Open Mic Blog

NWP Guest: Paul Oh

Posted on April 6, 2011 at 10:19 PM

I'm thrilled to introduce my very first guest blogger Paul Oh. He is a Senior Program Associate for the National Writing Project. Not only is he a wonderful writer himself, Paul's also an advocate for teachers teaching teachers and an integral part of the quiet revolution that has inspired countless teachers across the country since 1974, kindergarten through college, to write and effectively teach writing in their classrooms.


In celebration of National Poetry Month and to stir up some support for continued funding of the NWP, Paul will be taking your questions and comments for the next two days. Please make him welcome!!! 



Paul Oh

Last year, the staff where I work decided to celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day (which this year will be held next week, April 14th, as part of National Poetry Month). The 15 or so of us who participated took turns standing at the top of a small flight of steps, which had a commanding view of the office, and each read our poems.  


Some were about love. Some were funny. All were beautiful.  


I chose "Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100." Or maybe I meant to. I can’t remember now. I only recall that afterward we shared cupcakes and talked about our poems and enjoyed the experience of reading aloud to one another, of sharing words and their beauty.   


Of course this makes complete sense, given that I’m employed by an organization called The National Writing Project. For those of you not familiar with the work of NWP, as so many call it, we are a long-standing education reform non-profit that focuses on the teaching and learning of writing. We are also a network of teachers and of local sites – more than 200 – located in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Our ethos is often succinctly described as “Teachers Teaching Teachers.” Because we believe that teachers, together, through reflection, collaboration, reading and writing, build knowledge that helps us become better educators and our children better learners.   

Like the Poem in Your Pocket gathering in my office last year, at writing project sites around the country, teachers periodically gather to share practice, share food, write, and sometimes read aloud.   


In my former life as a teacher – I taught various grades and in a computer lab at the elementary level, both in Massachusetts and New York – I was a member of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. Now, as a staff member at NWP, I live in Oakland, California, miles from our Berkeley office, just across the Bay from San Francisco. In fact, as I stood at the top of those steps reading my poem that day a year ago, I could’ve turned and seen out the window the Golden Gate Bridge.   


We have a wealth of teacher resources at the NWP website. But especially relevant right now is this collection pertaining to National Poetry Month. Please check it out. And enjoy your own poems in your own pockets.   


* Which poem will you carry in your pocket on April 14? How has NWP impacted and transformed your life?  


* Please come and share your thoughts, opinions, and testimonials. Writing is essential. 


~ Paul Oh is a Senior Program Associate with the National Writing Project, an educational non-profit dedicated to the improvement of writing in our nation’s classrooms. You can often find Paul at  and you can always find his writing at

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Reply Eddy
5:39 PM on April 7, 2011 
Dear Paul,

Where did you live in Massachusetts? I lived in Northampton for awhile--Emily Dickinson's stomping grounds--though it's pretty hard to imagine her stomping anywhere. Did they have good computer labs when you were there? Having an adequate number of functioning computers is still a problem in rural schools in West Virginia.
Reply Paul Oh
6:28 PM on April 7, 2011 
Hi Eddy,

I lived in Northampton, too. And in Amherst - for a while, right across the street from the Emily Dickinson homestead, on Main Street. I also lived in Cambridge.

I was fortunate in that when I taught in Amherst - in a K-6 computer lab - we had functioning computers and a laptop cart, purchased with grant money. The lack of computers and access, I know, is a critical issue for rural schools around the country.

I know that at our two West Virginia writing projects - in Huntington and Morgantown - we have a number of teachers who are attempting to bridge that access issue. In fact one is featured in this publication:

Thanks for stopping by, Eddy!

Reply Marie Manilla
7:45 PM on April 7, 2011 
Hi Paul:
I've never participated in the NWP, but I've taught at the college level for over ten years now. I'm just wondering if the teachers you work with have noticed a shift in the way students learn, or want to learn, or absolutely do not want to learn.

Also, Laura and I have a friend who lives in the Presideo in SF. Maybe you can wave to her on our behalf. She'll be walking her Border Collie
on Crissy Field any minute now.
Reply Paul Oh
8:32 PM on April 7, 2011 
Hi Marie,

First of all, Crissy Field is one of my absolute favorite places to go. I'm a runner and so I enjoy running at Crissy Field, all the way to the foot of the Golden Gate, and back. And I often see LOTS of people with dogs - including probably your friend! :)

As for ways in which students learn, I think the means are very different today, is what our teachers are discovering. Many students have a wealth of information at their fingertips because of online spaces. Many students also learn a great deal through their interactions in these spaces, through the consumption of media and through the content they generate. The tools and spaces available to some, if not most, of our students are shaping their understanding of the world.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, schools have not necessarily adapted to these new paradigms of learning and social interaction.

