April update.

New feature: writers’ drafts

Starting Over

I will try to post one each time I write. Here’s the inaugural one: a draft (probably not the first draft), written by John Lennon, of his 1980 song, “Starting Over.” Click on the image if you want to look more closely. Examine and enjoy.

Continue reading

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This post is brought to you by procrastination.

Since creating a blogpost is much more fun than practicing my presentation for the NWP meeting next Friday, here we are. And here’s this on procrastination, which I read while procrastinating.

Accolades and fabulousness

obamaatthetable4-13Obama: At the Table with book, lyrics, and music by ALC teacher Mindy Levokove, is being performed at the WOW Cafe Theater, 59-61 East 4th Street, New York, NY 10003 on Fridays and Saturdays, April 12, 13, 18, 19. As the description notes, “Hear the voices and perspectives of many varied groups, traditionally marginalized by the ‘ruling class’ in America, and be empowered!” For more information click here (scroll down).

New York City Mathematics Project presentation at ILS inquiry, March 8, 2013

In spite of some seriously treacherous weather last Friday, ILS people met for their third program presentation exploring the connections between our practice and ILS values. I was traveling and sad to miss it, but I caught up on the details in the following week.

The New York City Mathematics Project presented their teacher leadership work and linked it to the ILS core value of “transformative work for all persons.” The Math Project’s focus questions were:

  • How do you see the leadership work of the NYCMP as having been transformative for teachers?
  • What aspects of our work should we carry forward? How should we continue to nurture teachers and develop leadership given the challenges?
  • What suggestions/advice do you have for us to enhance our programs, especially in overcoming the challenges we have presented?

The Math Project has been intentional in using their professional development programs to build leaders. The idea of leadership development has been a core mission of their work since the first NSF grant that started the project back in 1989. At the presentation on March 8, various individuals talked in person and on video about their leadership development in the Math Project, and how their own trajectories informed or influenced the Math Project’s later work. In talking about the presentation on the following Monday, ILS project directors observed that many of the leadership narratives were about identity–about the satisfaction and surprise at having others take your work seriously. Erick Gordon noted how in the Math Project and in the Writing Project, reaching out to notice someone’s potential helps people grow. Anne Campos added that in Mathematics Teacher Transformation Institutes (our current NSF-funded program) the research underscores that the strongest predictor for teacher leadership is self-efficacy, which was quite evident as a thread in the Math Project’s presentation.

Here are a few photos from March 8, courtesy of Ann Cola.

Thanks to NYCMP Director Suzanne Libfeld, MTTI Director Ronald Schwarz, Math Project consultants and leaders past and present, and to folks from the ALC, who fed everyone magnificently.

Reading/Clicking Around

Along with the various pundits, comedians, sportwriters, cultural critics, and colleagues that fill my Twitter feed, I also follow some education activists who have piqued my interest or outrage. One group that I’ve just begun following is Education Evolving (@EdEvolving), a project of the Minnesota-based Center for Policy Studies offering a curious amalgam of teacher empowerment, 21st century school design, and a pro-charter orientation.

Through Education Evolving I landed on a summary of a recent report from the Gordon Commission. Led by Dr. Edmund Gordon, the Commission includes an esteemed group of scholars and education leaders from diverse worlds and schools of thought. I can’t imagine what their meetings have been like. Visit the commission’s website

The report issued by the Commission last week asserts strongly that the purpose of assessment should be instructional feedback more than accountability. Citing the potential of the new Common Core-aligned assessments, the Commission calls for a broader, deeper look at the role of assessment in instruction and at the ways in which technology and social media have changed what it means to be well-educated. Read the summary here.


Do we really need algebra? What should be the purpose of mathematics education in the schools? Here’s a little piece of the debate, published to stimulate conversation before an event that took place in L.A. a couple of weeks ago. Among the voices in this dialogue are Lynn Arthur Steen (some of us may remember him from our year of inquiry into quantitative reasoning) and Bob Moses. Here’s a snippet from Bob Moses:

Do you all have to master algebra?  Yes, if you all intend to be twenty-first century “Constitutional People” rather than Information Age ‘serfs’.

Read the debate here.


Karen Griswold and Kitty Crooks, along with other ALC teachers, ALC students, and Lehman faculty, are gearing up for some development work with the Lehman Edible Garden–a wonderful model of sustainability, situated learning, maker culture, cross-Lehman collaboration, and good food. More as this develops. 

