Workshop Archive

This section is alphabetically arranged and includes both foundational IWT workshops and specialized workshops that are likely to reappear in the future. Please check our calendar for this year's offerings.

Workshop Archive

This section is alphabetically arranged and includes both foundational IWT workshops and specialized workshops that are likely to reappear in the future. Please check our calendar for this year's offerings.

Creative Nonfiction: Telling the Truth

Offered only in weeklong version
Creative nonfiction reports back to us from what we call the real world, its subject matter “documentable . . . as opposed to ‘invented’ from the writer’s mind,” as Barbara Lounsberry puts it.  Its subgenres are many:  the personal essay; the essay of place; nature writing; and writing about war, travel, adventure, food, family portrait, memoir, etc.  Creative nonfiction tells stories based in fact (often heavily researched), but always filtered through the lens of what Joan Didion calls “the implacable ‘I,’” and crafted with tools borrowed from fiction’s toolbox: narrative voice, character, plot, description, dialogue.  “The primary goal of the creative nonfiction writer,” says Lee Gutkind, “is to communicate information, just like a reporter, but to shape it in a way that reads like fiction.”

Participants experience the particular richness and variety of creative nonfiction reading a variety of short texts. Combined with their own writing done during the workshop they then focus on how the authors of these texts work within their subgenre and use them as a springboard into personal creative nonfictions, keeping in mind how students in turn can be taught to do the same.

Fiction from the Inside Out

Offered only in weeklong version
Writing our own fiction teaches us how to read the fiction of others from the inside out—that is, with a writer’s eye. And once we have learned how to read as a writer, our relationship to the text, any text, is profoundly changed. In this workshop we enter into a dialogue with classic short stories by Bambara, Chekhov, Hemingway, Hempel, Joyce, and the two O’Connors (Flannery and Frank). We dissect their fiction as fellow writers, so that we can play with their writerly toys in our own fictional spaces. We analyze how they—and we—construct character, plot, narrative point of view, setting, dialogue. The struggle with our texts and theirs will change the way we read fiction in the future, and we can bring this changed way of reading home to our students.

Fictions: Memory and Imagination

This workshop explores the connections among memoir, autobiography, and fiction and seeks to develop an appreciation of the stories we write about our lives and the fictions we construct from the “facts” of our lives. The workshop is for teachers, writers, and readers who want to immerse themselves in writing autobiography and fiction and to learn how such writing can alter our understanding of the events of our lives. By exploring our own fictions and memoirs, we become more aware of fiction as a thought experiment as well as a literary genre.

Following Up: Applying IWT Practices

(a workshop for past participants of July weeklong workshops)
This is a workshop for past participants of Writing and Thinking workshops who want to learn more about how to apply IWT’s writing practices to their classrooms. Participants spend equal amounts of time writing about their classroom experience with writing to learn, exploring lesson plan design and modification, and in conversation with faculty from Bard’s Master of Arts in Teaching program, who bring to the workshops stories of teachers who have worked successfully to bring IWT practices and texts into their own classrooms. Participants also work on, revise, and present writing begun at previous Writing and Thinking workshops.

Human Rights: A Writing Workshop

Offered only in weeklong version
Understanding human rights can be daunting. How do we define a concept loaded with universal expectations? What are we talking about when we talk about human rights? How do we approach an idea whose historical and current violations bespeak the urgency to translate humanitarian theory into practice? 

Drawing upon writing-to-learn practices for an inquiry into texts, issues, and events in human rights, this workshop engages participants in a range of writing strategies, including dialogic exercises, inventive language, reflection, and response. In working on a shared experiment, teachers gain practical insight into the ways that collaborative learning can enrich the challenge of a difficult subject, while enacting possible models for their own classrooms. This workshop seeks to open a conversation on human rights as an act of imagination, inquiry, analysis, and action. Participants’ own writing is the primary instrument in starting and sustaining this discussion. Texts for this workshop may include fiction and nonfiction, poetry, drama, history, foundational documents, journalism, and documentary and feature film. Where possible, an activist or expert in human rights will visit our workshop.

