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Writers in the Schools-Houston: 4th Grade Goes to College by Susan Naomi Bernstein

Writers in the Schools-Houston: 4th Grade Goes to College by Susan Naomi Bernstein

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From A New Leaf 7.2 (2004) published by the Schools- Houston. See page 3 for my essay "4th Grade Goes to College," which describes a collaborative writing project for a fourth grade class and a college basic writing class in Houston, Texas.
From A New Leaf 7.2 (2004) published by the Schools- Houston. See page 3 for my essay "4th Grade Goes to College," which describes a collaborative writing project for a fourth grade class and a college basic writing class in Houston, Texas.

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Published by: Susan Naomi Bernstein on Jun 28, 2012
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved


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a new 
t’s 8:45 a.m. and the Wednesday Menilwriters gather around the WITS confer-ence table. We are collating 75 writing pack-ets for today’s visiting students. I’m on staplerdetail. Over shuffled papers, we talk lessonplans. Gabriela Villegas needs a change. Todayshe’ll visit the Rothko with her students.Susan Bays brought an “Ode to Chocolate” soher students will write odes, using the crushed-metal sculpture “Elixir” as inspiration. ChristieTaylor will go to the new Luis Barragán exhi-bition, “An Unbuilt House for the Menil,”and ask her students to design their very owndream homes.We run out of covers for the writing pack-ets, so I go to the copier and make more. Ithink of my colleagues and how bravely theytry out unfamiliar gallery spaces. I knowwhat I want to try: The Cy Twombly gallery.But will I? I don’t know. Something holdsme back. If I were a betting woman, I’dwager that the “something” is fear.My fear is irrational, I tell myself. I enjoythe Twombly. Standing before the Orpheustriptych, I’ve stared at the starbursts andwondered if this was indeed the way onepainted the unpaintable. Standing in the“green room,” I’ve conjured vast forests,myself an inhabitant. In those visions I’m ter-ribly lost, overwhelmed by branches andleaves, too green, too much. Yes—for thewriting prompt, the students can contem-plate the paintings and imagine that they tooare lost. They can write a story, include whatthey did to survive, let us know if they’re res-cued, or if they stay there forever….The copier drones on. I think my promptis good, but it could backfire. Who wants torecall that pit of the stomach feeling of beinglost? My students are nine years old. The lastthing I want to do is dredge up trauma.There’s something else that worries me.What if my group reacts to the Twombly in thesame way I’ve seen some adults react to it: withraw skepticism? We tell our students that art-work inspires strong feelings, and that it’s okayto dislike what they see. But how well would Ideal with a pack of critics? I realize my anxiousimagination may now be out of control; mypast Menil students have been, for the mostpart, open-minded and open-hearted.Whenever students criticize, or ask the age-oldquestion “Is this really art?” we take a fewmoments to discuss the piece. I ask them toconsider what the artist herself wished toexpress. In my experience, children have been
WITS writer Stacy Aab leads students in creating imaginative stories about masks from the Pacific Northwest Coast.continued on page 5
by Stacy Aab
the director
Table of Contents
Inspiration at The Menil Collection. . . . . . . 1Letter from the Director. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24th Grade Goes to College. . . . . . . . . . . . 3A Light in the Forest. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4Seeking Refuge. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4Stones in the Road. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6Young Writers Reading Series. . . . . . . . . . . 6Way to Go!. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7Our Funders. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
 WITS Staff 
Robin Reagler,Ph.D
Executive Director
Bao-Long Chu
Program Director
Holly Masturzo,Ph.D
Director of Teaching and Learning
Christeen Seymour
Director of finance
Meredith Shaner
development coordinator
Denisse Vargas
program coordinator
 WITS Board of Directors
Kat Mims
Meredith Canada
 Vice President
Nancy Sullivan
 Joseph Crownover
 Jane CreightonWanda HobbsThomas MelonconRobert NewberryMarjorie NicolKaren Peck Christine Parker Stuart
 A New Leaf 
is published quarterly by WITS.Design by Karen Sachar & Co.,Inc.©2004
his spring I’ve started blogging.Regardless of how it sounds, bloggingis not a form of exercise.A blog (short for web log) is a web sitewith built-in formatting so you can postentries and photos on a regular basis.Blogs can be scrapbooks, travel diaries,personal testaments, religious pulpits, orpolitical diatribes.They also provide space for communityconversations. Specialists such asplumbers, knitters, hikers, or coin col-lectors discuss their common interests.College students offer various interpre-tations of philosophical texts, usingblogs for roundtable discussions. Thesesites can be password-protected or opento the world, depending on how youdesign them.Blogs provide a brave new world for writ-ers. My new world has its own wacky jar-gon, with words like moblogging andbarking moonbats. Sites such as BoingBoing, Feedster, or Blogarama recommendthe coolest sites around. Bloggers refer tothe online world as the blogosphere.What I enjoy most about blogging is thatI can publish something immediately (Iam my own editor), and I get a quickresponse. My readers can add their ownexperiences or give a bit of free advice.When someone makes a comment, acopy shows up in my inbox. No delayedgratification involved. My friends
Heather Bigley
Amy Storrow