Erick Gordon, Jane Higgins, Joe Bellacero, Chris Bellacero, and I will be in Washington, D.C. on Thursday and Friday to participate in the National Writing Project’s spring event — visiting policy makers on Thursday to talk about the NWP’s impact and value, and participating in cross-site professional development on Friday morning. More on that in the next blog post.

Upcoming events

March 18: NYC Writing Project Inservice Advisory Group
March 22: National Writing Project Spring Meeting in Washington, DC
April 9: NYC Writing Project Elementary Advisory Group
April 23: World Book Night. The ALC was selected as a World Book Night giver.
April 27:  NYC Writing Project conference featuring keynote talks by Peter Elbow and Katherine Schulten and a host of sessions led by Writing Project teacher-presenters.
May 4:  NYC Math Project conference featuring a keynote talk by Andy Clark and sessions conducted by teacher-presenters.

Follow me on Twitter (@marwol), if you are so inclined.

Be well,

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New home, lots of news.

Welcome to our new home on the CUNY Academic Commons! I was saddened to learn last weekend that Posterous, my favorite lovely blogsite, will be closing at the end of April. Although this move to the Academic Commons was born out of necessity, perhaps this is where we should have been all along. I have moved our older content from Posterous, and you can find us here from now on.

Accolades and fabulousness


Joe Bellacero’s story, “Sugar Man,” won first prize in the Annual Short Fiction Contest sponsored by Prime Time Cape Cod and the Academy for Lifelong Learning. In this photo Joe is reading his story at the awards ceremony. And here is the story itself, ripped from the pages of Prime Time Cape Cod.

The ILS was very well represented at the National Science Foundation Math-Science Partnership Conference on February 11-12 2013. MTTI researcher Roger Peach presented work at two conference sessions: “Examining Evidence of Project Impact and Effectiveness” and “Using a Retrospective Pretest to Reveal the Effects of a Teacher-Leadership Development Project.” MTTI project director Ronald Schwarz discussed “The Effects of Modifications to a Teacher-Leadership Project Based on Feedback from an Initial Cohort.” Robert Feinerman, MTTI principal investigator, and Jay Gottlieb, MTTI evaluator, also attended the conference.

Writing Project folks from various sites around the country left the National Writing Project’s Literacy Design Collaborative meeting in Louisville KY last week talking about the presentations by NYC Writing Project representatives. The professional-development work shared by Joe Bellacero on finding a way into Common Core module development and Diane Giorgi on reading/writing historical argument resonated for so many people.

ILS Program Administrator Ashleigh Cassemere-Stanfield was recently published (as Ida-Verne Stanfield) in Hypocrite Reader, an online journal of ideas. Read her essay, “A Lullaby,” here. It’s a thoughtful and challenging piece, both personal and philosophical.

Adult Learning Center presentation at ILS inquiry, February 1, 2013

Well, that was amazing. The ALC shared planning documents, videos, interactive tactile displays, and songs from “We, the People” their voting rights event held last November, and asked us to think about how the ILS core value of “democratic community” was both evident in the work and interrogated by it: were all staff equally invested in creating the event? were all students? what happens when the momentum around an event stretches the limits of participatory decision-making? These are huge questions that perhaps we need to return to, since it was clear that all of us were so moved by the intellectual and emotional depth of the project itself that the questions receded in our thinking.

I thought of the ALC work again just last week while I was visiting the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, KY.  I may be making an obvious point in the next few sentences, but the Ali Center was the first interactive museum I had been to since the ALC inquiry presentation. As I moved through the displays, stopping to read and listen and view and discuss with fellow museum-goers Diane Giorgi and Melanie Hammer, it suddenly struck me that what the ALC had created in “We, The People” was a portable home-made museum, and I started to think about the potential value in developing more of these. As I started to spin out of control with the possibilities, I came back to the questions undergirding the ALC’s presentation. Alongside the work we do in classrooms and with teachers, we have a parallel project of opening up the definition of education so that experiences like “We, The People” can achieve their potential power.

I do hope that ALC people will write up the event for publication, if only in modest form for the ILS website. You have all the documentation, you have the videos, and you have the notes you used to prepare your presentation. It would not take that much to move those bits into a narrative about the work that also explores the tensions inherent in its development.

Here are some photos I took to remind us of what we experienced on February 1st.



The NYC Mathematics Project has begun a partnership with The After-School Corporation focused on mathematics in extended-day programs. This is a new population of educators for the Math Project and an extension of our work with youth practitioners from literacy to mathematics. Here is a blog post from TASC about the Math Project’s work.