What are you seeing?

Reply Laura Treacy Bentley
9:25 PM on April 7, 2011 
It's funny. I always know when I fall in love with a poem because I start carrying it around, just like Poem in Your Pocket day. My current love is "Everybody" by Marie Sheppard Williams. I read it to the teachers in the Marshall University Summer Institute last summer. Here is a link to the poem:
Reply Marie Manilla
7:50 AM on April 8, 2011 
Hi Again:
I have noticed that because of technology (which I mostly adore) my composition students often don't relate well, or speak up much, in the face-to-face classroom. However, if I put a prompt on a message board and let them chat online, they can't stop "talking." I've also sadly noted that over the years a number of students just aren't motivated, and also, frankly, don't seem to care. It's as if college has become a continuation of high school. My upper-level classes are not that way. It's just that first year or two when I guess students are learning to take responsibility for their educations--or not.
Reply Kevin Hodgson
5:48 PM on April 8, 2011 
A poetry/tech question for Paul:

How do you think the emergence of technology/digital tools is shaping the way modern poets (young, old and those of us in the middle) are composing their poems? What are some possibilities that you see on the horizon?

Reply Paul Oh
6:48 PM on April 8, 2011 
Love that poem, Laura. So evocative. The first line, for whatever reason, gave me chills. Maybe because I've spent so much of my time waiting for buses and subways with non-descript names like "#2." Thank you for sharing. I can only imagine the joy you brought to teachers at the Marshall University WP Summer Institute.
Reply Paul Oh
6:50 PM on April 8, 2011 
That's interesting, Marie. I wonder if throughout their school careers, your students have experienced some kind of disconnect between the ways in which they communicate outside school and the ways in which they communicate in school. In any event, clearly you've found ways to spark in students a desire to learn. So congratulations to you for that.
Reply Paul Oh
7:00 PM on April 8, 2011 
Great question Kevin. I probably know as much - if not less - than you on this topic.

Personally, I think the question of what makes a poem a poem is an elusive one, determined in some respects by the reader. Which feels to me very much in line with what we see emerging with new digital composition practices. For instance, I recently saw this interactive film tweeted out, Welcome to Pine Point (

Is it a film? I guess so. Is it a text? I guess so. Could elements of this film be construed as poetic? I would think, yes. But in many respects the answers to these questions depend upon the stance of the reader.

Illuminated text, or kinetic type, is another area that feels poetic to me. An interesting example, created by a student, can be found here:

Having said all that, I know that I cannot speak for the field. And, just to say, I still read the New Yorker and love the poems that feel like interludes lost among long prose pieces.

What do you think the possibilities are on the horizon, Kevin?
Reply Jennifer
1:13 PM on April 9, 2011 
HI Paul!

As a TC for the Three Bridges Writing Project out of Marshall University, I can tell you Laura is an amazing writer to work with!

I follow you on twitter and I am wondering, what can we do beyond bogging, emails and phone calls to help increase support for NWP? As a teacher, writer and parent it is frustrating to feel that we may lose NWP. It feels as if Washington really isn't listening (especially when other teachers and myself get the SAME response to our pleas to save NWP). Education is our children's only hope and I fear that hope to be fading.

I appreciate all that you and everyone at NWP have been doing to save our wonderful program!
Reply Paul Oh
1:29 PM on April 9, 2011 
Hi Jennifer!

Thanks for your comment. I feel very fortunate to have been asked by Laura to post as a guest here!

Thank you, also, and everyone in our network who has been blogging, emailing and calling in support of NWP. As for what else we can do, I think making ourselves and our work visible to other educators and potential funders is important so that they understand the critical role we play in the teaching and learning of writing. The fact that you're on Twitter I'm sure has increased visibility for Three Bridges in and of itself. Writing Op-Ed pieces for your local newspaper, or even national newspapers; identifying yourselves as writing project teachers when presenting at conferences; submitting pieces to journals that document your practice and relate what you do to your writing project experiences - those are just some ideas for "getting the word out."

I'd love to hear from you and anyone else in terms of their ideas in this vein, as well.