Exploring the Iroquois

An anthology of student writing.

Exploring the Iroquois is a collection of creative writing work written by the 4th-grade students of P.S. 677. All of the work here sprung from our investigative learning about the Native American tribe known as the Iroquois. Once local to the New York region, the Iroquois are a central part of the 4th grade curriculum, and the purpose behind our work together was to foster a deeper understanding of local history through the process of writing.

click on the image to read the full anthology!

Using the topic of the Iroquois as a lens to exercise our imaginations, we experimented with different genres of writing throughout the residency: poetry, song, playwriting, and folktale. Each genre paralleled a chosen theme from the Iroquois tradition. For example, the Iroquois sang songs of devotion, so students wrote songs about what they felt grateful for. For the performance writing, students worked in partners, imagining they had just woken up in an Iroquois longhouse, exercising their skills for dialogue. The folktales required students to hone their understanding of story and narrative in a manner that mirrored the folktales of the Iroquois, including animals, spirits, and morals.

We read, watched, and listened to a number of sources in order to write about the people and places we were learning about. In order for students to accurately depict what it might be like to wake up in a longhouse, for example, we had to read about longhouses and observe photographs, merging our inferences with facts in order to portray the setting in detail. Watching clips of performance festivals gave students a counterpoint when writing their plays, lending them the opportunity to distinguish the difference between what was considered a performance then versus now.

Writing is hard work, and this would not have been possible were it without the tremendous support of the staff of P.S. 677. Shout out to Ms. Monah Shari who functioned as a graceful liaison between T&W and 677, ever keen to ensure student/teacher morale remained high. My deepest thanks to the teachers Ms. K, Ms. D, Ms. Hall, and Ms. Tejada for welcoming me to their classrooms, championing the work of their students, and advocating the importance of writing. My gratitude also for Principal Janet Huger, whose flexibility, tenacity, and gameness enabled me to serve the students to my greatest capacity.

It is my hope that by encouraging students to examine the history of the place they find themselves to be, that they become curious about their own personal histories and narratives. Who came before you and how might that have contributed to who you are today? This kind of reflective thinking exhibits an emotional maturity that can help prompt students to make life choices with more deliberation and clarity, as it situates one’s sense of self in a larger context. In this spirit, I have included the poem we began with on day one: Prints, by Joseph Bruchac. A present-day poet of Native American lineage, Bruchac muses — in a mere single sentence no less — on this notion of seeing one’s self through the seeing of one’s ancestors.

Dear 4th graders of 667 — thank you for your work and willingness to be surprised by your work. Remember, should you ever feel like you’re not being heard, writing gives voice! And it will always be available when you wish it to be.

Alice Pencavel
Spring 2018

Featured Writing

The Song
Hailey R. (4th grade)

“I used to feel alone
Until I saw you,
So I sing this song
To show my gratitude.”

“If you want to climb
I’ll be your ladder,
If you want to scream
I’ll be your voice,
If you want to cry
I’ll be your shoulder,
If you want to laugh
I’ll be your smile.”

“And so you know
You’ll never be alone,
Keep this song and when you are here
Remember me.”

Alice Pencavel is a writer and teacher. Prior to joining Teachers & Writers in 2021, Ms. Pencavel worked as a Teaching Artist for multiple non-profits, including Arts Connection, SAY (Stuttering Association for the Young), Brooklyn Acting Lab, Stages on the Sound, Girls Write Now, and Teachers & Writers, among others. As a playwright, she has collaborated with Naked Angels, Lincoln Center Theater, MCC, Manhattan Repertory, Superhero Clubhouse, and the Kitchen Theater. She also worked in Customer Support with DonorsChoose, helping public school students receive educational materials. Having served as a Teaching Artist with Teachers & Writers, Ms. Pencavel has seen first hand the impact of bringing writing programs into schools, and is thrilled to offer her services in this new capacity. Ms. Pencavel holds a BFA in Acting from Ithaca College, and an MFA in Playwriting from the New School.