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A necessary intervention for teens
Educator Dr Danielle Elliott and writer Lisa Allen-Agostini are on a mission to help teens be better writers.
The pair are leading The Writing Intervention, a series of two-week English language and writing workshops for teens aged 14 and up. The workshops, the only of their kind in T&T, will take place at the Trinidad Theatre Workshop, Newbold Street, St Clair, over the July/ August holidays.
Elliott is an independent cultural studies scholar who has taught Caribbean and African American literatures, particularly poetry. She holds a doctorate in English literature from Princeton University and bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College, City University of New York. She has taught at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Smith College, among other institutions.
When Elliott met fellow Bishop Anstey High School alumna Lisa Allen-Agostini, they conceived of The Writing Intervention based on their conversations as teachers.
Allen-Agostini, though best known as an author and journalist, has taught English at tertiary level at the T&T Hospitality and Tourism Institute and COSTAATT.
“Talking with current and past principals, vice principals, teachers, and a few parents, I hear just what we thought when we initially came up with the idea of the Writing Intervention,” Elliott said.
“We have smart students with good ideas who are having difficulty expressing those good ideas when they’re asked to do so in writing.”
This difficulty affects performance in English language and all subjects that require writing. Even a chemistry teacher told Elliott she struggles to get students to effectively summarise material and write long answers.
As a journalist, Allen-Agostini wrote a weekly column in Trinidad Creole and she’s been able to use that familiarity with Creole in her teaching.
“We attach so much shame to our English Creole,” Allen-Agostini said. “Students often don’t know that it’s not ‘broken English’ but a language with its own grammatical rules.
Learning that difference can be crucial to becoming comfortable with Standard English, our official language for business and education.”
She added, “Feeling you’re bad at English can put so much pressure on you.
This camp will incorporate holistic activities, like improv and yogic stretching, to help develop student self-expression and alleviate that stress while teaching and reinforcing writing skills.”
Allen-Agostini’s new young adult novel, Home Home, was awarded a prize in the 2017 CODE Burt Awards for Caribbean Literature. The book was published in June 2018, adding to the growing list of regional books for young readers. But through her experience as a teacher, she said, she knows sometimes weak readers and writers are left behind.
“Our teachers are doing the best they can, an amazing job, really,” said Elliott. “But I know what it’s like as an educator.
You have a large class, a full curriculum, and in this case, a structured exam looming at the end of the year. So there’s little time to accommodate students who might be at different levels and allow time to focus on their written expression.”
Elliott added, “I’d like young people to realise that strong skills in written communication are an essential aspect of a good education and invaluable asset in life. Period. A facility with language, or ability to summarise and analyse a piece of writing, can set you apart regardless of your field.
It’s about being able to be an effective communicator and translator of your world.”
The Writing Intervention dates are July 9-20; July 23- August 3; August 6-17; and August 20-30; camp activities run from 9 am – 4 pm. Spaces are limited and early registration is encouraged.
For more information about The Writing Intervention, go to its Facebook page or contact the team via WhatsApp at 646-505-7872 or 753-6220.
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