The NYC Writing Project hosted an administrators breakfast last Friday for Department of Education administrators with past ties to the WP and administrators from current partnership high schools. Administrators spoke eloquently about the Writing Project’s influence on their own work and on their schools, and the WP got a lot of good feedback to inform future plans.

ALC teacher Mindy Matijasevic has resurrected Sue Machlin’s and Bernie Connaughton’s idea for an ALC newsletter. It is called Many Hats and the first issue will be out any day now!

ALC Director Jaye Jones was accepted into an exciting five-day summer institute at the CUNY Grad Center: the Public Science Project Summer Institute on Critical Participatory Action Research. Learn about it here.  I hope she can share some of her learning with interested ILS folks in the following fall!

Upcoming events

March 8: Next ILS inquiry meeting featuring the Math Project.
March 22: National Writing Project Spring Meeting in Washington, DC featuring Jessica Singer Early, Director, Central Arizona Writing Project and (ahem) me.
April 23: World Book Night. The ALC was selected as a World Book Night giver. Jaye tells me, “WBN takes place on April 23rd throughout the world and the WBN organization provides groups and individuals with 20 copies of a book to give away free – with the emphasis on making sure that non- or light readers get access to the books. The books are a variety – from classics to more recent NYT bestsellers.”
April 27:  Writing Project conference featuring keynote talks by Peter Elbow and Katherine Schulten and a host of sessions led by Writing Project teacher-presenters.
May 4:  Math Project conference featuring a keynote talk by Andy Clark and sessions conducted by teacher-presenters including teacher-leaders from MTTI.

Take care,

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Reflections on January 2013.

So much has happened since the last ILS post. We’re in a new year, a new semester, and a new presidential term. The ILS Welcome Back Gathering on January 4th was lovely — such great food (naturally) and good spirits among all.

Witness to History

ALC Director Jaye Jones attended President Obama’s inauguration! So exciting! Here is a “Jaye’s-eye view” of the proceedings in Washington.

inauguration jaye

Jaye’s attendance there adds yet another layer to the ALC’s “We, the People” work, which all of us will experience tomorrow at the ILS Inquiry meeting. Here are President Obama’s references to “we, the people” from his 2013 inaugural address, courtesy of The Atlantic:

  • For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.
  • We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.
  • We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.
  • We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.
  • We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths –- that all of us are created equal –- is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

Here’s the Atlantic’s brief, terrific piece analyzing the rhetoric of the address. Worth reading.

All in all, it was a great day for our country and, with the President’s speech and Richard Blanco’s poem, a great day for language.

Upcoming ILS Conferences and Special Events

New York City Writing Project Administrators Breakfast: Friday, February 22
New York City Writing Project Annual Conference: Saturday, April 27
New York City Mathematics Project Annual Conference: Saturday, May 4

A Sad Month

Most of you know by now that Steve Shreefter, Azi’s husband, passed away on Thursday, January 17. We collected funds from ILS folks to contribute to some platters of food that we sent to their home on Monday. If you are interested in making a charity donation in Steve’s name, the family suggests either of these two worthy organizations: The Vermont Workers Center or Rethinking Schools. A memorial will be held at the Brooklyn campus of Long Island University some time in April. I will send information when I have it. Here is the NY Times notice about Steve.

I regret to inform everyone that we have heard about another family tragedy affecting members of our community. Kendra Sibley and Sasha Wilson lost their 22-month-old daughter, Magnolia, when she died without warning overnight in her crib on January 26. Kendra has been involved in the leadership of the Writing Project’s Elementary Leadership Program and with Elaine’s Elementary Teachers Network. Sasha is the principal of Bronx Community Charter School, where ETN provides some support, and is the son of longtime Writing Project member Nancy Wilson. Contributions in Magnolia’s name can be made to the NY Public Library; funds will be used to buy children’s books for libraries in the Bronx. If you wish to make a contribution, follow this link.

I know that you all join me in expressing deep sympathies to both families during this extremely difficult time.

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One man: three lives.


Deceit, by Richard Ploetz, long-time Adult Learning Center teacher and playwright, opens on Thursday 10 January at 8pm

Deceit,” a new play by Richard Ploetz, is a provocative new work that reveals how far some people are willing to take their lies to protect the fragile nature of “being normal.” The protagonist is seemingly an “everyman” named Frank/Bob, the dual name not an accident, as Frank a.k.a. Bob is living a double life. Frank plays the role of a heterosexual married man with a child. Bob is the alias he uses for his gay affairs. His wife, Helen, unaware of his activities, is an editor for a popular magazine. A reporter working for her, Ken, is all abuzz about his new story, “married men who date other men.” Ken’s profile will feature inside information from the man he has been interviewing for several weeks: Bob. The play is not only a symbolic and hard hitting take on extra-marital affairs, but is also a glimpse into the human personality that asks if one can ever be truly oneself in our technology-based society.

