Write2Reach Spring 2018: Building communities of literacy through poetry, dialogue

Hannah MacKay Presents on Poetry as a gateway in the secondary English/language arts classroom at Write2Reach Spring 2018.

Hannah MacKay Presents on Poetry as a gateway in the secondary English/language arts classroom at Write2Reach Spring 2018.

A group of 14 preservice and practicing teachers gathered for a night of inspiring anecdotes and hands-on activities at the first Write2Reach workshop held on April 4 in Nicarry Hall at Elizabethtown College.


The workshop featured two sessions focused on teaching practical methods for integrating poetry in the classroom and tips for creating intergenerational outreach programs.

Presentations by Hannah Mackay, Hershey High School English teacher, and Tony Sedun, a private residential school teacher and Life Writes Project publications director, gave insights into the positive effects poetry and dialogue can have on connecting communities and students’ self-identity.

Mackay explained how poetry fosters a love of reading and described her use of the Golden Line---a line from a text that resonates with the reader---as a device to make poetry more accessible to reluctant readers.

Mackay often uses the Golden Line device with her students to begin poems, free writes, and mini analyses to help students build personal connections with poems.

During the event, attendees created their own poems using the Golden Line device and then each shared one Golden Line from their writing to create a community poem, which Mackay recorded and transcribed.

The community poem can be viewed on the final slide of Mackay’s presentation.

Additionally, Mackay emphasized the value of in-class reading time and shared a selection of novels in verse her students have enjoyed, including copies of “The Best of Teen Writing.”

By celebrating student voices, through writing activities and reading published teen works, students learn to value their own voice, Mackay said, which can translate to more risk-taking and stronger trust in the classroom.

During his presentation, Sedun prompted attendees to share a fond memory of themselves and an older relative or friend, highlighting the significance of intergenerational relationships.

Sedun described the Dialogues Program, an outreach program that brings together his students with residents from local elder care facilities to engage in writing activities, as a way to elevate student voices and build close, real-world communities.

By sharing a seven-step guide detailing his process, Sedun empowered attendees to establish their own outreach programs with their students and community members.

Sedun also shared writing samples from his 2017 Dialogues Program with the Residence of the Jewish Home of Greater Harrisburg and incoming freshman students, which can be found here.

Through the use of these programs, Sedun explained, both struggling students and elder care residents are given the opportunity to reframe their identities and gain perspectives outside their generations.

After his presentation, attendees expressed unanimous interest in developing their own programs.

Life Writes Project Executive Director Matt Skillen encouraged attendees to apply for micro-teacher grants available through the Project, up to $150, to fund their own student programs and activities.

For more information, or to submit a grant application, contact Matt Skillen at mskillen@lifewrites.org or Life Writes Project Chairperson Johanna Gardiner at jgardiner@lifewrites.org. Application emails should include a brief description of the intended project and an anticipated budget.


Write2Reach Feedback

Thank you for attending Write2Reach!

Would you like to review the presentations shared by our speakers? We have them linked below:

Mrs. Hannah Mackay’s presentation on reading and writing poetry: https://app.edu.buncee.com/buncee/2903fdb9c1f44528b5cc4cf06784013c

Mr. Tony Sedun’s presentation on intergeneratoinal writing: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/13MKh7_rlbVBBmiOKBsCL5q-x_hQIdOjZ3Vhe2Akvox8

Also, please complete this three-question survey to let us know how we are doing.

Write2Reach 2018

The Life Writes Project announces a new professional development workshop for teachers. Write2Reach 2018 will be held April 4th from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM on the second floor of Nicarry Hall at Elizabethtown College. 

This is a free event. To attend, all you have to do is register here: bit.ly/2FiZQ3F

Write2Reach will feature interactive and engaging workshops by Mr. Tony Sedun and Mrs. Hannah Mackay. 

Elizabethtown College is located at 1 Alpha Drive; Elizabethtown, PA 17022. 

