Sunday, September 4, 2011

Welcome to the 2011 Fall Edition of eMuse!

In this edition...

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Reading and Writing in a Decade of Standards

In a year of funding-anxiety, EMWP will put on its "game-face" with a series of workshops organized round the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts, Social Studies, and Science (announcement).

The monthly presentations at EMU will exhibit our most recent explorations of topics, such as narrative writing, social justice, digital portfolios, and disciplinary literacy (schedule).

The presentations will take place on the second Saturday of every month (except October, which is on the fifteenth) at the newly-renovated Pray-Harrold classrooms at EMU. SB-CEU credit will be offered for attending three or more of the eight sessions.

We encourage you to pre-register on the attached form (registration) and to invite your colleagues in all disciplines, since our program is truly cross-disciplinary. This year, more than ever, we need to make the Eastern Michigan Writing Project visible to all.

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Teacher Research Group Receives Funding for Self-Study

Cathy Fleischer

Another year and another exciting new venture for the teacher research group—a venture that grew out of a question raised by last year’s members. Frustrated that far too many “others” (legislators, administrators, other teachers, parents) just don’t understand the hard work that we teachers do, the focused attention we pay to student learning, and the ways in which teacher research can lead to meaningful change, we wondered what we could do to help others understand the work that we do. We began to imagine ways creating a video that would be visual representation of what it means to be in a teacher research group.

Over the summer we talked more within the group and with some very strong supporters of our plan, and we now are ready to launch a video project!

We’ll be filming in two different ways (1) the monthly TR meetings as we refine our individual questions, share and analyze our data, and make sense of what the data tells us; and (2) key moments in individual classrooms as teachers gather data and make changes in teaching as a result of what they learn.

What will we do with all this footage? Miraculously (at least it seems that way to us!), NCTE is starting its own new venture in which they are partnering with several other groups to create a National Center for Literacy Education. Funded in large part by the Ball Foundation, the Center is interested in our work and is helping us by supplying a video camera and editing support. Look for announcements from NCTE in the coming months about this work.

While this is all exciting stuff, we know that the heart of our work remains the systematic study of our classrooms: determining a question, a true wondering; deciding on the best way to gather data on that question (observational logs, interviews, surveys, interviews); analyzing that data; and writing up and disseminating findings in a way that is useful.

If you want to learn more about teacher research, check out the power point on the EMWP website!

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EMWP to Create Disciplinary Literacy Curriculum with Science and Social Studies Teachers

Co-Directors Doug Baker and John Staunton

In August nine teachers of English, Science and Social Studies met at the EMU Student Center to discuss opportunities of a $5,000 minigrant from the National Writing Project to pursue “understanding the disciplinary literacy demands suggested by the Common Core State Standards.” The grant, which draws on funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will support the teachers in the study and application of the specific literacies of the sciences and the social studies.

Co-directors Doug Baker and John Staunton will coordinate the efforts with two groups of energetic teacher consultants. The Science Inquiry Group will be led by Julie Blomquist (Emerson Middle School, Livonia), Heather Conklin (Chelsea High School, Chelsea), Julie King (Emerson Middle School, Livonia), Lauren Luedtke (International Academy, Bloomington Hills), and Jeff Taylor (Clague Middle School, Ann Arbor). The Social Studies Inquiry Group includes Andrea Gillies (Flat Rock High School), Michelle McLemore (Onsted High School), Judy Wycoff, (Allen Park High School) and Dawn Putnam (Chelsea High School).

Both groups plan to meet monthly and design research-based and classroom-proven lessons that teachers can implement with their students. By also linking the lessons to the Common Core Standards, which the state of Michigan has adopted, these EMWP teachers will strive to guide and inspire other teachers to offer curricular opportunities to students to meet subject area literacy goals and increase students’ awareness and knowledge of these disciplines.

EMWP will highlight the effort and products of these two groups of teachers as part of the Reading and Writing in a Decade of Standards series. The social studies group will demonstrate lessons on March 10, 2012, and the science teachers will follow up on April 14.

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Summertime Journey at EMWP

Cassy Korinek

We came from teaching experiences in private and public school; from rural and urban communities. Some of us teach at the college level, others teach middle or high school learners. Some of us teach primary school and even have experience teaching the very, very young! We came from districts like Monroe, South Lyon, Ypsilanti, Adrian, Farmington Hills, Ann Arbor, Hamtramck, and even Dexter. Some of us are teachers of English, counselors, drama teachers, foreign languages, and even teachers of multiple disciplines. Despite our diverse backgrounds we all came together this summer at the EMWP with a common passion, our love for writing in a world that is so fragile and ever-changing!

