Bronx Museum Spring Partnership

May marked a whirlwind Spring partnership with the Bronx Museum of the Arts which ended last week with a final performance and celebration!

I saw three classes from PS 73: a 1st & 2nd grade class, and two 3rd & 4th grade classes. I work specifically with the classes of students who have IEPs, each of these classes was a 12:1:1.

The partnerships starts with a museum visit, wherein I guide the classes (one at a time) through the recent exhibit and prepare activities for them in response to the art.

This season's exhibit is "Useless: Machines for Dreaming, Thinking, and Seeing" It's an amazing study of machines and devices built for aesthetics rather than practicality. 

As the Bronx Museum website describes:

As a reaction to our current times focused on utilitarianism and profit, Useless: Machines for Dreaming, Thinking and Seeing presents a selection of curious machines created by artists with the goal of stirring dreams, feelings, critical thinking, and ironies; for seeing what microscopes, telescopes and cartographies cannot show; for flying without taking-off; in short, for doing the impossible. Such are some of the uses of art.

Contemporary art installation on a hardwood floor. The art work looks like a 1970’s space capsule, but covered in sheet metal, plants, and bricks. Extension cables can be seen running out of the piece as well. In the background are other photos and statues.

Contemporary art installation on a hardwood floor. The art work looks like a 1970’s space capsule, but covered in sheet metal, plants, and bricks. Extension cables can be seen running out of the piece as well. In the background are other photos and statues.

While the intention and theme is quite intellectually stimulating, my students were all immediately taken by the visual spectacle of the art itself and it was an incredibly fun curation to teach.

My program was an co activity that built on itself every session around the idea of story-making.  I was inspired especially by Stefana McClure’s film and visual poem in the exhibit that she made in response to the George Perec’s Brief Notes on the Art and Manner of Arranging One’s Books. Perec famously had a “story-making-machine” with which he wrote the novel, or “novels” as the book opens, Life a User Manual. I wanted the PS 73 students to be their own Story-Making-Machines, creating and then sharing/typing their stories.

On a flatscreen TV gloved hands can be seen with metallic tips on the ends of each fingers. The hands seem to be typing with small, black residue visible underneath the fingers.

On a flatscreen TV gloved hands can be seen with metallic tips on the ends of each fingers. The hands seem to be typing with small, black residue visible underneath the fingers.

edupreneur-blog-BXSPring19-McClure-Art.jpg

To start, I had the students come up with robots for the closing museum trip activity. They could think back to some of the machines from the exhibit or also use the book Clink by Kelly DiPucchio, which we had read before going down to the galleries, as a kind of mentor text. 

Once the robot was drawn I asked them to come up with a name, then write what their robot was made out of, and finally what their robot could do. By making each description an individual step, I was scaffolding the idea of character development, helping them make robust and well rounded robots (say that 10x fast) for their stories. 

In the first school trip we did a quick warm up, read Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones, then got to work on our stories. First students hand wrote a story involving the robot characters they made at the museum. Once the stories were finished, they "typed" them up to create a visual poem similar to the Stefana McClure piece on display.

On an art room table, covered in old paint marks, print outs of computer keyboards are taped down.

On an art room table, covered in old paint marks, print outs of computer keyboards are taped down.

Close up of the art room table, the keyboard print outs are now covered by a piece of tracing paper so that the keys themselves are still visible.

Close up of the art room table, the keyboard print outs are now covered by a piece of tracing paper so that the keys themselves are still visible.

To achieve this typing effect, I taped print outs of keyboards to the table and placed tracing paper over them. Giving each student a pair of gloves, I then gave out a dollups of black paint to rub between their gloved hands, telling the students to focus especially on their finger tips. Once everyone was painted up the students typed the stories they just hand wrote as if they were typing them into a computer. It was a pretty exciting activity, so took the groups a couple sheets of tracing paper to get right!

On the art room tables students hands can be seen covered in gloves and black paint “typing” on the tracing paper.

On the art room tables students hands can be seen covered in gloves and black paint “typing” on the tracing paper.

When the story was finished, we peeled off the tracing paper and there was their visual story. Some of them came out so much like the McClure piece it’s uncanny!

Pieces of tracing paper with individual black dots made with paint.

Pieces of tracing paper with individual black dots made with paint.

For my final school visit I brought an old typewriter. I wanted the final draft of these robot stories to be typed up and in keeping with the “Useless” exhibit themes, thought it would be fun to have students explore the now outdated typewriter as a mode of typing.

I have an old, portable Royal typewriter. It was given to me by my uncle during the clean out of my grandmother’s house. I actually thought it was broken at first, but it turned out the keys that were getting stuck were meant to get stuck! (Just had to actually read the manual…which thankfully was still with it)

In prepping for this session, it was a fun exploration to work and tinker on the old machine. I had to buy new ink and learn how to put that in, do a little light cleaning and maintenance on it, and learn how to set and reset all the margins.

