I have been teaching kids since I was ten. I started with my younger sister. I gave her spelling words and math problems, quizzing her till she knew them. I administered the test, marked it, and attached a foil star from my stash, red or green or gold or blue.
I laugh now at the trappings that gave me such pleasure, but really my satisfaction was with the process. Even then, my philosophy about teaching was in place. And it was not a philosophy so much as an instinct or drive. What I enjoy above all is aligning myself with my students. Feeling a pull that is magnetic, I zero in on their thresholds and then help them to push that threshold outward. Because they are working at the very edge of their capabilities, they both succeed and are challenged. They’re encouraged as well as stimulated. They move forward step by step , and every moment in the process is marked by a brightly shining star.
I learn so much from children. About living as well as writing. Their imaginations are wild. My job is to get out of their way. Not to close down the possibilities but give them the room to explore. I tune in to their gifts. I create exercises to help them expand these gifts. Each child has a unique potential and it’s my job to nurture it. When the children are in a group, I celebrate what each one has to offer. They become each other’s teachers.
Following is a list of courses:
This is an excellent class for instilling a love of writing. My principal goal in this class is to celebrate words–the joy of them as well as their magic and power. When we put pen to paper, whole worlds emerge. You can transport your reader anywhere you want. Is there any machine as wild and beautiful as that??
We do writings exercises of all kinds. Free-writes combine with improvisation, solitary work with group activity. We talk about ways of making our writing more vivid, expressive, and communicative. I teach the children about reading their work aloud, and I involve them in critique of each other’s work. This teaches them observation and analysis that they can apply to their own writing. It also creates a sense of camaraderie and stimulates in them a sense of responsibility for each other’s progress. And it develops their confidence as writers. The connection with their work is strengthened when we explore ways of reading aloud. The class culminates in the production of a class anthology and a public reading.
Report writing for the younger kids is an excellent way to introduce them to researching and organizing. Since it’s an introduction, my focus is on making it fun and interesting and thereby getting them off to a good start with this valuable form of communication. I emphasize tuning in to their personal interests. All writing is a personal expression and a contribution to the world of their absolutely unique vision.
The kids make a book, complete with title page and table of contents, bibliography and illustrations. They’re extremely proud of their production, and a public presentation of it reinforces their sense of accomplishment. Now, they’re published authors and can’t wait to begin their second book!
I find that students often start a class believing that essay-writing is boring and difficult, if not impossible. There’s some mysterious form they have to stuff with words, and the form and its meaning are beyond them. My first job is to explain to them that an essay is as creative as any writing enterprise, that it’s an act of personal expression and communication. It’s not a cage but a powerful vehicle for connection. It’s source is not outside us but within.
Writing is only the last stage in a wondrous process. An essay is not just about organizing a pre-formulated opinion; it’s about developing your thinking and exploring your world, the way a scientist does. Who knows what will emerge or be discovered? Therefore, the act of brainstorming–the chaos and navigating this chaos–is at the heart of a good essay. What do we know? What do we believe in? Why? Let us all become more aware.
Together, we carefully distinguish and move through the various stages, beginning with ourselves as we are in the present moment and culminating in a compelling and expressive argument that stands on its own. At every juncture I bring ease into the process–the ease that comes with letting oneself explore and then express that which one believes in most deeply.
Magic with Language (Pre-Writing)
Those who haven’t yet learned to write are perhaps the most creative of all. Their imagination knows no bounds. It was only a few years earlier they came into the world without a single idea or preconception. Imagine! To the newly arrived, life is a continuum: there is nothing to distinguish them from the tree waving its leaves above them, from the light glinting off a glass. And nothing is impossible. To them, fantasy is perfectly realistic, and after all, isn’t it closer to what is real than the “reality” to which we adults have learned to confine ourselves? It is my sacred duty to protect these children’s relationship to the infinite.
When we get together in a circle, I encourage and celebrate their imaginative play. They experience the magic of creation, composing poems, songs, and stories. They build on each other’s flights of fancy. We play with rhyme and rhythm; we act and improvise. I bring in poetry and stories, and we play with those. Altogether, we experiment with every aspect of verbal expression: words, sound, and invention, and all for the magic and fun of it.
Creative Resistance: Our Relationship to Mass Media
A particular passion of mine is providing kids with tools to navigate our consumer culture and retain a healthy sense of self in the face of it. This workshop is a carefully designed series of creative exercises and projects that strengthens kids’ sense of their individuality and unique potential in the face of those commercial forces that would diminish and homogenize them.
The workshop works by helping kids, through creative writing exercises, to speak from that place within them that is deepest and most thoughtful. On the basis of that self-expression and self-knowledge, they develop a critical reaction to what advertisements dictate or imply, and through more writing, they express this reaction in a completely unique, inevitably creative, way.
The kids realize themselves even more fully when they replace the messages they have rejected with their own: in the final phase, they themselves produce (using various media and working in groups) an alternative campaign, promoting those values that they hold most deeply.