We came charged with different writing missions. One of us had visions of finishing a novel. Marquin Parks' mission during the institute was to finish the final chapters of his work, The Great Misunderstandings of Alexander the Grate. When Marquin finished reading a chapter called "The Torture" to us, we all wanted to know more. We heard from Marquin weeks after our time together was over. He had completed his novel and happily sent us all the final chapters for feedback and celebration. When we one day see The Great Misunderstandings of Alexander the Grate on book shelves, we’ll proudly reflect as we pick up a copy, “We know this remarkable author!” 

Writing Marathon - Marquin and Cindy listen at the Eagle Crest 

Summer Invitational teacher/poet Dawn Richberg, in her closing thoughts at the institute, delivered a heartfelt "thank you" for the sacred writing time and the colleagues who helped her develop expressions of personal reflection. Our treasured time not only revealed magnificent works, but it uncovered the “hidden gems” that each of us possess. Gems that will travel with us into our classrooms to inspire, name, and liberate writers we guide.

Writing Marathon - Dawn at the Ugly Mug
In demonstration lessons, some of us gallantly blazed a path to help us grow in our skills of using technology to gain a passion for “new literacies.” Participant Erin Klein helped us reflect on 21st century learners. She exposed us to search engines to inspire research, online writing tools such as Storybird, and ways to interact with each other such as using Schoology. Her compelling demonstration lesson left us with great excitement about the possibilities of using technology in our classrooms. 

Writing Marathon - Erin, Stacey, Rian, and Nick at Kerrytown

Participant Jessica DeYoung Kander took us to a new level of using discussion boards for “just in-time learning” possibilities not only in the classroom, but with our peers. It was a fast-paced demonstration, but every Summer Invitational participant was captivated and individually challenged. Each of us walked away wondering about the possibilities of ramping up the use of technology in our classrooms, for the very young all the way to college. 

Other demonstrators helped us focus on detail in order to bring out the language and flavor of works that we create as well as those we experience. Participant Cindy Guillean guided us in a bridging reading with writing lesson by diving deeper into the author’s intention. Even after her lesson, we continued to discuss evidence that supported our interpretation of the piece. Looking at writing through an author’s lens certainly left us with compelling writing possibilities. Participant Janice Vujic gave us another look at diving deeper in our thoughts by examining art and interpreting the who, what, why, and how implied by the photographer or painter. 

Writing Marathon - Final Sharing Time

Our demonstrators’ lessons left us with wondrous thoughts of what it takes to inspire and guide 21st century learners in the area of literacy. The recipe included creating thinkers and communicators who use their talents in melodious ways to relate and gain a deeper understanding together. It’s vigorous, it’s powerful, it’s essential, and it’s possible.
We parted after a month with tears of joy reflecting our accomplishments, yet tears of sadness that our month-long commitment together had come to an end. Our time together helped us surmise that a writer’s work is never done and it cannot be done alone. It takes the hands of many along the way to make it speak the depths we want it to share.
With this in mind, we are recharged as we step back into our classrooms this fall. Miles will separate us, but we will continue to join together as a community of writers, researchers, and friends that will stay closely connected in order keep inspiring ourselves and our students to stay the course as lifelong learners in a fluid world.
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Where's My Evidence?

Lisa Eddy

One of the biggest struggles I face as a teacher is balancing the needs of my students with the demands of THE TEST. Obviously, my first priority is THE STUDENT. Every single human being is a valued and celebrated member of the classroom community.
I have concerns about the recent “school reform” that I see happening in schools. I am concerned about the narrowing of the curriculum and about sacrificing weeks of actual literacy instruction for test practice. Recently I had a conversation with an administrator in which I advocated that our school adopt the NWP model of professional development, arguing that our model can and does lead to higher student achievement. He was doubtful. He asked, "Where is your evidence?"

