specificity allows for a cohesive directed discussion.)

2) Ask students what they learned was the truth for each of these three beliefs.

3) Have students choose one belief and write about the time or experience that caused them to change the belief, or informed them that it was not true.

4) In small groups (no more than 4 participants in each), ask students to share their two lists. Ask students how many they have in common.

5) In the small group, have each student share the moment that their ideas changed. Students do not have to read their writing; they can just talk about the moment.

6) Come back to large discussion and have each group report back to create one collective visual of both lists.

7) Discuss the lists / experiences. Why are there so many in common? Be prepared to facilitate hard feelings, and affirm students experiences related to disillusionment, mourning, trauma, etc.

8) Share examples of leaders who overcame disillusion and turned their knowledge into action, ex: Cassius Clay became Muhammed Ali, or Malcolm Little to Malcolm X to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, or Angela Davis, etc.

9) Give additional individual writing time to add to the earlier free write, or to start a new one. Allow time for students to volunteer and share their stories.

Note: This lesson can be modified for ELL students by using the “U.S.” as a point of opening up the door for discussion. For example, you can use the topic of immigration with a class of students who were born inside and outside the U.S. The discussion needs to be safe for the students who have migrated. You can also use a fishbowl discussion with a group that has already established trust, so that the students who have migrated get to speak, and the other students listen.


Discussion: W.E.B. Du Bois Quote
by Roseli Ilano


1) Ask students to respond to this quote by W.E.B Du Bois, who wrote this almost 100 years ago. What does he mean by this? Do you think it still applies today? In thinking about our current system, who is it protecting? How? Give concrete examples.

This could frame a discussion about police brutality and how it is related to so much more (gentrification, laws, courts, etc), as a system is made of many intersecting parts.

2) Additionally, you may discuss the concepts of “black rage” and “white rage.” This article frames how white rage is the way the power structure uses laws to hold up white supremacy. Voter ID laws, Stand Your Ground laws, and Arizona’s SB1070 are a few examples of white rage.

Writing Activity: Poem Inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Adapted from the WritersCorps book, “Jump Write In”

WritersCorps teaching artists often honor the work and memory of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. by asking students to write poems about the principles of civil rights and freedom. Here is an opportunity for teachers to talk not only about Martin Luther King Jr. on the day honoring him every January, but also about the civil rights movement, race relations, the qualities of a leader, heroes, and so on.

1. Bring in photographs from the days of segregation, such as of a water fountain with a “whites only” sign.

2. Ask students to imagine living in a world with that kind of overt racism and then write about how times have changed or not changed since Martin Luther King Jr.’s death.


Other Resources

Teaching the #FergusonSyllabus, by Marcia Chatelain

Teaching the Ongoing Murders of Black Men, from Rethinking Schools

Black Lives Matter Poetry Activity, from Youth Voices

How to Teach Beyond Ferguson, by Jose Vilson

Teaching for Change


“Not An Elegy for Mike Brown:” Two Poems for Ferguson by Danez Smith

Black Poets Speak Out

“Poem About My Rights” by June Jordan

“I Too” by Langston Hughes

“Let Me Breathe” by Donte Clark, poet laureate of Richmond, CA (Video)

“To Men of Melanin, Bullet wounds, and Tear drops” by Obasi Davis, 2013 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate (Video)

I Can’t Breathe – WalkRunFly Productions, Poem written and performed by Daniel J. Watts (Video)



‘Am I Next?’: Ferguson’s Protests Through the Eyes of a Teenager

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.



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