Inquiry Into Essay

Offered only in weeklong version
This workshop is intended for teachers who are familiar with the invention strategies introduced in Writing and Thinking or Writing to Learn (or in similar workshops elsewhere) and who want to concentrate on helping students write essays. More than other IWT workshops, Inquiry into Essay focuses on the analytic essay as a finished product, emphasizing ways to pull together fragments of good writing and information into a coherent whole. The workshop begins by defining the essay, considering how its definition changes according to the purpose and content of the writing assignment. Then, through their own writing, participants explore the differences between the capacity for invention required for informal essays and the knowledge of conventions required for the academic essay. Working on their essays, participants observe how an inquiring habit of mind helps determine the shape of what they write.

Invention and the Art of Revision

This workshop focuses on revision: what it is, how to teach it, and how it relates to reader response. Working with their own and students' texts, participants seek the roots of revision, exploring how the writing process itself draws attention to the places in a story, essay, or poem that invite revision, and how revision occurs before a first draft. Participants also consider how best to offer oral and written response to writing and explore strategies for encouraging deep revision. Prior participation in either Teaching Writing and Thinking or Writing to Learn is required for registration in this workshop.

Poetry for Today's Classrooms

Poetry may be the best way to experience the imaginative vitality of language. One indication of this is the abundant range of poetic forms that represent verbal inventiveness in every era. This workshop examines a selection of poems from the historical to the contemporary, noticing differences in the way they work. A central question is how and why we choose the poetry we teach in our classrooms. This question poses the most difficulties in relation to modern and contemporary poetries and poetries from diverse cultures. The workshop leader suggests a rich menu of poetic texts and reflects on the reasons for and means of making such a selection. Most important, the workshop explores a number of approaches and practices for working with the poems themselves—through writing, reading aloud, and collaborative performance. The aim is to enter the sometime exotic territory of the poem in a way that is active, contemplative, exhilarating, and evocative. 

Poetry: Reading, Writing, Teaching

The focus of this workshop is on experiencing poetic language as writer and reader, with an emphasis on participants’ writing. The aim is to make poetry a vital part of the teacher’s professional and personal life. Participants experience the precision, liveliness, and imaginative scope of poetic language and learn to incorporate these qualities into their own work. The assumption of this workshop, which is for secondary school and college teachers of all subjects, is that the attention to language that reading and writing poetry demand makes us better at any kind of writing we do. No special experience in writing poetry is necessary. Participants learn practical exercises for working with exemplary poems, writing poetry from their own language notebooks and from models, generating poems from various starting points and through various procedures, and responding to and revising poetry.

Ranking, Evaluating, Liking: A Workshop on Assessment

What do we talk about when we talk about assessment? What habits of mind and revision do we bring to the way we read students’ work? What role do external standards play in how and what we teach? These and other questions about the purposes and methods of evaluating student writing are central to this workshop, which seeks both to address the fact of state standards and to offer teachers ways to transcend such standards by considering what to do with externally imposed criteria for assessment. Working with student papers and published texts, participants learn practices for reading, paying attention to, and believing a text. This workshop invites teachers to explore the hierarchy of values that inform their reading and evaluating of student writing and to use those values to help students improve their writing.

Reading India’s Ancient Texts through Contemporary Indian Politics

In his book The Argumentative Indian, Amartya Sen writes that “the nature and strength of the dialogic tradition in India is sometimes ignored because of the much-championed belief that India is the land of religions, the country of uncritical faiths and unquestioned practices.” Sen questions the role of contemporary politics in creating a version of India that contradicts India’s rich literary and philosophical history, both of which honor pluralistic and even agnostic religious traditions. In this workshop, we use IWT practices to investigate the historical contexts in which India’s ancient texts were created and re-invented. While the Ramayana is our primary text, we also explore excerpts from the Mahabharata and an interesting variety of retellings of both epics: comic strips, children’s stories, televised productions, and regional translations. We also explore several readings about contemporary Indian politics. Participants should read the Penguin edition of the Ramayana, translated by R. K. Narayan, prior to the workshop. This workshop is part of the IWT’s project on Reading Narratives in Four Religious Traditions, initiated through a NEH Humanities Faculty Seminar. Each of the new workshops offered under this rubric focuses on the narratives of one of the four traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism) featured in the original seminar. Future seminars will include workshops on Buddhist and Taoist texts.