He doesn't know me. He doesn't know that I am a teacher researcher or what that means. What does it mean to be a teacher researcher? It means that everything that happens, everything that we say, every move that we make, every question we ask, every assignment we give and grade---is DATA. It means is that I am constantly in a questioning mode regarding curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Because of this, I have collected artifacts of mine and my students' strengths, weaknesses, achievements and failures from every year of my career, going back to my first year, 1994. I have studied, in a systematic way, the following topics: portfolio assessment, multi-genre writing, writing across the curriculum, writing to learn, reflective writing, classroom community-building, autism spectrum, place-based/experiential learning, environmental education in ELA, embedding wellness activities/instruction in ELA, and gender and voice in student writing. I have written countless papers on these topics, and some of what I've written has been published in respected professional journals, in print and online.
He doesn't know that I invite everyone: the Superintendent, colleagues, parents, pre-service teachers, college instructors and their students, LEP workshop participants, NWP workshop participants, NCTE members....anyone and see the evidence of the high quality, rigorous education that my students receive in my classroom that empowers them to become capable, confident, and contributing citizens of a 21st century global society. He doesn't know the dozens and dozens of stories that students and former students tell about how they never imagined that they'd ______ [fill in the blank with a literacy accomplishment of your choice], but Ms. Eddy empowered them and mentored them, and they achieved the goal. I only wish that I could get him and others truly interested in seeing the learning and growth that I see in my students' thinking, reading, writing, speaking, listening, and researching. I know this is true for so many teachers, yet it will never translate to test scores, for any number of reasons.
Where's my evidence?
A few weeks ago, I ran into a parent of a former student, Tony (Class of 2004). Rob, his dad, put his arm around me and said, "You know, Tony is in Hollywood now, working in the film industry, making more money than us, and it's all because of you."
Of course it isn't all because of me, but I did play a role in Tony's success. When Tony arrived in my classroom his junior year, his parents, his counselors, and his Special Education teacher knew that if Tony was going to pass American Literature, he'd need a lot of help. And from me, he got it. I did some research and discovered that Tony, who said he was a non-reader and a non-writer, was a state-champion bowler who read a bowling magazine, and that he designed record-breaking sound systems to compete in car-stereo volume contests, which required him to read technical texts. I used what I learned about the genres and structures he was familiar with in the reading he chose to do to help him find ways to be successful with reading and writing assignments. And he did succeed. It was a struggle, but I always say of life's less pleasant experiences, "Liking it is optional."
At his spring IEP meeting, the education team met to discuss Tony's options for English in his senior year. At this point, most students who struggle with English Language Arts prefer to opt out, if they've met credit requirements, or take a less rigorous elective. Tony, concerned that his weak writing skills could hinder his post-secondary educational options, made an amazing decision. He told the team that he wanted to do an independent study in writing with me, so that he could work on his area of weakness. He knew that it would be difficult, and that he wouldn't enjoy it, but he knew that he needed to get stronger as a writer. At the end of his senior year, we knew that he had come a very long way. We also knew that he'd need to keep working on it. And he did.
Tony showed up in my classroom last spring, just before he moved to California for his new job. He wanted to be able to thank me in person. He had exciting news. He had just published an article in HDRI 3D, a professional journal for 3D artists and animators, and the publisher was so impressed with his work that she had contacted him to ask him to submit more articles. And to be honest, I don’t know if this successful and published professional could pass the TEST today, but I do know that it doesn’t matter. He’s successful in his field; that’s what matters.
"Where's my evidence?"
My evidence is in my classroom, on the walls, displayed with Maple pride. My evidence is in the crate at the front of the room that holds the writing projects from former students--for current students to consult for ideas and examples. My evidence is in my students, in their writing projects, in their portfolios, in their facebook pages, in their book purchases, in the data I've collected, in the presentations I give, in the articles I publish, in youtube videos, in blogs, in college acceptance letters, and later degrees, in published poems, articles, websites, books, cds, and in the stories that students and parents tell about the insights, the growth, the achievements, and the opportunities that arise out of the work I do with students in English Language Arts.
My evidence is in the ways that students are empowered as readers and writers, throughout their lives, whether or not they pass the TEST. The truth is that whether or not they pass the test, my students will go on learning and working, and what they learn in my classroom is valuable in real ways for their real lives. That's real transformation, and that's something that should be cultivated by all who are involved with school reform.

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EMWP Writing Retreat 2011

By Ellen Daniel,
with Kris Gedeon and Angela Knight

A mixture of confusion and curiosity was the most common reaction people had when they learned that I was going to be “up north” for a “writing retreat” with some colleagues from the Eastern Michigan Writing Project. Questions that followed generally addressed two items: “What do you DO on a writing retreat?” and “What are you going to be writing?” Answering these questions was difficult for me because at first, I didn’t really know what people DO on a writing retreat either. I imagined it to be an extended version of a Writing Marathon which is quite familiar to EMWP alumni. As it turned out, I wasn’t far off the mark in that respect. I know that when I received the email inviting me to attend a Writing Retreat at Lake Ann featuring four days devoted to writing I immediately checked my calendar and fired off a response indicating that I would love to attend. Little did I know how true that would be. ~ Ellen Daniel

The Parsons Center, owned by Eastern Michigan University is an amazing place nestled deep in the woods near Lake Ann. Far removed from distraction, it provides a tranquil setting in which writers can both be alone with their thinking and their writing and in the company of other writers. We each brought books and magazines devoted to writing to consult and to share.