Since I only had the one typewriter, for the third and final session I had students use large alphabet stamps to stamp out their story letter by letter onto mural paper while they waited their turn. I did this because I wanted them using their fine motor systems to mimic the typewriter’s mechanics and keep on that idea of them being “story-making-machines.”

The students had a blast with the typewriter! Some of them asking, “ is this what old people use?” or calling out to their friends, “Hey, look! I’m old now!” as they typed. They were also curious about all the little knobs and levers and often, after their turn, they’d linger to watch the mechanisms of the machine as their classmate wrote. The teachers also had funny, nostalgic memories of the typewriter  which they shared with me and the classes.

Black and White photo of a 1970s typewriter. A paper with some typing is loaded into the scroll.

Black and White photo of a 1970s typewriter. A paper with some typing is loaded into the scroll.

At the projects close there was a lot of art to be shared and sorted": the original robots, the handwritten stories, the McClure like visual stories, and the class’ typewriter made story. For the final, assembly for I bound the stories, the typewritten text and visual poems, together with a bit of colorful twine, embracing the DIY aesthetic in the exhibit.

Two books handmade books side-by-side on a table. Both are tied together by a bit of twine, the front of them have typewritten words that are indistinguishable at the photo’s distance. Behind these front pages are pieces of tracing paper with blotches and dots of black paint.

Two books handmade books side-by-side on a table. Both are tied together by a bit of twine, the front of them have typewritten words that are indistinguishable at the photo’s distance. Behind these front pages are pieces of tracing paper with blotches and dots of black paint.

To close, the classes did a little Be-Bop Beat, as described to me, while I sang the story out loud. It was a lot of fun, and cool to see how proud the poets were of their work!

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Affect Autism Interview

Affect Autism is a fantastic blog, podcast, and one stop shop for all things DIR/Floortime. I had a chance to go on the podcast and talk about the poetry workshops! You can read the full blog summary here, find the episode “Sensory and Developmental Poetry Workshops" on your favorite podcasting app or service, and watch the video of the interview below!

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Brooklyn Public Library Staff Training

As the culmination of my workshop series with Brooklyn Public Library's Inclusive Services, I gave a presentation to library staff on strategies for making reading, events, and programs more inclusive.

Donnie Welch, a young white man, stands smiling at the front of a room in business casual attire. Behind him on a large, computer monitor is a presentation title slide reading, “How to Read Literature like an OT, PT, or SLP” in white lettering on a blue background.

Donnie Welch, a young white man, stands smiling at the front of a room in business casual attire. Behind him on a large, computer monitor is a presentation title slide reading, “How to Read Literature like an OT, PT, or SLP” in white lettering on a blue background.

I focused specifically on ways to bring movement and sensory play into reading by finding opportunities in the figurative language, themes, and imagery of the texts you’re working with.

I’ve shared the slide’s publicly on SlideShare so feel free to check them out and if you do, then let me know what you think!

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Font Fopas

I can't tell you the amount of times I print something off quickly for workshop, read it, realize every capital i looks like a lower case L and debate with myself whether or not I should recycle the papers or just power ahead.

So for a small tip: take a few extra seconds in your prep time to make sure you use a font where capital i and L are obviously different, especially working with poets just learning to read and write. I usually keep it basic with Times New Roman, but there are definitely more fun and engaging fonts out there that also make a clear distinction.

This simple edit makes it easier for everyone to read, whether you're printing something for a collaborative found poem, individual reading activity, or blowing the letters up large for an activity on the board.

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Young Child Expo 2019

Yesterday I presented with my Rebecca School colleague Allison Johnson at the 2019 Young Child Expo here in NYC!

Allison is an occupational therapist who works with me in one of my younger workshops and has helped me integrate movement into those sessions. More than that, she’s been a teacher, taking the time to give me a deeper understanding of movement and the body’s sensory system.

She has such an amazing sense for what will help each poet in our workshop. I often find myself referencing her for what movements we should do. It’s truly a super-power, this seemingly innate sense that “oh, yeah, bear walking right now will help this poet regulate.” I can’t gush enough!

I’ve put up our slides on SlideShare. As a note, we had a fairly video heavy presentation culminating in a twenty-minute case study of one of the poets. These had to be removed for confidentiality so there are some blank slides and slides that just have titles.

That said, the SlideShare presentation still contains great information about the movements we use in the workshop and why we use them.

Give the presentation a view and if you find the information useful, feel free to share it around with your friends, colleagues, and admin!

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Wall Writing

As I’ve mentioned in other posts I keep the workshop spaces completely clear except for the essentials. For some groups that’s chairs, for others it’s movement ques, and for still others it’s nothing at all!