See the flyer below for more information.


Life Writes Board of Directors: Meet Johanna Gardiner

Johanna Gardiner joined the Life Writes Project after having a discussion about the organization with Dr. Skillen, co-founder of the Life Writes Project and Johanna’s colleague. Johanna draws inspiration from positive people, and helping students and teachers fulfill their creative potential. She believes strongly in the importance of professional development and the shared learning between teachers and students.

Johanna spent 5 years teaching Pre-K to 2nd grade, and 8 years as a Director of various Child Care centers. For the past 4 years, she has volunteered her time as the chairperson for the Elizabethtown Child Care Center Board of Directors.  Additionally, Johanna spent time working in real-estate, followed by 4 years as an office manager at Franklin and Marshall College. She currently works as the Administrative Assistant for the Education Department at Elizabethtown College. Johanna received her B.S. in Early Childhood Education from Evangel University, in Springfield, MO.

As a teacher, Johanna was motivated by the growth of her students. Though she had many memorable experiences, her time with one of her first Pre-K classes made a lasting impression. Although the previous teacher did not discipline the students, Johanna was determined to help her students make it to kindergarten successfully, no matter what it took. By the end of the school year, Johanna achieved her goal and gained the praise of her colleagues for accomplishing what those before her could not.

Johanna believes the Life Writes Project provides a fantastic opportunity for young people who want to share their stories. After seeing pictures of the Life Writes Project community writing and art exhibition, Johanna was inspired by the courage of the students who were willing to have their voices heard. By joining the Life Writes Board of Directors, Johanna is excited to have the opportunity to help inspire students and educators to share their stories.

This contribution was made by Christina Ugrovics, senior English: Professional Writing major, French minor at Elizabethtown College, PA.

Life Writes Board of Directors: Meet Michael DeBakey

Michael DeBakey recently joined the Life Writes Board of Directors after receiving an invitation from Tony Sedun, executive director for the Life Writes Project and good friend of Michael’s. Being in education, Michael is inspired by creativity, and understanding what builds student creativity. He believes the methods we take to foster creative mindsets in the classroom go beyond test scores and collecting data, and rely heavily on technology and the different tools that appeal to children.

Michael has been working in Information Technology for 16 years, spending 12 of those years in K-12 educational technology, as well as managing private IT consulting services. He currently works as the Director of Information Technology at Tulpehocken Area School District in Berks County, PA. Michael earned his B.S. in Computer Science, and M.S. in Instructional Design and Technology from Philadelphia University, where he served as a member of the graduate faculty. In addition, he completed doctoral coursework in Educational Technology Leadership and Policy at the University of Delaware.

Originally from York, PA, Michael moved to Lancaster at the age of 10. Michael was introduced to writing and literature at a young age by his mother, Joan, who worked as a teacher and reading specialist for 35 years, teaching both locally and internationally. First published in the sixth grade, Michael was given a gateway to the publishing world that served as a transformational experience for him, one that benefited him through high school and college.

For Michael, the decision to join the Life Writes team came without difficulty. With his experience in education, the Life Writes Project presented him with the opportunity to bring his educational leadership skills to the table. Michael aspires to see his colleagues venture outside of the comfort zones that the No Child Left Behind Act has set in place, and expand their classrooms to foster effective students, and encourage a creative mindset.

This contribution was made by Christina Ugrovics, senior English: Professional Writing major, French minor at Elizabethtown College, PA.



Birthing Dialogue: Using The First Part Last in a Health Class

Open dialogue has the ability to captivate students and improve their ability to think and write critically. In English classrooms, literature is often used as a platform for discussions where students not only study the material, but engage in conversations that allow them to create their own content. This article explores how young adult literature can be used to achieve similar discussions in other content area classrooms.