We talked about our goals for our allocated time. One person wanted to work on pieces to use with her students and finish/polish some work from a recent writing class, one wanted to move a novel into its final stages, and another wanted to explore some ideas for a new magical realism young adult novel that just started knocking around in her head.

Since we were not too far from Traverse City and Interlochen, we took day trips that resembled mini-Writing Marathons in that we spent some time writing on location and some time participating in activities to fuel our writing. We started our first day at a beach a few miles down the road where we spent some time talking about our goals. Stating aloud what we hoped to accomplish, would, we hoped, help us to actually keep ourselves accountable for our time. We proceeded to spend time writing in the cool, quiet morning before the rest of the world got out to the water.

Writers at Taylor Beach, Long Lake

Next we continued to a location chosen because it offered unique cheesecake possibilities. We had no idea what a goldmine we would stumble upon. The Village at Grand Traverse Commons represents the redevelopment of dozens of historic buildings of the former state hospital facility in Traverse City, Michigan. The Underground Cheesecake Company was one of several interesting stories we discovered. The cafe was a former vegetable peeling building for the state hospital. Lovingly and beautifully renovated, it was an excellent site for us to begin our journey. Just imagining the stories that collection of buildings could tell was enough to provide inspiration for all kinds of writing. In various stages of renovation, the former insane asylum is getting a new life as a destination for shopping, a home for professional offices and exquisitely restored spaces now developed as condominiums.

The evening featured a jaunt to Interlochen for a faculty reading. Two poets and a short story writer presented their work to an audience of campers and members of the general public. We bought books and took some pictures, explored the camp and headed to a local spot for a quick bite. It was becoming apparent that the Writing Retreat was taking form as a time devoted to exploring those things that we found interesting. We had a lovely evening meal on the porch of a local restaurant, and discussed plans for the day ahead.

The Writing House at Interlochen
Friday we returned to Grand Traverse Commons eager to learn more about its history and its current redevelopment. There were many interesting areas that were off limits but there were still plenty of spots available to serve as fuel for the imagination. After lunch at the commons we sailed aboard the tall ship Manitou.

Kris as volunteer deckhand aboard the Manitou
We listened for other people’s stories: Captain Dave explained how he came to own the Manitou, how he hires his crew, and what he loves about life on a ship. A Californian crew member shared his adventures in the Bahamas that led to his Michigan summer aboard the boat. (Driving across the country he was a couch surfer and took his first Bikram yoga class with a woman who had lent him her couch the night before.) These people will undoubtedly appear in some form in something that we write (in addition to this article). One of the women on board with a workplace group became a prototype for a character the next day for one of the writers. Overheard snippets of conversation are great fodder for storytellers, and we heard great conversations aboard the Manitou.

On Saturday, a pair of attendees decided to go parasailing while another chose to investigate the activities at the National Cherry Festival. Parasailing is much like writing after all - it’s perfectly safe, but it can still be terrifying, especially for a writer with a fear of heights.

On the way back to the Parsons Center, we stopped for ice cream at Moomers, a local creamery that had won a “best scoops” contest on Good Morning America Weekend. Sharing meals seems to be another crucial aspect of a successful writer’s retreat. Our was organized so that each person would take responsibility for preparing dinner one evening.

Parsons Center Dining Hall

Breakfast was determined individually and we did not designate a “start time” which proved to be extremely beneficial. One writer is definitely a night owl and does her best work between 10 and 2. Another is an early bird who is always up and writing by 8:30. Recognizing the individual needs of the writers was vitally important and really not difficult. Being able to be flexible, willing to offer suggestions and possessing a genuine willingness to be cooperative is essential to a fun-filled and productive writing adventure.

The freedom to pursue what is interesting without knowing exactly how it fits into particular pieces to be written or specific goals was critical to the success of our retreat. Each one of us had an unexpected discovery. One writer had goals that were a bit all over the place and seemed to struggle to focus during writing time. Yet when it was time to share, she had discovered that a piece she had written at the beach was perfect for a character in a story she had outlined on day one. Things were starting to fall together without deliberate orchestration on her part.