As one of my workshops is focuses on writing longer and longer texts like sonnets, there wasn’t a great space for the poets to write.

Bringing in a table with chairs or some desks was a possibility, but that always felt like a big transition to have in the middle of a session. The alternative, having the poets lie down or hunch over while writing, is poor form both in terms of posture and mechanics.

Colleen Gabbert, my OT colleague who facilitates this session with me, recommended taping paper to the wall and having the poets stand and write. This little change has made a huge difference!

Not only are their body posture and fine motor work better, but the poets who might otherwise need sensory breaks from sitting are able to engage in the writing activity for longer durations. I imagine because they’re not getting as tired from using only their core to support them or (when they can no longer support themselves) hunching over and losing focus on the group activity.

I’ve noticed that standing also allows a more seamless sensory release. For example, poets can rock or pace if needed while thinking of the next line while. When sitting, the poets had a tendency to stay seated or if they stood up it would be to move quickly around the room or leave altogether for a quick break or support in the hallway.

Some of the poets prefer staying seated and when they do I try to encourage that they use a binder or book to hold the text so that they sit up right. It certainly isn’t perfect (old habits die hard), but for the poets who accept the tool of wall writing it’s helped immensely!

Just a reminder that if things are feeling a bit stilted or stale in your class or sessions, the answer isn’t always a big change. Sometimes all you need is a different perspective (make friends outside your department!) and a couple pieces of tape!

A hand holds a pen to a piece of lined paper taped to a white school wall.

A hand holds a pen to a piece of lined paper taped to a white school wall.

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O, Miami Poetry Festival

I traveled to Miami for the first time at the start of April as part of the O, Miami Poetry Festival. I went with my friend and Rebecca School colleague Raquel to run three days of workshops at Brucie Ball Educational Center, a day school for students with severe disabilities.

The sessions were amazing. Beyond amazing. The students, teachers, and festival staff were all incredibly welcoming and made it such a joy to be working down in sunny south Florida. Rather than write too much here though, I’ll let some professionals tell you more as the sessions got the attention of both the Miami Herald and the local NPR station WLRN.

Visit the links below to hear and read more!

“Workshop Helps Kids Find Language And Poetry Without Words” WLRN Miami / South Florida

“These Students Found Rhythm, Art and Joy Through Poetry” Miami Herald


The word "hope" spelled out in large, capital letters cut from poster paper and suspended in a school library. Inside the letters are butterflies of various colors crafted out of paper.

The word "hope" spelled out in large, capital letters cut from poster paper and suspended in a school library. Inside the letters are butterflies of various colors crafted out of paper.

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Teachers & Writers Publication

It has been a wild couple weeks for me, but wanted to take a second to share that I recently published “Found Poetry & Accessibility” in Teachers & Writers Magazine. The piece offers three ways to use found poetry as an accessible and inclusive entryway into poetry.

Give it a read!

Example of a black out poem. A page from a book about birds has large strokes of black blocking out specific lines of words, images, and design details. The remaining words form a poem and in the bottom left is the picture of a bird.

Example of a black out poem. A page from a book about birds has large strokes of black blocking out specific lines of words, images, and design details. The remaining words form a poem and in the bottom left is the picture of a bird.

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Edupreneur: Cut Your Business Card Clutter

Conferences like SXSWedu are great opportunities to meet and network with other professionals. But with that community building inevitably comes a pile of business cards.

I'm someone who hates clutter. As a writer I already have more than enough notebooks, loose leaf paper, and little ideas scribbled for my home office space. What I don’t need are even more little slips of paper hanging around!

After any conference where I get a the contacts of a bunch of wonderful people I have a strategy for both documenting and communicating with them. It starts by simply typing up cards into a spread sheet. The sheet has columns labeled:

Name

Company

Position

Email

Phone

Website (personal or company's) 

How/ where we met

With the pertinent information running vertically across the cells.

If you want to go an extra measure you could also add a column (or two) that says when you contacted them and whether or not they responded or took action (such as connecting over a media platform) as a result of the email. I choose not to do this, in part because I'm more interested in continuing conversations than quick boosts, so the hope is that my reaching out sets off a thread of emails, a Twitter conversation, phone call, or similar back and forth to build our relationship. 

I send the email as soon as the card is typed up. Going one at a time so I don't procrastinate and let things pile up. Or slip into the habit of saying, “first I’ll do the easy thing and type the cards, then I’ll email,”… and never actually email. I also know, without having to make an extra column or any highlights, who has been contacted when I work at this slower pace.

Pile of business cards, mostly white with colored text and images, on top of a brown wooden desk.

Pile of business cards, mostly white with colored text and images, on top of a brown wooden desk.