At Theater for the New City @ 155 1st Avenue
(between 9th and 10th streets in the East Village, NYC)

Additional performances on:

Friday, January 11 at 8pm
Saturday, January 12 at 8pm
Sunday, January 13 at 3pm
Thursday, January 17 at 8pm
Friday, January 18 at 8pm
Saturday, January 19 at 8pm
Sunday, January 20 at 3pm
Thursday, January 24 at 8pm
Friday, January 25 at 8pm
Saturday, January 26 at 8pm
Sunday, January 27 at 3pm

Directed by Andreas Robertz

Steven Hauck* as Frank/Bob
Glory Gallo* as Helen
Ethan Haberfield* as Tommy
Mario Golden as Jeffrey
Joshua Zirger as Ken

Tickets available at the box office or at smarttix.com
$15.00/Seniors and Students $10.00
www.deceittheplay.com or visit us on Facebook, Deceit the play

Deceit opens soon! We look forward to seeing you at the theater!
Until then, enjoy the rest of your holidays!

Warm wishes,

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Too much news this week.

Friday’s Tragic Event

I can’t really express how I’m feeling about the Sandy Hook tragedy–its enormity overwhelms me: Family, faith, and community. Innocence of childhood. Teacher sacrifice. Gun violence. All of these ideas, expressed through such a horrific reality, keep rolling around in my head. All of us are teachers in one way or another, and many of us are parents: two soft underbellies, both exposed and in pain.

Former NYC Writing Project teacher-consultant Katherine Schulten, now editor of the New York Times Learning Network, has pointed to a number of good resources via her Twitter feed and the NYCWP listserv. She writes:

Hi all,
In case this helps, here’s what we have up on the blog.
For students: The Newtown School Shootings: A Place to Post Your Thoughts
For teachers: Resources: Talking and Teaching About the Shooting in Newtown, Conn.
(And we’d be thrilled if any of you wanted to post ideas, reflections,links, etc. there.)
Meanwhile, if you didn’t see it, the Twitter feed of Dawn Hochsprung, the principal at Newtown who was one of the victims, is lovely and heartbreaking. Just 100 tweets, but all about literacy, community, celebrations of the kids.

A Lovely, Thought-Provoking Presentation at Inquiry, 12/7

In our first program presentation focused on an ILS value, the Writing Project shared its work at its annual Teacher-to-Teacher Conference as a way of exploring the value of “human capacity.” Their focus questions included:

  • What does the Teacher to Teacher Conference suggest about the Writing Project’s view of human capacity?
  • In what ways do you see us supporting the professionalism of teachers?
  • What else could we be doing or do differently within the Teacher to Teacher Conference structure to support teacher capacity?

We wrote, explored various conference artifacts in a gallery walk, and offered responses to the questions. We then wrote again, and talked about the relationship between the presentation and our work in our own projects.

Here are a few photos from the meeting! Thank you, Erick, for photos 3-6!

We are typing up the notes from the reflection sheets and will share out this information at the next meeting, February 1. The Adult Learning Center will present at that meeting and the Writing Project will provide lunchtime snacks.

New Work, New Proposals

There’s a lot going on right now at the ILS… Folks from the Adult Learning Center are working on two important proposals for continuing funding. Both ask proposers to reference the common core standards and digital learning. Our work in different projects gets closer together all the time.

The Math Project is starting new work focused on mathematics in after-school settings — a new venue. It will be interesting to see what is the same as school-based mathematics and what is different in working with representatives of these programs.

The Writing Project is beginning new partnerships with a number of schools across the city and one in New Jersey, and experimenting with some new apps to support their on-site consulting in schools.

Mathematics Teacher Transformation Institutes hosted a terrific advisory board meeting last week, focused on ways to use the teacher leaders trained in the program to support other teachers in their own schools and beyond.

Reading/Clicking Around

Just this.

Final Words

Here’s the holiday message we sent around Lehman College last week. Thanks to Ashleigh for the design!


Happy holidays to all, and heartfelt wishes for peace and kindness in the new year.


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Random early December announcements and thoughts.

I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving with friends and family.

Accolades and fabulousness

ALC election event The Adult Learning Center successfully sponsored their election event on November 16, “We the People – Sing,” involving ALC staff and students in election simulations, songs, and skits focused on key election issues at various points in history. This is one photo from the event, taken by ILS Program Administrator Ashleigh Cassemere-Stanfield.