On our last evening, we sat and shared what we had accomplished. Kris finished editing her 2009 NaNoWriMo novel and submitted it for formatting and publication. The weekend retreat activities led her to discover the kernel of an idea for her 2011 NaNoWriMo novel. Angela shared a poem inspired by the former insane asylum and some of the 5000 words of her magical realism novel. She also wrote several mentor text pieces to share with students at Creative Inklings summer writing camp as well as her classroom students in the fall. Ellen wrote and shared several character sketches which will become part of a young adult novel that has been brewing in her head since the spring. Ellen has also written her first article and submitted it for publication.

Watch for invitations to the next Parsons Center Writing Retreat. We hope you can join us.

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Wherefore the National Writing Project?

Bill Tucker

We wish we knew. The National Writing Project persists, with its annual meeting (Chicago, November 18), with its online network (see NWP Connects below), with its targeted grant programs, but no one has stepped up to renew funding as we have known it these eighteen years.

NWP is applying for Title II (professional development) funding, but federal funding is a big question mark for the immediate future.

NWP has received targeted funding from national foundations, such as Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Common Core State Standards curricula) and the MacArthur Foundation (Digital Is) for specific projects, and these initiatives will continue. EMWP has benefited from the Gates Foundation award with a $5,000 mini-grant to study Disciplinary Literacy (see related article).

But when we look to next summer, we cannot depend on the NWP to support a summer institute. That is why we are investigating local foundations and resources, such as district fellowships for teachers to attend the summer institute. If you know of local foundations which might be interested in supporting local professional development initiatives for teachers, please let Bill know. No dollar left behind!

Keep after your Congressional representatives to support professional development funding. Please write and call on every occasion. No one should say at the end of this session of Congress that they didn’t know there was a need.

Long live the National Writing Project!

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NWP Connects: A Social Medium

The following describes how to join the National Writing Project's national conversation. It is a key medium for keeping the network together for the future.

Smooth launch for NWP Connect
Hundreds of teacher-consultants and general members jumped right into NWP Connect after our launch announcement last week. The great news is that we had only a handful of problems at the help desk. So we would count the launch as smooth. In addition, new members are starting to join the various open communities at Connect.

As a reminder, when you log into Connect you are taken to your dashboard/profile area. You will see a listing of communities you are a member of on the right hand side. (Everyone is automatically a member of the National Community.) Using the “Join a Community” button, you can find additional open communities to join.

One newly created community called Literacy and the Common Core, for example, will gather resources and track activity on the Common Core while another community, NWP Book Groups, has already held its first discussion. Go ahead and visit to see what’s happening.

Speaking of Connect
As Congress returns from August recess, we might start to see some activity on advocacy issues like ESEA reauthorization. To keep you in the loop, Bob Jobin from NWP’s Philadelphia office will be blogging regularly about advocacy issues in Connect. You can find his blog at NWP Site Leaders community, both on the home page and through a permanent link on the Talking Points page. This is a good place to get regular information about advocacy and to post questions to Bob:

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Def Leppard Epiphany

Andrea Gillies

DTE was packed. The pavilion and lawn reflected a sea of faces mouthing familiar words. Most faces in the crowd were lined like those of the band members onstage, but every now and then younger faces appeared.
I found that despite my initial hesitation to attend, I knew more songs than I wanted to admit and found myself singing right along. I watched these guys—all original members—traipse across the stage, playing to the crowd, breaking into guitar solos (Phil Collen can still shred with the best) and even performing a surprisingly touching acoustic rendition of Two Steps Behind. The energy, power and joy was apparent. There were no costume changes, no elaborate set designs, no back up dancers, and I was struck by the authenticity of the concert.

Earlier that morning I had watched the Disney channel with my six year old. It was in the middle of her show of the moment, and a video came on featuring a young starlet right out of the Disney machine. In the 30 seconds of the song, her outfit and the scenery changed eight times. She was a vamp in a night club. She was a goddess in a field. She was a futuristic sexpot on a stark set. It was choreographed, bright, shiny… and lifeless. Although the singer had the sultry stare down to a science, there was no soul, no life.
Maybe because it was mid-August, I immediately made a parallel to my students’ writing.