Reading Narratives in Four Religious Traditions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism

The workshops in this series developed from IWT’s eponymous 2005–2006 NEH Faculty Humanities Seminar (of the same title) for secondary school teachers. At the heart of many religious traditions is narrative—the telling and retelling of stories that invite reflection on the beliefs, rituals, and traditions of a religious community. For students of global history, world literature, or comparative religion, these foundational stories serve as points of entry to the study of the world’s religions and of cultures in which the religions develop. The stories also take on a life of their own, becoming enduring symbols for the broader culture, inspiring artists and writers of every generation. The seminars in this series focus on narratives in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. Weekend and weeklong workshops offered under this heading are specific in focus, working each time with particular texts from the original seminar.

Revolutionary Grammar

Everyone inside and outside the academic community has an opinion about grammar. Parents, CEOs, and, of course, teachers worry that students graduating from high school and college do not know grammar. But what does it mean to know grammar? If it were simply a matter of learning rules—and these rules stuck—teachers would not be struggling to correct grammar in paper after paper. This workshop looks at both the philosophical and practical questions surrounding the teaching of grammar, investigating connections between philosophical and pedagogical approaches. What assumptions about written language’s relationship to grammar do we bring to our teaching of writing? Using diverse literary texts and our own writing, we ask what grammar is, what it is for, what it contributes to the making of meaning and to creative expression, and how it can be taught using the models for teaching writing that we value. Workshop participants learn practical approaches to teaching grammar that do not focus on rules per se so much as incorporate rules into students’ intuitions and habits as writers. This workshop is for any teacher who addresses issues of grammar, whatever the subject they teach.  

Teaching the Academic Paper

This workshop extends and deepens a conversation begun at the Institute’s April 2006 conference, “Great Expectations: Re-visioning the Academic Paper.” At that conference, an interdisciplinary group of secondary and college teachers identified what counts as good writing in different academic disciplines and explored how best to teach thoughtful writing, in specific fields and across the board. While we can all recognize good academic writing, especially in our own disciplines, it is more difficult to establish reasonable and professionally responsible standards for students’ academic papers. This workshop helps to bridge that gap. Because teachers can learn from each other across disciplines, we especially invite secondary and college teachers from all academic fields to participate. The workshop redefines academic writing and offers methods for teaching students how to use sources, pose key questions, and make personal connections to the topic or text. The workshop consists of reading academic papers, writing in response to sources (texts, data, images) in our own disciplines, and sharing ideas about what high school and college students need to learn.  

Thinking Historically Through Writing

Offered in weekend and weeklong versions
“Considering the vast differences between those who attended high school in 1917 and the near-universal enrollments of today, the stability of students’ ignorance is amazing. The whole world has turned on its head, but one thing has stayed the same: Kids don’t know history” (Sam Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, 2001). But, what does it mean to know history? History teachers work with a mix of methods and techniques for giving students basic historical information. It is often more difficult, however, to impart an understanding of how the past is constructed and how historians work. Yet, just as the excitement of studying science comes from learning how scientists make discoveries and verify data, so too, this workshop suggests, the pleasure of studying history comes from learning how historians think about the past. This means learning how to read and interrogate archival and physical evidence of the past. Working with case studies, documentary as well as literary texts, and excerpts from texts by contemporary historians, this workshop considers writing practices that help us teach an understanding of history. Workshop participants explore writing-to-read strategies for analyzing historical sources, for noticing how historians interpret evidence and construct stories based on those interpretations. Students use writing to discover a world very different from the present and to appreciate often-conflicting interpretations of key moments in the past, as well as causes and consequences. Participants also pay attention to writing in textbooks, to developing good questions, and to creating writing assignments.

Thinking through Narrative

Offered only in weeklong version
The premise of this workshop is that narrative is necessarily at the root of the development of critical thinking. The workshop considers the nature of stories, the habit of telling stories, and the ways in which storytelling affects how we construct meaning in our lives, in written texts, and in the physical world. We move beyond the view that polarizes narrative and analysis and instead emphasize their fruitful interaction. Participants are invited to experience narrative as a skill that fosters the ability to notice, and analysis as a reflection on what one notices. They experience the power of narrative to encourage critical reading, interpret data, and serve as an antidote to the generalization and abstraction that vitiates good writing in all fields. This workshop is for secondary school and college teachers of all subjects.

