Literacy Builders 2011 Summer Workshop

August 11, 2011
Literacy Builders Start September Strong Summer Workshop Series
August 1 – 4, 2011
Hampton Inn
Commack, New York

The professional development summer institute explored approaches, teaching structures, and provided field tested mini lessons to optimize literacy growth and development. Conference participants included K-8 classroom teachers, reading specialists, special educators, administrators, and graduate students.

On the last day of the institute, I presented a 90-minute hands-on workshop Write A Play! The Bridge to Stronger, Better Writing. The workshop challenged participants to Imagine possibilities, Integrate applications into their curriculum, and Implement what they’ve learned to encourage sustainability. Utilizing an ice-breaker exercise What’s In A Name? from Young Playwrights Inc.’s Write A Play! Curriculum Guide, participants created a character: five-year-old Danielle Determined. She loved to wear a magenta pink boa, her mother’s black patent leather heels, and a matching handbag with a lollipop inside. She wants to be a movie star and is quite adamant about fulfilling this aspiration. A deconstruction of the exercise revealed how names can be evocative and that the choices a writer makes can tell us something about a character. We also explored practical applications of how the exercise would meet writing and reading literacy standards.

Literacy Builders Executive Director Kim Yaris felt the workshop was “outstanding . . . and the perfect note on which to end [the institute].” She implemented her new knowledge with her sons, ages ten and eight, and her eight-year-old nephew over the weekend. “We had a blast,” she said, “I think you’ve helped launch a new family tradition.” Truly Inspirational!

Dr. Nancy Swortzell

It is with great sadness to learn that Dr. Nancy Swortzell, mentor and co-founder of the NYU Program in Educational Theatre passed away July 31, 2011. She had a tremendous influence on me and many others who had the benefit of her tutelage. I was fortunate to have been cast in a production directed by her, And Then They Came for Me at the Provincetown Playhouse. I particularly loved listening to her personal anecdotes during rehearsal. She was saucy, sweet, volatile and vibrant. She was and will remain to be an inspiration to all! She will be sorely missed.
And Then They Came for Me at the Provincetown Playhouse

Looking Back: Looking Forward

During the arduous and time-consuming process of preparing a professional website, I was forced to reflect on the scope of my work and contributions. Looking back, I tended to reduce my status to, “I’m just a teacher.” Teachers traditionally downplay their work; it’s what we do, it’s why we choose to be in a classroom, why we are so deeply committed to creating a better world by educating our future generations. In fact, teachers are our most precious resource. I probably speak for many teachers out there who are discouraged by the increasing demands of mandates, though well-intentioned, fall short of what every teacher understands: each child is different and each child is capable of learning.
It is my belief that the arts are the means to this end. While sorting through some old albums of past high school productions that I thankfully did not discard, I found a written student message that was anonymously posted on the callboard during the 1997 Theatreworks Troupe production of Harvey:

(Click to view larger image)
As an English teacher, I did not make corrections since the voice of the writer is compelling. The spelling and punctuation revisions are easy to correct; encouraging the expression of a young person is priceless. I am certain that there are thousands of teachers who have received similar messages to remind us that we DO make a difference.
Let’s hear it from you … the teachers, the students, the graduates whose lives have been indelibly touched by a teacher for whatever reason and acknowledge how they were instrumental in breaking the mold to allow you to become who you are today.

Why Teach Playwriting?

This column was written for wordplay the Young Playwrights Inc. March 2010 newsletter .

First Online with Fran