Finally, when it's all done, I recycle the cards. As someone who has cards and adds onto the pile of others I know this might seem cruel. "These cost money to make!" and "What if you want to pass it on to someone?" Are two common quips. In answer, I know they cost money and also take time to design, but it makes me feel better and write more efficiently having a clear space and keeping the cards in storage would just add unnecessary clutter.

And if I want to pass on the info, I'd simply send that person an email or text. It's more seamless too, they can copy the email right from their account and send a message or highlight the number on their phone and make a call.

Give it a try next time you come home from an event with a stack of business cards. And if you have any organizing strategies you like please share! 

Oh, and if you do go digital, don’t forget to back-up your spreadsheet!


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Edupreneuer: SXSWedu 2019 Mentor Session

I’m excited to share that the mentor session registrations are open for SXSWedu 2019!

As a mentor at this year’s conference you can sign up for a slot to come and talk to me! What can you talk with me about? Well…

We can chat about working in and providing programming for learners of all abilities.

Or muse over edupreneurship and more specifically, solopreneuership. Especially if you’re coming from New York state or New York City, I’d be happy to chat about my experience navigating all the regulations, paperwork, and payments getting Donnie Welch Poetry legit this year.

Or let’s babble, prattle, and gab about Arts Education! While I focus specifically on inclusive arts education, I’ve made a lot of connections in the broader field that I’d be happy to share and my work as a Teaching Artist at the Bronx Museum has given me insight into that pathway as well. Furthermore, I’d be excited to hear about and support any ventures in community arts partnerships, as that’s some of the most equitable and exciting work happening in arts education right now.

Beyond myself there’s a whole roster of amazing mentors! In particular I’m excited for a chance to chat with: Alexander Kopelman from Children’s Arts Guild an organization I very much admire, Kristin Corliss a special education teacher from DC, and Allison Valchuis who works with the 92nd Street Y here in NYC!

It can seem daunting to carve out time in a already full schedule of workshops and presentations for one-on-one conversations, but keep in mind these are only twelve minute interviews. While that’s admittedly a significant chunk of the thirty minute and twenty minute presentations, it’s possible to partake in a mentor session and politely enter into the back of one of the longer, and often larger, sessions. So (like much of SXSWedu) it’s about building a balanced and flexible schedule that’s comfortable for you.

Oh, and, I know I linked all these amazing mentors, but y’all better not take my spot! Seriously though, there’s so many great leaders, teachers, and thinkers you can meet one-on-one with throughout the festival. The work of these three resonates with me and what I’m hoping to accomplish, but give the mentor list a rundown for yourself and see who on there inspires you!

Seeya down in Austin!

Screenshot from the SXSWeud App with the SXSW logo and a bright yellow background up top. Below that in tiers of information are the details and location to a mentor session with Donnie Welch

Screenshot from the SXSWeud App with the SXSW logo and a bright yellow background up top. Below that in tiers of information are the details and location to a mentor session with Donnie Welch

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Sonnet Challenge

For Valentine’s Day I challenged one of my workshops to write sonnets.

This was my first time teaching a form in any of my workshops. I’ve done haiku scavenger hunts before, but those were more about the experiential nature of haiku than any of the form’s diction and thematic restrictions.

To start this sonnet lesson I explained that some poems have rules, which piqued the attention of a couple poets in the room right away. We’ve been writing together as a group for almost two years now and in that time I’ve pretty much let them free write, the exceptions being group projects like our holiday cookie tags, so this was something new.

I had Sonnet and the numbers one through fourteen listed downward on the board as a visual for everyone to reference. I decided to start with the basic rule, that a sonnet is a poem with fourteen lines. While rhyme and meter play a big role in the Shakespearean Sonnet (which is the form I was basing this introduction on) it didn’t quite feel right to dive into that. I wanted this to be a challenge for the poets, but not overwhelm them. Furthermore, I wanted them to be engaged and intrigued and bogging them down with all the details of form would have dimmed the excitement.

on a white dry erase school board the word Sonnet is written at the top with a vertical stack of numbers 1-14 underneath it. All the writing is in blue.

on a white dry erase school board the word Sonnet is written at the top with a vertical stack of numbers 1-14 underneath it. All the writing is in blue.

Next I talked about the theme, sonnets are about someone or something you really like. I got a lot of “blehs” from this as the thought of writing a love poem, or “love letter” as one of the poets said, was off putting. I told them though that it didn’t have to be addressed to someone, it could simply be fun and addressed to a video game the loved, a show, a book, anything is sonnet worthy.

Once that was established and no one felt like they had to write a love poem, the poets set to work and it was amazing! They tackled the challenge so well! Even the poet who was so opposed to writing “love letters” started with Sonic, but ended with an amazing ode to family, friends, and school.

