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Friday, November 6, 2015

The Bard Institute for Writing and Thinking Writer as Reader Workshops: Discovering New Ways into the Text

IWT offers ten workshops that illustrate how writing supports close reading, engaged discussion, and better comprehension of commonly taught texts. See our website for workshop details: https://www.bard.edu/iwt/workshops/november/.

To Be Announced 
Friday, April 24, 2015

Fail Better: Writing, Thinking, and Risk-Taking in the American Classroom

“What kinds of reward can failure offer us,” J. Jack Halberstam asks in The Queer Art of Failure.  This question inverts the way failure is normally perceived and talked about in education—instead of thinking of failure as potentially rewarding, classrooms are often filled with the stress of possible failure (whether it be failing a test or volunteering the wrong answer). In her article, “In Support of Failure,” Allison Carr asks readers to consider a “pedagogy of failure,” in an attempt to shift from “avoiding failure [as] the object around which school is structured.”  Sadly, with the the advent of the Common Core State Standards, and the continued pressure on teachers and administrators to guarantee that their students “score well,” the fear of failure is increasingly present for both faculty and students. For example, when New York City schools conducted their first assessment based on the Common Core State Standards, scores were low, and the rhetoric surrounding the assessments was one of “we’ve failed our students” or “our students failed to demonstrate competency in”—a rhetoric present at all levels of education.

This conference will focus on a different definition of failure, one that examines the positive connotations of the word. Success merely tells us something is working—it doesn’t necessarily move us forward, nor teach us how to sustain challenging intellectual work.  We learn from our mistakes, from trial and error, therefore failure can be seen as productive, a chance to figure out why something doesn’t work and then make it work. Failure is an opportunity to bring in ‘wonder,’ productive speculative thinking, and it opens up avenues to what we don’t yet know. This conference will return to Ann Berthoff’s important notion that “we need to teach ourselves and our students…to recognize the value of not knowing what your thesis statement is and thus discovering the uses of chaos.” In other words, how can our work with students emphasize not the right or wrong answer but the learning process?


The Institute’s writing-based teaching practices can help administrators and teachers experience the kinds of teaching that highlight the process of learning.  IWT practices help students understand how to pursue an idea and work through whatever roadblocks he or she might encounter—to take intellectual risks—

in the process of reaching a “right” answer.

8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
$250 (includes morning coffee, lunch, and anthology of texts)


Olin Humanities and Olin Language Center 
Friday, March 13, 2015

Curriculum Conversation

Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Sometimes a contemporary novel finds its way immediately into the classroom.  Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is, among other things, one of those novels.  Challenging the canon even as it immediately slots itself into that niche, Wao provides a crash-course in the recent, violent history of the Dominican Republic, and serves as a means to understanding immigration, exile, and return. Oscar, the ultimate outsider hero, is an overweight, nerdy Dominican teenager, transplanted to New Jersey.  No one gets him—he has no friends, no chance with girls, and his family is a financial and emotional mess—but he’s smart and somehow greater than his situation.  In creating such a layered text—complete with extended footnotes, shifting points of view, and withering, hilarious dialogue—author Junot Díaz asks readers to consider how this boy’s journey relates to two nations’ official and unofficial histories. 


IWT Curriculum Conversations foster innovative approaches to the teaching and reading of texts that contribute to our contemporary sense of an evolving American self.  Using writing-to-learn strategies, the day’s workshops will encourage participants to consider several important questions:  How does the novel’s use of varieties of diction—Spanglish, academic English, gaming jargontell us something new about how history is, or might be, written?  How does nerd culture cross the boundaries of immigrant and exile cultures?  And how might we situate Díaz’s stylistically- and structurally-innovative novel in relation to other classics of multicultural literature? 


Writing-to-learn practices are the starting point for a rigorous reading of the text through the lens of contemporary and historical nonfiction, fiction, and poetry.

This series of one-day workshop for teachers of all subjects will:

  • Explore how unexpected pairings of a variety of genres, including poetry, drama, and essay, with a major key text of the curriculum reorients and reinvigorates our reading of the text
  • Offer specific, take-away writing strategies for teaching the text next to historical, economic, and sociological documents—including primary documents—enabling truly cross-disciplinary collaboration with colleagues
  • Provide an opportunity for participants to share their current curricula with each other and engage in cross-disciplinary planning with a team of teachers from their own or other schools.

Workshop fee: $250 (includes morning coffee, lunch, and anthology of related readings)

PLEASE CLICK HERE TO REGISTER  Please sign up for our mailing list.

Olin Humanities and Olin Language Center