Crag Hill’s article “Birthing Dialogue: Using The First Part Last in a Health Class” was published in the Fall 2009 issue of The ALAN Review. In this article, Hill details his study on the benefits of young adult literature in non-English classrooms, focusing closely on a high school health class. Throughout the study, students read The First Part Last, a novel on breaking down stereotypes surrounding teen pregnancy and parenting.

Through the use of three different discussion exercises—an exit slip, silent discussion, and four-corner debate—students engaged in critical discussions regarding these social issues, and how they would react in similar situations. Each of these exercises were designed to generate student interest in discussions with their classmates, while ensuring that their voices were heard and their opinions valued.

This article includes several examples of student responses to these exercises, as well as pre-reading and post-reading surveys used to document the positive effects of the novel and classroom discussions. By the end of the course, students had developed a more in-depth understanding of relevant social issues, while using critical thinking and discussions to reach their own conclusions.  

Teachers and students in Life Writes Project classrooms have enjoyed similar success in cross-cultural and intergenerational dialogue about important and sometimes sensitive issues in response to Young Adult literature.  These conversations have ventured into family dynamics, politics and identity formation.  You can read more about these interchanges captured in some of our students’ writing on http://writereach.org.

How do you engage students in critical discussions in other content area classrooms? Share your thoughts with us. You can find us on Facebook or tag your comments on Twitter with #LifeWrites.

This contribution was made by Christina Ugrovics, senior English: Professional Writing major, French minor at Elizabethtown College, PA.

Celebrating Literacy: The National African American Read-In

The Black Caucus of the NCTE promotes literacy as an important part of Black History Month by encouraging others to host an African American Read-In (AARI). According to Dr. Jerrie Cobb Scott, member of the Black Caucus, the AARI is founded on the belief that “a school and community reading event can be an effective way to promote diversity in children’s literature, encourage young people to read, and shine a spotlight on African American authors.”

Established in 1989, the African American Read-In began as a suggestion by the Issues Committee to the Black Caucus of NCTE. The Committee encouraged the Black Caucus to sponsor an event, a nationwide Read-In, on the first Sunday of February. Dr. Jerrie Cobb Scott hoped that one day the AARI would become part of the Black History Month traditions. In 1990, the NCTE joined the chain and began their sponsorship of the African American Read-In.

During the month of February, professional and community organizations, as well as any interested persons, are encouraged to participate by hosting their own events. These events can be as simple as sharing literature among a group of friends, or as involved as a community-wide event.

Though February is rapidly coming to a close, there is still time to organize your own Read-In. In order to be recognized as an official host, you need to: choose a piece of literature by an African American author, hold the event in February, and report the results of your event through an African American Read-In Report Card.

The report card requires information on the location of your event, the piece of literature featured, and the number of attendees, including both listeners and readers. The deadline for report card submissions is March 15, 2016. You can find the report card submission form here: https://secure.ncte.org/surveys/survey.aspx?s=883d7eb97ca7.

The NCTE has created several resources to help support individual hosts and hosting organizations. These tools include a book list, badges for online use, recent articles, AARI Video and Chat archives, and many other resources to aid in organizing your event. To access the toolkit and explore the available resources, visit: http://www.ncte.org/aari/toolkit.

To learn more about the AARI, and the progress it has made, visit: http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/CC/0242-nov2014/CC0242African.pdf.

This contribution was made by Christina Ugrovics, senior English: Professional Writing major, French minor at Elizabethtown College, PA.

Enter Here: Personal Narrative and Digital Storytelling

Narrative writing can inspire students to use their experiences to achieve academic and personal goals. At the Life Writes Project, we take narrative writing and encourage students to re-imagine their identities through creative exercises and assignments, such as poetry pieces and short stories. In the case of this article, students achieve similar realizations through digital storytelling.

Sara Kajder’s article, “Enter Here: Personal Narrative and Digital Storytelling,” was published in the January 2004 issue of The English Journal. In this article, Kajder discusses a long-term digital storytelling project through which her students’ expanded their literacy skills and engaged in an environment that allowed them to work as more than just academic readers and writers.