Rubrics are solid—the kids know what to expect and they know what they need to do to earn a good grade. Rubrics are necessary—the MEAP and ACT lay it out explicitly for students so they know what to do in order to earn a high score. But all rubrics really do is choreograph a bright and shiny show with no real voice. It’s like writing the music and compiling lyrics kids can’t possibly identify with, and then expecting them all to sing it flawlessly in 30 minutes or less.
When students are allowed to learn the instrument, collaborate on the music, and draw on the talents of others to hone their craft, creativity flourishes. When students write the song that is inside of them waiting to break free and then sing it with the rhythm it necessitates, the soul comes alive and the voice becomes timeless.
Although Def Leppard played its part of showmanship in the 80s, what they wrote and how they performed was authentic to who they were and still are. It was something that drew crowds to their concerts 30 years ago, and the band’s devotion and belief in what they have to say still draws them today.
The Disney starlet lacks all authenticity. She has followed the rubric for success, but her performance lacks individuality. It’s a wonderful show of lighting, costumes and stage props, but she is not an individual—she is a produced show. In 30 years, no one will remember her.
This fall, I want to make sure that my students find their own authentic voice. I want them to work together to hone and develop a craft. I want them to be as excited about their writing in 30 years as they are today. I want them to learn to love the process and create their own masterpiece. Yes, they’ll ultimately need to “sell” their writing to the judges of the MEAP and ACT, just as Def Leppard still wants to please their fans. But I want them to maintain their authenticity and voice. I want them to execute a concert, not blend into a show.

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The Mayonnaise jar & stuff

Jim Schaefer

A pleasant bit of sentimental nonsense that has been bouncing around the Internet involves a professor who tries to make a huge metaphysical point by filling a mayonnaise jar with golf balls, pebbles, sand, and two cups of coffee (or two bottles of beer, depending on the storyteller). My thanks to Ilka Flood (2011) for her version.
The moral of the story is supposedly that if you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you’ll never have room for the things that are important to you and that are critical to your well-being, such as spending time with your children and getting medical checkups.

But Norma Gonyea (2011) provided quite a heart-stopping point in an online version of Poets and Writers as the result of her experience with her teacher, who wanted to use the mayonnaise jar as a learning tool in response to that story. Norma remembers that her teacher, Miss Miller, whom she loved dearly in her kindergarten class, announced that the class was going to make a surprise Christmas present for the students’ mothers, so she asked her students to bring in a clean mayonnaise jar.
The only problem for Norma was that she was a good Italian girl with Italian parents who lived in an Italian neighborhood where nobody ate mayonnaise. Not one person. To them, and Norma, mayonnaise was white, jiggled, and even looked funny. Norma did ask her Aunt Vinnie, who lived upstairs, if she had a mayonnaise jar, but she didn’t. Norma wanted to ask Mrs. Kelly, the Irish woman who lived across the street, for a jar, but Norma was so young that she wasn’t allowed to cross the street on her own.
As the days progressed, the other students began bringing in their mayonnaise jars, which were put on the wide wooden shelf by the door, at the end of the cloakroom. Miss Miller wrote each person’s name on a piece of paper and taped it to her or his personal jar. Then, one day, Miss Miller said that some students had not brought in their jars and that all the jars had to be in by Friday, so the project could begin. Because she knew that she had been unable to bring in a jar, Norma panicked and fretted about what to do.
What could Miss Miller have done so that she did not cause Norma so much stress? What would you have done if you were Miss Miller? Would you have required all students to comply with this assignment? Would you have inquired of students like Norma who appeared to have trouble, what you could do to help? Would you have set this final deadline, knowing that this kind of ultimatum could cause anxiety in students, particularly good students like Norma? Would you have tried to learn more about the cultural practices, including cuisine, of your students before making the assignment?
Perhaps we should also keep this story in mind when we make our own assignments in writing and use more loving kindness than strict, harsh compliance as a standard of interaction with our students. Just remember that, as teachers, what we say and do in the classroom may never be forgotten, good or bad, for some people’s entire lifetimes. Do we want to be remembered in the way that Norma now remembers her beloved Miss Miller? I hope not.