Writing and Thinking

This workshop provides a retreat where teachers experience themselves as writers, are introduced to IWT’s basic writing practices, and reflect on the way they teach writing. Teachers meet in groups of 12 to 15 for a series of seven 90- and 120-minute sessions, in which they explore their values and concerns as writers and teachers. The sessions focus on such topics as invention strategies, coaching the writing process, and revision.

Because teachers often work alone, without the support of a vital learning community, and often have little opportunity to write, in or out of the classroom, the workshop is communal and collaborative. Teachers write together, exchange ideas, and respond to one another’s works. Through these activities they become more aware of the composing process and of their students’ struggles to acquire the ability to produce expressive, well‑developed, and engaged writing. This workshop is for secondary and college teachers of language arts, English, and composition. Teachers of all subjects who want to understand how writing generates thinking are also invited to participate.

Writing Retreat for Teachers

Offered only in weeklong version
In response to requests from teachers who have participated in IWT workshops and now want to give time to their own writing in a congenial environment, we offer the Writing Retreat for Teachers. Working independently, with partners, or in writing groups on fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, participants have an opportunity to write, read, and reflect in beautiful surroundings. The community of writers supports the continuation of works in progress and the generation of ideas for new works. IWT faculty form the writing community on the first day of the retreat, lead special workshops, and act as a resource for individual participants. Evening readings by participants and guests provide further enrichment. Previous participation in Writing and Thinking or Writing to Learn is a prerequisite.

Writing to Learn

This workshop presents an introduction to inventive writing strategies that help students gain a better understanding of complex ideas, historical documents, literary texts, and mathematical problems. These writing practices, which can be used in the classroom or as part of homework assignments, support close reading of documents and literary texts; allow students to make personal connections to people, places, and events they study; and encourage students to learn from one another. Working together on pertinent texts, teachers experiment with the use of student journals and classroom writing assignments to stimulate engagement with the language, ideas, and issues relevant to the subjects they teach. This workshop does not focus on finished pieces of writing, but on ways to use writing to develop understanding of a text, a first step in writing finished literary essays, critical analysis, or research papers. Participants also explore how writing-to-learn practices invite us to reconsider how we teach—to explore how the academic lecture, collaborative learning, and the act of listening exist in relation to one another and to writing. 

Writing, Thinking, Technology (laptops required)

This new version of Writing and Thinking explores different ways of using technology to enrich students’ understanding of the composing process, to foster collaboration, and to stimulate critical thinking. Activities include:

·        Close reading and annotation conducted digitally and collaboratively

·        Online research in the composing process and working together on a common text in a networked classroom

·        Working with digital "post-it notes" and comment boxes

·        Digital text rendering--recording and looping readings with the visual depiction of a text

·        Writing a collective essay on screen

Participants also read and respond to texts that present the case for and against the uses of technology in the writing class and web-based learning spaces and chat rooms.

Writer as Reader (a few examples)

Self-invention and Emily Dickinson: Reading, writing, and the constructions of a poetic self
In My Emily Dickinson, Susan Howe writes that her project is to read one of Dickinson’s poems “to make her extraordinary range perceptible to another.” This “extraordinary range” is what this workshop will delve into as we read the poems of Emily Dickinson and consider the multiple ways she has of exploring notions of the self. Often students prejudge Emily Dickinson’s writing as old-fashioned and are astonished when they come to understand the depth of her engagement with issues that actually concern them. In this workshop, we’ll explore the vitality of Dickinson’s range as we focus on issues and questions of identity. In addition to practicing traditional forms of close reading techniques, we will work on identifying readers’ and writers’ assumptions by recognizing some of the limits in the ways that we approach a reading of these poems. What might a woman writing in 19th century New England have to tell our students as readers and writers in the 21st century? We will probe issues of subjectivity, constructions of self, manifestations of the “I” as we read and investigate Dickinson’s style and the content of her poems. Utilizing writing to read practices, reading some of Dickinson’s letters and small sections of Susan Howe’s essay, along with other reading and writing strategies, we will identify practical ways that a reading of Emily Dickinson can guide us toward a reading of “our” Emily Dickinson, encouraging analysis as well as our personal, imaginative response to the poems.