One note, I started off just letting them free write, but it became quickly apparent that encouraging the poets to number one to fourteen down the side of their paper (like I had up on the board) provided a good frame of reference. Aside from this addition to their papers and occasional encouragement from the teachers and therapists supporting the group not much scaffolding took place.


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University of Alabama Guest Lecture

Earlier this week I had a chance to speak with a group of aspiring theater educators at the University of Alabama about ways to ensure arts education spaces are inclusive and accessible for all learners.

After smoothing out and working around the technical blips that always accompany this sort of a thing, the lecture went well and the students asked a lot of great questions afterwards.

I’ve shared my slides publicly for people to visit. While the information itself is fairly short and really more a guideline for my conversation with the class, I thought it’d be nice to keep the content up for the students to reference and share as well as for anyone else who’s curious! Click the linked title slide below to check out the presentation for yourself!

Title slide of powerpoint presentation.At the top is the title, followed by a center is an image of hand painted stars, yellow finger paint on black construction paper. Below that is the presenter name and information.

Title slide of powerpoint presentation.At the top is the title, followed by a center is an image of hand painted stars, yellow finger paint on black construction paper. Below that is the presenter name and information.

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Class Environment

A big consideration in prepping for the workshops is the class environment, or how things are arranged and set up in the room to best support student learning.

One important component of design for the sessions I run is a circular structure.

I do this because I want the poets to be able to reference one another. The social-emotional and self-expressive aspects of these workshops are just as important as the academic and in order to facilitate these empathic aspects I need to set up the room in a way that promotes communication between poets.

A circle of classrrom chairs, black and one blue, on a tiled floor. In the middle of the circle of chairs is a smaller circle of colored cards. In the foreground is a classroom dry-erase whiteboard.

A circle of classrrom chairs, black and one blue, on a tiled floor. In the middle of the circle of chairs is a smaller circle of colored cards. In the foreground is a classroom dry-erase whiteboard.

For example, in my younger workshops where I use the movement cards I put the circle of cards in the center of the larger seating circle. This gives each poet a kind of performance for their turn and then I still keep an open space for writing on the board, trying to keep it so that the poem is a kind of part of the circle.

I like to keep the room clear as well, nothing but the seating and activity.

It’s important to note as well, that teachers, therapists, and other facilitators are sitting (or standing in the case of other workshops) with the poets. This equanimity in seating is twofold in that it’s a visual representation of the fact that all voices are valued, student voice on the same tier as adult voice, and it allows for seamless 1:1 support. Whether that support is because a therapist is using this session as a group mandate and needs to work in close capacity to fulfill goals or because a poet needs sensory support in a moment of challenge, this set up makes it so that there are no dramatic/run across the room/jump in the middle of the activity/ stop everything situations that arise.

It’s pretty simple, but taking small considerations can make big improvements in peer learning.

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Patreon

If you’ve noticed and clicked the new button at the bottom of the site, then you’ll see I’ve gotten a Patreon account!

 This is my first time trying out any kind of crowd funding or donation model and I’m a bit self-conscious about it. While Donnie Welch Poetry is a consulting and programming service and therefore a business, there’s a lot of content I’d like to keep free.

For example, this blog!

I want this blog to be a resource for both entrepreneurs and educators to find tips and learn from my experiences. I’m also working on video content on YouTube, these short readings and conference clips will be free for people to enjoy and learn from as well.

Another goal is to keep my curriculum affordable. The market for classroom texts is wild, but both of the texts I have available are purposefully under $20 and I intend on keeping them that way!

Beyond my online content, I run some after school and community workshops free of charge for both the organizations and participants who can’t meet my rates because a part of my mission in starting Donnie Welch Poetry is to make poetry more inclusive and equitable.

However, all of these things come with a big time commitment. And who ever came up with the saying “Time is money,” wasn’t wrong.

I’m hoping Patreon can be a resource that helps me keep this digital content free, my products affordable for parents and educators, and my workshops available to anyone who needs some poetry in their life!

Give the page a look and see if you can help, I’ve purposefully kept my donation tiers pretty low and even the $1/MONTH “Haiku Hero” offering goes a long way!

Patreon home page. In the top is an avatar image of Donne Welch, a young white male with glasses, followed by a description of a $1 donation tier.

Patreon home page. In the top is an avatar image of Donne Welch, a young white male with glasses, followed by a description of a $1 donation tier.

Rebecca Listener Interview

I was recently interviewed on The Rebecca Listener a new podcast from The Rebecca School produced by Chris Hernandez, the school’s media director, to offer parents, providers, and anyone interested with insight into the work happening at the school.

The podcast is available on all of your favorite platforms and currently has three episodes, with new ones coming out every week (I think!)