, bothformer WITS writers, introduced me tothis pastime. One warning: this activityis potentially habit-forming!Here’s some big news. In March Ibecame a Mom! It’s been the greatestexperience, just like everybody says.There’s something reassuring when con-ventional wisdom and your own person-al experiences align.Having a baby has served the perfectimpetus for starting a blog. My familyand friends don’t get to see the baby veryoften, restricted by geography as we are,but in the blogosphere we’re all together.If my family wants to know about colic,the white noise machine, or the BugsBunny Band-Aids, it’s only a click away.There’s a photo album on my site for theless literarily inclined.I’m interested in thinking about theway writing alters our experience of ourexperience. There’s a great deal of rep-etition involved in caring for an infant.We feed her, change her diaper, rockher to sleep. Times 1,000! But becauseI’m blogging, I’m alert to the miracle
du jour
—the wry arching of one eyebrow,the inkling of a smile. I capture themwith my words.Sincerely yours,Robin Reagler, Ph.D.Executive Director
he fourth graders and the collegestudents made a circle around the cir-cumference of the classroom, and all of ustook turns introducing ourselves with aninteresting piece of information. Our rootsgrew deep from Kosovo to Mexico, Indiato Egypt, Somalia to Vietnam, andHouston to New York City. Some of uswanted to be teachers or pediatricians orengineers when we grew up. Some of uswere still thinking about it.When it came time to introduce myself,I looked around the room at my students—all of my students—the fourth grade writersand the college writers. “Some of you knowme as Ms. Susan,” I said, “and some of youknow me as Dr. Bernstein or Dr. Susan.”After two years of planning, two worlds of writers had finally collided—my WITSwriters and my college writers.My WITS collaborating teachers,their principal, and I had first discussed avisit to University of Houston,Downtown, when Mina and her class-mates were in second grade. But theschool was in the West HISD district, toofar away from downtown for a group of second graders to travel by public transit,especially with all of the constructionnear the University. Two springs later, thesecond graders were fourth graders—andthe Metro Light Rail was completed.University of Houston, Downtown wasthe last stop. The fourth grade teacherand I decided that it was finally time toplan our adventure.After introductions, Teresa, a collegestudent, agreed to read aloud to the group.The book we had chosen for this occasionwas
I Dream of a World
, written and illus-trated by the Gifted and Talented Studentsof Pershing Accelerated School inUniversity City, Missouri (Scholastic Inc,2001). The book presents a series of writ-ings and drawings that focus on what chil-dren and adults can do to make the world abetter place or, as a fourth grade studentwrote, “To save the Earth.” At the end, thebook provided templates for students toimagine their own visions of “We Dream of a World.” I invited the students to writeand draw their own book together.The college students and the fourthgraders divided into groups to plan theirsection of the book. The college studentslent the fourth graders colored pens andhelped them to define difficult words. Thefourth grade students shared their owninterpretations of the book. Togethereveryone drafted and revised their pagesfor the final copy.We Dream of a World…With more protection to save lives.With no violence to stop crime and hate.With nobody going hungry becauseeverybody needs to eat.Where everyone is treated equally andfairly because everyone deserves it.
Group 1, fourth graders and collegewriting students
After each group shared their work, thecollege students left for their other classesand the fourth graders went on a tour of theUniversity. The fourth graders first visitedmy office, complete with their drawings andpoems hanging on the walls. Then westopped for lunch at the cafeteria, took pic-tures on the outside deck with a view of downtown’s skyline as background, touredthe library and the college advising center,and visited the bookstore for candy bars, keychains, and other souvenirs. All too soon, itwas time for the fourth grade to take thelight rail back to their bus stop in order tocatch their bus back to the West Side.But the collaboration between thefourth grade and the college students didnot end that day. Some of the studentsbegan to correspond as pen pals. Then, afew weeks later, several of the college stu-dents volunteered to chaperone The MenilCollection field trip. For some of thecollege students, visiting The Menil wasa new experience. Other students remem-bered previous visits to The Menil, includingone college student who mentioned herown WITS trip five years before as amiddle school student. She shared a poemthat she had written that day:
How did clouds get the name cloud?Does anybody know?Or did a cloud drop a paper that said“Call us clouds?”Did Adam and Eve go around givingstrange names to everything?Were our ancestors clouds and whenthey went to heaven their souls are inthe sky?Were clouds meant to be loud?Or was it that God wanted it to be?
Barbara, written as an 8th grader,now a first-year college student
“We dream of a world,” the studentshad written, “where everyone is treatedequally and fairly because everyonedeserves it.” In those moments of writingand drawing and sharing, the studentsbegan to discover, across race, ethnicity,social class, gender, and age, how the land-scape might look in this world that theydreamed together.
by Susan Naomi Bernstein
4 th gade
WITS students work with University of Houston,Downtown students on the creation of the book,
We Dream of a World
WITS students learn about college life and meetwriting role models on a trip to the University of Houston,Downtown.
Wow! What a University! I never knew itwould be so big. Everything I expected wasall wrong. I expected that there were about40 students in a class. Well, I was wrong.I never knew that Ms. Susan’sstudents were so nice. I hope Iwill enter a University like that.
Mina, 4th grade student commenting on her field trip to the University of Houston,Downtown

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