Texts: The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, Edited by Thomas H. Johnson, 21st printing, My Emily Dickinson, by Susan Howe, North Atlantic Books, 1985

Selected Letter of Emily Dickinson, edited by Thomas H. Johnson, 1986

Selections from all three texts will be provided, but participants are encouraged to bring their copies of the Selected or Complete Poems (edited by Johnson) if they have them.

“A snapping inside”: Things Fall Apart and Purple Hibiscus
Nearing its 50th anniversary, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart has become a contemporary classic taught in colleges and high schools worldwide. Many contemporary African writers, part of an increasingly vibrant and diverse publishing market, have cited Achebe’s novel as a treasured, foundational text for their own work. This workshop begins to explore some of the connections between Things Fall Apart and Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s debut novel Purple Hibiscus (2003). Adichie has repeatedly been cited as Achebe’s literary heir, but is the comparison accurate, or useful? Through writing-to-read activities and guided discussions, we will focus on the thematic and formal links (including gender, folklore, and religion) between these two novels, investigating both their commonalties and departures. How, for example, might we read the gender restrictions negotiated by Kambili, Adichie’s protagonist, alongside Okonkwo’s attempts to preserve the traditional masculinity of his clan? We will pay particular attention to the ways both novelists locate the broader political upheavals of Nigeria within the domestic spaces, within families falling apart. Together we will begin to identify further approaches for teaching these texts in tandem, asking how these novels with their complex depictions of Nigerian culture in transition can help complicate students’ often abstract and monolithic understandings of Africa. Texts for the workshop are: Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart. Anchor Books, 1994 edition and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Purple Hibiscus. Anchor Books, 2004 edition.

Telling War Stories: Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried and Yusef Komunyakaa, Dien Cai Cau
Although documentary evidence, investigations conducted from all sides, and numerous interviews with military, political, and academic experts are widely available and discussed, we are nevertheless left with unanswered questions and nagging doubts about the ongoing war in Iraq. There are multiple ways to tell the story of any war. This workshop looks at two compelling stories of the Vietnam War: How to Tell a True War Story, from Tim O’Brien’s collection, The Things They Carried, and Dien Cai Cau, Yusef Komunyaaka’s collection of poems about the Vietnam war. Through writing, participants consider the story each work tells, noticing how the language of each allows the reader access to different truths and how each story defines evil, redemption, and rectitude.

“Spots of Time”: Wordsworth’s “The Prelude” (1799) and Lowell’s “Life Studies/For the Union Dead”
William Wordsworth's poem The Prelude mutated from two parts to fourteen books over a period of forty years as he pondered the significance of his own life within the age of revolution. Describing “spots of time” -- moments in which time seems to stop, and we are never again the same— he describes his evolution from fatherless child to rebellious poet.   In revising this often-sublime poem, Wordsworth attempts to recreate, even relive pivotal moments at a time of political reaction and fear. Robert Lowell, known for the minute detail of his elaborately crafted verse, wrote seventy years later in the United States, and yet he described a similar society in the grips of the Cold War,

“where even the man
scavenging filth in the back alley trash cans,
has two children, a beach wagon, a helpmate,
and is "a young Republican."

What connects these two proponents of autobiographical poetry? Both moved toward a more personal subject matter over many years; both attempted to write about what mattered to them as individuals – Nature, God, family -- while influencing a generation of poets.   In this workshop we will look at the characteristics of two politically engaged poets, one “Romantic” the other “Confessional,” who mined their own lives to draw the reader into the moral and emotional dilemmas of troubled times.

Would you hand a 12-year old boy an AK-47? Approaching the Problem of Child Soldiers: Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone and Dave Eggers’s What is the What
For teachers of History and Social Studies, the concept of child soldiers, foreign to contemporary Western experience, is a difficult one to address with students. Though young boys fought for both sides in the American Civil War, the practice of using child combatants has certainly not been the norm for the US military. Globally, however, it is a problem and one that raises complicated questions for understanding new forms of war.