Check out myself and my colleague Courtney Latter discussing the range of workshops at the Rebecca School and how we navigate all the different developmental levels and ages while keeping the poets in engaged in learning on episode three “Poetry Groups”

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Edupreneur: Self-Publishing

I love self-publishing! As a poet I used it for a couple of my more experimental projects and when I entered into this business I knew I wanted to continue the craft to make my work available for anyone.

While many entrepreneurs are into self-publishing and understand it as a way to showcase expertise and build a little passive income, there can sometimes be a misplaced sense of doubt. There’s a sentiment that exists that unless your work is published by a traditional press or publishing house:

  1. No one will read it

  2. It won’t be taken as factual or valuable

  3. You won’t make money on it

While that certainly might have been true at some point, today the industry is so over saturated with books that anyone can write, make money, and become an expert without a company, big or small, backing them. A 2013 Forbes article [1] cites that there are somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000,000 books published every year and I’m sure that’s only risen in the six years that have followed the article’s publication. This seems daunting, but I actually think it’s exciting! Publishing has become is less about industry and more about your audience.

What do I mean by that?

People aren’t reading 1,000,000,000 books every year. It isn’t physically possible. But from those million, people are finding the authors and ideas that they’re most interested in and, what’s more, they’re willing to get specific. From stock market tricks, to bird watching on specific lakes in specific states, to running poetry workshops for students with developmental disabilities, self-publishing allows authors with a niche to profit. Presses and Publishers would have to pass on these texts, no matter how well written, because they’re too specific and wouldn’t attract a wide enough readership for the production of the books to be profitable. Self-publishing, however, allows these authors to get their ideas and information out to the readers who need and want them. It might only be the people on your mailing list, but that’s still a stream of income. And it’s an income that strengthens your relationship to your clients and customers as they get an in depth look at your thoughts.

Obviously, people push-back saying that self-publishing allows lower quality, under researched books to enter into the market. And that might be true. But have you read some of the books that are being published by traditional houses today?

If you don’t know how to go about making a book, that’s fine. I didn’t either. That’s why my first two education texts are simply downloadable PDFs. I like this format because it doesn’t need to be hosted by a third-party site like Amazon, the reader can download it to read digitally and print a physical copy if they want, and it allows me to keep costs lower without the production over head that goes into having a paperback made.

At it’s simplest you can just type up a word doc and export it as a PDF. Done.

I’d recommend getting a bit fancier and cleaning it up in InDesign. That said, it took me time to learn that (both the lesson that texts are worth cleaning up and InDesign) myself. I ended up using the free month trial of LinkedIn Learning to get an InDesign tutorial. There’s a lot of great content out there both behind pay gates like LinkedIn Learning and for free on YouTube to help you navigate InDesign and similar programs that can spruce up your document.

I took the InDesign course specifically because I knew I wanted to start putting together collections of children’s poetry again and for that to happen I’d need to work in with trade sizes and industry formats. In terms of actually getting a book made, there are a couple different platform options out there but my favorite three are: Lulu, Ingram Spark, Amazon KDP

I ended up using Amazon in part because it has instant market recognition, when I say my book’s on Amazon people know what to expect. It also has an easy interface and payment method.

(As a side note, Lulu is great for working on books with students because there’s an option to publish privately. This keeps the work only with in the community you choose and still results in market quality books.)

My intent was to make How Do You Butterfly into an e-book for Kindle as well as paperback, but making the e-book proved too difficult. My partner who works in publishing pointed out later that children’s books are rarely e-books unless they have the backing of a big publisher. The reason for this isn’t because of any philosophic standard or anti-screen time ethic of the publishing industry, but rather, it’s just too difficult to make a good looking children’s e-book. The old software still being used for both the Kindle and Nook simply can’t handle all of the illustrations on a page of children’s literature being directly uploaded.

Publishers have employees who can reformat the image files and slowly upload them to look good with this old tech. I do not. I still wanted to offer an e-copy though, especially because I could keep it a little cheaper for readers, so I went to back to my old friend the downloadable PDF.

With three books currently out and more in the works, it feels so good on a personal level to have my work out in the world for people to read and on a professional level it’s nice having a little money coming in for something I only had to work on once.

Self-publishing is a technique I'd definitely recommend to anyone out there with an idea they want to share. Don’t wait for someone else to give you the okay! It’s your idea! Worse case scenario, no one buys it. Even then, you have a piece of content you can bring with you to pitches, interviews, conferences, and the like to showcase a history of your thinking and that you have the self-discipline and skills to put your vision out into the world.