Flood, I. (2011). The mayonnaise jar and coffee. Retrieved from
Gonyea, N. (2009, December 11). The mayonnaise jar. Retrieved from

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Teaching Insights

Jim Schaefer

With the deep ongoing interest in creativity and creative writing in both non-fiction and fiction, I thought that it would be interesting to mention Robert S. and Michele M. Root-Bernstein (2001), who characterize creative thinking as essentially pre-verbal, intuitive, and emotional. In addition, I thought that I’d mention Segin Lukose, a student of mine from India, who wrote about a story that beautifully demonstrated how it is possible to teach that kind of thinking without being stuffy.
Segin said that his grandparents raised him as a child. During those years, one time his grandfather, whom Segin called, Papa, asked Segin if he’d like to play a new game (they played these games all the time). When Segin said, yes, his Papa went with him to find some Neam leaves. After they found the leaves, Papa made a puzzle out of a few leaves by intertwining them together. Then Papa told Segin to solve the puzzle by disentangling the leaves.

As much as he tried and struggled, Segin could not solve the puzzle, especially after Papa said, “Don’t tear the leaves, you will lose.” Segin said that he tried tirelessly to disentangle the leaves, but finally had to admit that he couldn’t. Then, in a few seconds, Papa disentangled the leaves. When Mama, Segin’s grandmother, called Segin and Papa in for evening tea, Papa told Segin, as they walked in the house, “Tomorrow we will play another game, but this time you must think hard.” Segin said that Papa always practiced this “art of the challenge for the mind” with him and that there was never any boredom, just constant challenge.
Because of their thoughtful love, Segin said that his grandparents are very precious to him. They are like friends. He always talks about everything with them.
This story can offer at least five insights about teaching for us. First, the quality of a caring, even loving, relationship between teacher and student is a crucial element. Second, the components of the lesson can come from the environment of the teacher and the student. They don’t necessarily have to be made. Third, teaching involves a constant learning process of working with a student on ways to encounter and resolve a challenge successfully. Fourth, the nature of the lesson depends on what the student needs and the level of the student’s awareness and skill development. Fifth, the teacher needs to watch a student closely and intervene before the student becomes too frustrated.

Root-Bernstein, R., and Root-Bernstein, M. (2001). Sparks of genius: The thirteen thinking tools of the world’s most creative people. New York, NY: Mariner Books.

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There’s Something About Inkstains . . .

Kim Pavlock TC’ 92

It’s amazing to consider: twenty-five middle school students and thirty-nine high school students devoting an entire week of their summer vacation to writing, writing, and more writing on the campus of Eastern Michigan University in the middle of July!

Monday through Friday each week, Inkstains instructors Sean Eldon, Alli Kaplan, Natalie Tomlin, and Amy Van Horn engaged students in fun and thought-provoking writing activities, provided encouraging feedback, and created a positive environment in which the students felt comfortable and wanted to share their writing.
Year after year, student writers return to Inkstains, and year after year, our instructors return to Inkstains. What is it that they find so appealing and energizing about this particular writing camp? Read on to find out what some of our campers, parents of campers, and instructors have to say . . .

One thing that I really liked was that you got a lot of freedom to write what you wanted, I also liked that there was a blog to post on and read other people's work.
~Caitlin, an Inkstains middle school camper

Inkstains was great! I really liked being outdoors a lot! And I liked how we were always with different people and different sized groups!
~Anne, an Inkstains middle school camper

I really enjoyed the poetry slam, I honestly never would have tried something like that outside of camp and I absolutely loved it. The people I have met at Inkstains have become my best friends and I can always go to them about any writing I do outside of camp as well.
~Tiffany, an Inkstains high school camper

Being able to read my work [aloud] at the end of the week is wonderful. Although I am always shy and nervous right before reading, I love walking to the center of the room and seeing that all of my Inkstains friends and my family are there supporting my writing. It has also helped to improve my public speaking skills. I love the great variety of writing prompts provided to us throughout the week. Whenever there's a prompt that I'm not particularly inspired by, the next one will be completely different and I'm always guaranteed to find something to get my creative juices flowing.
~Shelby, an Inkstains high school camper

I was a camper all four years of high school and enjoyed every minute of it. THANKS to you and to everyone else that made my experiences so memorable.
A big plus about camp this past summer was all the people there. The people running the camp who all of the campers genuinely felt cared about by, the fellow campers who made the atmosphere so fun, exciting and safe, and the people on and around campus who made for great writing prompts. Another plus was the ability to have our work published in an anthology. The anthology is a great way to see everyone else's writing and to keep it in a professional looking book for years to come.
~Ellen, an Inkstains high school camper

I really loved camp, and will (hopefully) return next summer. One of my favorite things was that we were given many topics. I liked that we had many choices as far as what we want to write about and what we wanted to continue writing, instead of being forced to write about cheesy topics. I also liked that we were encouraged to share our stories, without being forced, and that reading them aloud wasn't at all stressful. I really can't think of anything that I didn't like; camp was so amazing!
~Rachel, an Inkstains high school camper