Writing Project Associate Director Joe Bellacero’s short story won first place in Cape Cod Online’s writing contest. Can we all read it, Joe?

Mathematics Project Director Suzanne Libfeld is the incoming Eastern 1 Regional Director for the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics. She will officially assume the position at the NCSM meeting in April, but feel free to congratulate her now!

The NYC Writing Project facilitated two spectacular workshops at the National Writing Project Annual Meeting in Las Vegas. Elaine Avidon and Diane Giorgi led one session focused on the forthcoming NYCWP book, Stories of Impact, to be published by the NWP. Here they are, with Alison Koffler-Wise looking pensive in the foreground!

photo 4 crop

Alison and Susannah Thompson led an NWP workshop called “The Uncommon Core: Writing Argument from a Place of Curiosity and Engagement.”  Erick Gordon introduced the workshop with a video documenting Alison and Susannah’s summer institute on this topic. More than 70 NWP teachers and site directors attended!

Reading around

Some of you know that I am drawn to quantitative reasoning (QR) as a bridge that connects mathematics and literacy education and has the potential for cross-program synergies at the ILS. Our work with the Common Core Standards underscores the necessity of QR. As Neil Lutsky writes, “Quantitative reasoning can help students as they construct and evaluate arguments. This is because quantitative reasoning can contribute to the framing, articulation, testing, principled presentation, and public analysis of arguments.”

Nate Silver at the NY Times, for example, blogs little masterpieces of quant-driven arguments.


If you are interested in learning more about QR, I recommend that you take a look at NICHE. NICHE (Numeracy Infusion Course for Higher Education) is a CUNY-wide NSF-funded project based at Lehman College. The driving force behind it is sociologist Esther Wilder, a close colleague and collaborator of mine. If you click through the pages (navigation is on the lower right), you will find videos, articles, teaching activities, and book references that address quantitative reasoning across the curriculum.

Here’s one video linked to the NICHE site: a quick animation illustrating what one trillion dollars looks like through a simple comparative frame.



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ALC Election Event: “We The People – Sing”

The election may be over, but the issues remain! The ALC will be holding a post-election voting rights history extravaganza, “We The People – Sing” on Friday, November 16 from 10:30 am to 12:00 pm in Gillet Hall. There will be singing, a mock voting event, skits, and more. Please meet in Gillet 226 to join in!

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ILS events, recent past and near future.

It’s a beautiful day today, a striking contrast to the extreme weather that we have endured over the past couple of weeks. For too many of us in New York and New Jersey, the hurricane is still present tense. I hope everyone is coping with the continuing aftemath of Sandy, and that the nor’easter last week did not cause any additional damage or stress.

I’m going to try to post once a week from now on. Think of these little squibs as community snapshots (and I mean “squib” in the journalistic sense–not like this or this). I am not trying to be comprehensive (or even accurate). If you have something you want to announce in a future post, please let me know at marcie.wolfe@lehman.cuny.edu.

Conferences Past
On October 27, MTTI (Mathematics Teacher Transformation Institutes) held its annual conference at Lehman College for participants in the program and their colleagues. Miguel Cordero, a math specialist with the NYC Department of Education, got everyone involved in some math problems that illustrated the instructional changes needed to address the Common Core Learning Standards. Miguel was lovely — thoughtful and practical. MTTI participants–emerging teacher-leaders in mathematics in Bronx middle and high schools–led the workshops after Miguel’s talk. Thanks to Ronald Schwarz, Roz Krakowsky, Suzanne Libfeld, and teacher-consultants from the NYC Math Project for organizing, attending, providing leadership, and presenting.

Conferences Future
New York City Writing Project and Lehman WAC people are flying off to Las Vegas on Wednesday, November 14 to participate in and present at the National Writing Project’s Annual Meeting and the annual conference of the National Council of Teachers of English. Heading out are: Erick Gordon, Susannah Thompson, Alison Koffler-Wise, Diane Giorgi, Paul Allison, Elaine Avidon, and Marcie Wolfe. Everyone will be working hard, I swear! For a little traveling music, click on the photo below!


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Welcome to the new ILS Notes blog for the Institute for Literacy Studies. Here you will find informal updates about ILS people and projects, news from our education world, and some links to readings and images meant to inform or provoke. This is not a space for anything urgent; I hope it will be breezy in tone and fun to read. If you work at the ILS then you’re invited to this page! You are also invited to post or comment if you’ve got something to share and you’re in the mood. The doors are open.IMG_0534

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