Sources

1 https://www.forbes.com/sites/nickmorgan/2013/01/08/thinking-of-self-publishing-your-book-in-2013-heres-what-you-need-to-know/#736a7e2414bb

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Holiday Cookie Poems

Since my first year running poetry workshops at Rebecca School, I've partnered with Cafe Rebecca “a gluten-free café located within the Rebecca School. Through the Café Rebecca program, our Transitions students (ages 15-21) bake, deliver, advertise and run all aspects of a café.  Our student bakers create everything from the logo to the cupcakes.  Everything made in Café Rebecca is gluten-free and nut-free, with vegan options as well.  Café Rebecca’s goal for serving food to the school community is to create a shared experience surrounding homemade food that all students and staff members can enjoy together, taking into consideration all food allergies.” [1]

Our partnership happens around the holidays and involves the workshops creating a poem to go on the Café’s holiday cookie tags as part of the marketing for the  holiday cookie sale. Every year the café packages and sells hundreds of cookies to families, students, and staff.  These packages come with signature tags, one side branding the café and the other with a signature poem.

Pile of three flavored cookies, chocolate, sugar, and oatmeal on a plastic wrapped plate. On top of the plate are two festive tags. One tag shows the front with the Cafe Rebecca logo, the other tag shows the back with the Rebecca School Poetry Workshop’s poem.

Pile of three flavored cookies, chocolate, sugar, and oatmeal on a plastic wrapped plate. On top of the plate are two festive tags. One tag shows the front with the Cafe Rebecca logo, the other tag shows the back with the Rebecca School Poetry Workshop’s poem.

Not every workshop takes on this project. It involves some pretty intense effort: writing on theme, working with space restrictions, and meeting a deadline. Of the eleven workshops I run at the Rebecca School, this year only two workshops took on the project.

So how do we get going on all this work?

I like to start the process right after thanksgiving to ensure that the workshops have a couple of weeks to progress toward the deadline. The deadline is usually the Friday before the winter break, so for example, this year’s 2018 deadline fell on Dec. 14th.

Since the tags are small, we get about sixteen words worth of space. To help the poets visualize this I’ll bring in a sample of the tags, either the blank slate the café is using, an example from the previous year, or both. I’ll also draw sixteen blank spaces up on the white board to give them a further visual for our word count. I often set this up in a standard 4x4 grid, but leave it free for the poets to move around as the piece demands.

School white board set up with sixteen blank, black lines in a four by four grid.

School white board set up with sixteen blank, black lines in a four by four grid.

For the actual writing portion, I give every poet note cards to write one word. Sometimes each poet will get two or three cards (depends on the workshop size), with the expectation that each card will only have one word each on it. I like doing this because it further reinforces the idea that we, as a workshop, don’t have a ton of space to play with. It also ensures that everyone is putting their own ideas down. Part of the fun of this project is seeing what words or phrases each poet associates with “The Holidays” then working together to fit these disparate ideas into a cohesive poem. After every poet is finished writing their word(s) we tape them up in the blank spots on the board.

School white board set up with sixteen blank, black lines in a four by four grid. On these blank lines now are notecards with individual words and some hand written words

School white board set up with sixteen blank, black lines in a four by four grid. On these blank lines now are notecards with individual words and some hand written words

After taping them up we can really get down to editing and creating working drafts. Sometimes the word count makes it so that we have extra space to write in new words, other times we’re exactly at sixteen and have to take some poetic license. The taped note cards allow the editing process to be visceral. Poets can go to the board, take words off, move them around and do what they need to show their vision for the poem. They can, quite literally, break the lines!

School white board with note cards and handwritten words still in that four by four structure but now without the guiding blank lines. The board is broken up with a column to denote which part of the draft the workshop is going to be working on.

School white board with note cards and handwritten words still in that four by four structure but now without the guiding blank lines. The board is broken up with a column to denote which part of the draft the workshop is going to be working on.

 Reflecting a bit more about this partnership, I realize that it informed the growth of my workshops and especially the Sensorimotor Poetry Workshops. This writing and editing technique, based around the social-emotional skills and the necessity of structure to a poem, forms the literacy back bone of that Sensorimotor modality.

This partnership was also the first opportunity I had to showcase the writing that the workshops were doing in the school. Being offered that opportunity when I was still running and managing these groups on top of my Teaching Assistant responsibilities was incredibly confidence boosting. It’s really touching and difficult to word how special it feels to have someone recognize and want to promote the work you’re doing. And, beyond my facilitator ego, to have the school community recognize the work of these poets is equally touching.

Big piece of butcher paper taped to a window. The four by four grid of lines is back with words handwritten in each. Along with these words there are now editing marks such as Xs, arrows, and circles, to denote where parts of the poem are being moved around to or potential placement ideas for words in the poem.

Big piece of butcher paper taped to a window. The four by four grid of lines is back with words handwritten in each. Along with these words there are now editing marks such as Xs, arrows, and circles, to denote where parts of the poem are being moved around to or potential placement ideas for words in the poem.