This article provides a detailed step-by-step process of the digital storytelling project, incorporating several in-text quotes and examples of her students’ work. One example focused on a student, Rochelle, and her relationship with her mother. Through the digital platform, Rochelle used her own voice to tell the story, choosing when and how to let the images speak for themselves.

Kajder’s assignments focus on validating and understanding her students’ personal stories while encouraging them to see themselves as true writers. By communicating through creative platforms, students begin to value their work, and their personal stories, on an academic level. 

How do you incorporate the use of personal narratives in your classroom? Share your thoughts with us. You can find us on Facebook or tag your comments on Twitter with #LifeWrites

This contribution was made by Christina Ugrovics, senior English: Professional Writing major, French minor at Elizabethtown College, PA.

Powerful Writing: Promoting a Political Writing Community of Students

Dialogue has the potential to empower students as they consider their own points of view in the classroom setting. When teachers intentionally invite students to participate and develop their own views, the conversation will likely go political. According to societal rules, we should not participate in political discussions in public spaces. This article challenges that mindset.

Fahima Ife’s article, “Powerful Writing: Promoting a Political Writing Community of Students,” was published in the March 2012 issue of The English Journal. Ife details her methods for encouraging students to voice their opinions through open dialogue and personal writing assignments, ultimately creating a political writing community.

Ife started by allowing her students to share their opinions on where “real” writing happens. This assignment sparked a discussion on the differences between school and leisure writing, and the need to merge the two. In order to do so, Ife created a classroom community where all ideas were welcome. To foster their discussions, Ife had her students write about topics such as current events, sex-trafficking in Atlanta, and gender roles.

Through the in-class activities, the students’ voices were honored, their interest initiated, and their writing became more powerful. This article includes an example of a student’s work as well as a table of Ife’s writing activities. Additionally, this article discusses a long-term project, an anthology to showcase students’ writing, which will be used to expand their classroom discussions to the community.

How do you encourage students to develop their voices in a political context? Share your thoughts with us. You can find us on Facebook or tag your comments on Twitter with #LifeWrites.

This contribution was made by Christina Ugrovics, senior English: Professional Writing major, French minor at Elizabethtown College, PA.

Reclaiming Literacy Classrooms Through Critical Dialogue

Is dialogue really that important in the classroom? Yes, we believe it is.  At the Life Writes Project, we encourage teachers to find new avenues of dialogue in order to connect and engage learners in new ways. If you talk to a Life Writes teacher, they will gladly discuss the benefits of purposeful dialogue and the improvements it has made in their classrooms. If you would like more documentation on the effectiveness of this approach, start here.

Reclaiming Literacy Classrooms Through Critical Dialogue” was published in the March 2012 issue of the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. This co-authored article draws attention to the lack of dialogue between students and teachers while discussing the benefits of incorporating a critical dialogue in literacy classrooms. Included in this article are two narratives from the authors in which they discuss the studies they have conducted, giving insight into what happens when dialogical opportunities are derailed.

Both Sean McAuley and Dawan Coombs attempted to engage students in open dialogue in order to inspire them to take control of their scholastic experiences—both were unsuccessful. In their narratives, the co-authors take the reader through interviews with their students, exploring their thoughts on their educational experiences, and the ways in which their teachers discouraged personal expression in the classroom.

Though the authors’ efforts were unsuccessful, the results of their studies provide important information on the necessity of incorporating dialogue in the classroom. Despite the difficulty that comes with making this kind of change, students deserve the support and opportunity to explore their individual voices through writing and open dialogue.  

What approaches do you take in engaging students in purposeful dialogue? Share your thoughts with us. You can find us on Facebook or tag your comments on Twitter with #LifeWrites.

This contribution was made by Christina Ugrovics, senior English: Professional Writing major, French minor at Elizabethtown College, PA.