This workshop will approach the issue of child soldiers through two texts. A Long Way Gone is a memoir written by a former child soldier from Sierra Leone, Ishmael Beah. What is the What? is a fictionalized autobiography about a real-life Sudanese boy named Valentino Deng, written by American novelist Dave Eggers. Both texts address the problem of civil wars and child soldiers, but from stylistically very different angles. We will use these two contrasting works as doorways into the complex social phenomenon of child soldiers. We will also explore issues, such as authenticity and authority, which may be lurking in the texts. 

Writing a Way Back In:  Meredith Hall’s “Shunned” & Maxine Hong Kingston’s “No-Name Woman”
In this workshop we will read and write to two wonderfully written narratives about two very different young women who transgress the bounds of their respective societies and are brutally punished for it—disappeared, down to their very names.  When, afterwards, using retrospective imagination, their two very different authors write these women back into existence, the act of telling their stories, of naming them, calls into question not just societal boundaries, but also the boundaries between fiction and creative nonfiction.  Together, we will explore what it sounds like to write about/as the outlaw, the breaker of taboos.  How do we utter our secrets, and what becomes of the unspeakable when it is spoken in the page?” “Shunned” is a chapter in Meredith Hall’s, Without a Map: A Memoir (Beacon Press 2007); “No Name Woman” is a section from Maxine Hong Kingston’s Woman Warrior (Knopf/Random House, 1984).

Writing with Teachers: King Lear and The Book of Job
This workshop will explore approaches to each text and to teaching them together.  Our focus will be on helping each other develop questions that take full advantage of both the students' perspectives and the teachers' expertise-- an effort to resolve a common problem of process-oriented teaching: that focusing on students inquiries sometimes seems to require that the teacher's point of view be eclipsed or erased. Our test case will be studying King Lear and The Book of Job, canonical texts that explore common issues of fate, justice, and humanity. Additional materials include filmed versions of Lear, existentialist responses to Job's dilemma, and other non-written texts that take inspiration or ideas from one or both texts. Participants will leave not only with new ways to teach the texts, but also with the experience of having worked through some of our culture's most charged questions of meaning and metaphysics in the company of other committed readers and writers.

Writer as Reader: A Laboratory Workshop

This workshop—an expanded version of the one-day Writer as Reader  workshop—is designed as a laboratory for experimenting with and reflecting on how to effectively use writing in the daily work of teaching literature. The workshop reviews the essential writing strategies for teaching a literary text and for addressing scholars’ differing interpretations of that text. Working with excerpts from often-taught literary texts such as The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn, or Tom Sawyer, as well as from less frequently taught texts—such as Fools Crow by James Welch, Color of Water by James McBride or William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury—workshop participants begin by discovering for themselves how structured writing strategies invite close, inquisitive reading and affect thinking about critical discussions of the texts. The workshop concludes with each teacher designing a lesson plan for teaching a literary text using this workshop’s writing practices. Aided by readings that offer guidance in designing class-based teacher research, participants leave the workshop with a plan for integrating particular writing strategies into the teaching of their selected text. At a later date (chosen by the May workshop participants) a follow-up workshop will focus on the results of teachers’ experiments: what they have learned, the student writing that resulted from the lesson plan, anticipated next steps for developing student thinking, and questions they may have about the experiment. Between the first and second workshops, teachers participate in e-mail conversations, through the IWT website, in which they can collaborate on ways to set up their classroom “experiments” and troubleshoot problems.

Writing to Read Scientific Texts

Workshops in this series model methods for bringing scientific texts into the classroom, using writing to read and collaborative learning practices. The workshop continues the work begun in the summer Scientific Reading and Writing (STRAW) Course at The Rockefeller University, the Summer Research Program for Secondary Science Teachers at Columbia University, and IWT’s Writing to Read Scientific Texts workshops at Bard College that were taught in collaboration with faculty in Bard’s Division of Science, Mathematics, and Computing. The focus and readings for workshops in this series vary.