During my two visits to Eastern, I had the best experiences. One of the best qualities of Inkstains is how relaxed and easygoing the atmosphere is. When I took my first trip to join Inkstains I fit in right away and felt at ease with the friendly and laid back teachers. All of them helped me with any questions I had on my pieces of writing. Another
wonderful trait of Inkstains was how well all of the activities helped each and every one of us find ourselves through our writing. It really helped me express my feelings on certain issues I had not been able to before. The one wish I have is that Inkstains was possible for teens who have graduated, but are still under, or are at the age of, eighteen. Overall, I loved Inkstains and hope the program continues for as long as possible.
~Malinda, an Inkstains high school camper

The list of good things about Inkstains could go on for a very long time. I feel like I could use some cliche (but still very true) statements about making new friends or the helpful and genuinely friendly staff, but writing teaches you not to go with your first instinct. So one "plus" is that Inkstains Camp helps you look deeper into your writing. The other plus is probably the fact that the different exercises we do are so varied, it really help reach around to everyone's unique mindsets.
~Alex, an Inkstains high school camper

I really liked how we were able to write in a free environment with no stress of having a due date. I also liked when we would be able to walk around campus and get ideas from the things that we saw! Oh, and I also liked the poetry slam!
~Sarah, an Inkstains high school camper

Inkstains offers opportunities that you wouldn't normally do on your own like listen to a song and use that as inspiration for your writing. It pushes you to try new things, and you become a better writer because of it. The adults in charge were more like older friends than instructors and I felt comfortable taking risks and sharing my writing. My ideas and overall quality of my writing are better now.
~Emily, an Inkstains high school writer

Personally, providing this opportunity for my kids to be a part of this dynamic writing camp experience and exposing them to learning on a college campus was my most favorite thing I did for them this summer. It will continue to have positive benefits for both of them,in ways they will not directly know, well into their future. I was amazed and excited to see that the program encouraged the interaction of all of the kids and gave them a fun environment to blossom creativity and build each other up.
~Coreen, parent of two Inkstains middle school campers

[My daughter] enjoyed the week so much. She and [her new friend] have kept in touch via texting. I am glad she was able to join the program for the week. I was comfortable with the supervision and instruction. What a wonderful opportunity to meet other young writers and gain confidence in her work!
~Erin, parent of an Inkstains middle school camper

[A]s a parent, it was great to see [my daughter] her so excited about writing. She shared her writing from camp at a few family get-togethers this summer, and actually made her Grandma and a couple of her aunts cry (in a good way!). She wants to come again next year, so well see you then!
~Sarah, parent of an Inkstains middle school camper

As a teacher of writing often bound to institutional standards, the Inkstains experience again reminded me of those aspects of the writing process that are unquantifiable and beyond objective grades: the inspiration that flashes across the face of a young writer as they gaze at a sculpture, the spontaneous laughter that ripples across the room as a newly-penned line is shared, the exhilaration involved in gathering the courage to read one's work in front of a large group. Thanks to a wonderful group of young writers and my co-teachers, I was reminded that the joy of writing is more about experiencing tiny revelations than achieving course goals and final papers. I returned to my classroom ready to celebrate the small stuff.
~Natalie, an Inkstains middle school instructor

Inkstains benefits me as a writer . . .
. . . by allowing me to experiment with new ideas for my classroom. Bonding activities, getting to know you games, writing prompts, performance starters--I get to play with all of those things and more in a super cool, super creative environment. And what better way to spend part of my summer vacation than by writing and teaching with a group of incredible kids and incredible teachers.
~Sean, an Inkstains middle and high school instructor

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EMWP Tech Update

Over the summer Karen Chichester, our Tech Liaison, has revamped and updated our website Our site has a cleaner look and has been reorganized to make it easier to navigate. Included in this transformation are easy to follow links to our online accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Sildeshare, Diigo, Flickr, and YouTube.

You’ll also want to check out the Teacher Consultant section where the Tech Team is compiling lots of resources for your use and many different ways that you can contribute to EMWP’s mission.
The Tech Team is working to bring all of our online presences and resources under one umbrella with a focus on archiving the best our TCs have to offer. To this end, if you have anything you’d like to see added or you have photos, videos, or presentations or other resources that you’d like to share, please let Karen know at We would really like copies of your best pictures from conferences and EMWP Summer Institutes past and present!

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