This long standing partnership is one of my favorite holiday traditions... and eating cookies at the end of it certainly adds to the spirit!

Sources

  1. https://www.rebeccaschool.org/cafe-rebecca/

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Sensory Supports

Working with a population of learners who have a wide array of sensory needs means adapting the classroom space to meet those individual needs. As I reflect on this past semester I wanted to create a little list of some easy sensory supports to include as part of a workshop, or classroom, environment.

 One easy thing is alternative seating like a yoga ball. The bouncing of the yoga ball can help offer input for students to be more attentive and engaged in the lesson. The one difficulty is sometimes everyone wants a turn to sit on the ball, whether it’s right for their sensory system or not, so establishing it as special seat for an individual student right from the get-go is important. 

Tiled classroom with a white board. Black chairs arranged in a half-circle around the white board. In the middle of the chairs is a teal yoga ball intended to be a seat. On the board can be seen some writing.

Tiled classroom with a white board. Black chairs arranged in a half-circle around the white board. In the middle of the chairs is a teal yoga ball intended to be a seat. On the board can be seen some writing.

Another easy tool is a weighted blanket, providing deep pressure to help students remain seated and regulated who might otherwise want to move around to seek sensory input. I’ve found there isn’t as much temptation from other students around these blankets, so it’s a nice, low impact addition to the classroom space.

The student it’s intended for can keep it on their body, take it off when it’s their turn to go to the board and then put it back over them or have a staff put it over them as the other poets take their turns.

 

Teal and dark blue weighted blanket sitting on top of a black chair in a tiled classroom.

Teal and dark blue weighted blanket sitting on top of a black chair in a tiled classroom.

Another, subtler and smaller form of deep pressure are hand squeezes to rhythm. A colleague of mine offers this to a poet in one of the rhythm and movement based workshops I run. It’s a simple tactile cue that helps the poet stay attuned to the group activity while also giving their body a bit of support.

For the workshops that are doing writing on paper rather than the white board I like to offer writing utensils that have different sizes and textures. This way every poet should be able to find a tool that fits comfortably in their hand.

Clear mason jar of writing utensils on a tiled classroom floor. The Jar has plastic ball point pens with both smooth and rough grips, pens with cardboard wrapping, regular sized pencils, and giant pencils.

Clear mason jar of writing utensils on a tiled classroom floor. The Jar has plastic ball point pens with both smooth and rough grips, pens with cardboard wrapping, regular sized pencils, and giant pencils.

These are a few ideas I have, but I’d love to hear what else is out there and what other artists and educators use in their spaces!

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Edupreneur: Business cards

At the start of Donnie Welch Poetry I was resistant to getting business cards. In part because it felt a bit wasteful to get a bunch of tiny, paper cards made. I also thought it’d be silly for a teacher, or a poet, or a teaching poet, to have business cards. Admittedly, I had a card for when I was performing more regularly, but I kept that a bit silly, with a big bear on it, because I wanted be a bit tounge-in-cheek about it.

I tried going my first couple months without them, but after being asked time and again, “Oh, do you have a card?” I finally caved and accepted the fact that as an edupreneur I’d need to buckle down, make some, and get them ordered.

((Alt text: Three white busines cards on a blue background. One on the left has a black and white bear and info for Donnie Welch Poetry. Two stacked on top of eachother on the right have the current, ink well logo for Donnie Welch Poetry and the current contact info, also in black and white.))


My advice though, don’t order them until you have to.

Like I mentioned, I only made them once people started asking or once I ran into opportunities where I wished I had them.

While they aren’t exuberantly expensive, when you’re first starting a business there will be a lot of things to spend money on and business cards shouldn’t be the priority.

Make sure you budget appropriately and once everything else is in line, like your LLC paperwork, any supplies you need to get started, or office space needs, then invest some money into getting cards. There are a lot of boutique and expensive options out there, but I just did a basic, black and white, Vistaprint order and feel good about it!

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Snowball Dialouge

New article over in Whale Road Literary Review on “Snowball Dialouge” a writing technique I’ve used with students in the Sensorimotor Poetry Workshops.

While this article talks specifically about moments of peer learning in the workshop space, I've also used this as a strategy to help communicate and co-regulate with students in the day-to-day as well.

It's a good back pocket tool for any educator!

Black text on a white background. The top has the masthead for  Whale Road Review  with four lines right aligned indicating an online drop down menu. Below that masthead is the start of the article with “Snowball Dialogue” in bold, black title lettering and the article lettering beginning in paragraph form below.

Black text on a white background. The top has the masthead for Whale Road Review with four lines right aligned indicating an online drop down menu. Below that masthead is the start of the article with “Snowball Dialogue” in bold, black title lettering and the article lettering beginning in paragraph form below.

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