National Writing Project

Paul Allison Named 2000 Fred Hechinger Award Winner

By: Amy Bauman
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 6, No. 1
Date: January-February 2001

Summary: Paul Allison, a teacher-consultant at the New York City Writing Project, was awarded the 2000 Fred Hechinger Award at the NWP Annual Meeting in Milwaukee.


Teaching, like language, must change and grow with its culture in order to remain essential and alive. Paul Allison, teacher at The International High School: A Charter School at LaGuardia Community College (Long Island City, Queens, New York), understands this idea. Embracing it has led him through a teaching career that has been as fluid and responsive as the subjects he teaches and has often brought his work to the forefront. This was once again the case on Friday, November 17, as an unassuming Allison stood before a roomful of colleagues to accept the 2000 Fred Hechinger Award at the National Writing Project's (NWP) Annual Meeting in Milwaukee.

Now in its fourth year, the Fred Hechinger Award recognizes outstanding teachers who have successfully translated writing research into classroom practice. The award was created in honor of Fred Hechinger, the New York Times education reporter and columnist who, at the time of his death, was also chairman of the advisory board for the Center for the Study of Writing.

Allison's work, spanning more than 17 years, certainly embodies the type of teaching the award's creators must have envisioned honoring. Allison cites the last dozen years as having been critical to his definition of himself as a teacher. Within this time frame, he began teaching at University Heights Secondary School in the Bronx, an alternative school that gave him and his colleagues opportunities to examine issues of reform such as curriculum and assessment. About the same time, the New York City Writing Project (NYCWP) invited Allison to join a group of teachers who were thinking about new ways of working with writing, reading, and questioning. This was a pivotal point in his career as an educator, which Allison describes as "one that slightly shifts the view of teaching as being both an art and a science to one that presents teaching as an 'essential unfolding' of art and technology."

Allison sees the journey to this view of teaching as an intellectual journey, one for which the NYCWP has served as a guide. As an outgrowth of this journey, Allison came to believe that "that same kind of intellectual journey was what students need as well." Says Allison, "They, too, need to work collaboratively, write informally, question important issues, make two-way connections between their lives outside of school and their academic lives, and read key texts that push them up the spiral of thinking and questioning,"

Translating this thinking into classroom practice has resulted in a number of interesting projects that Allison has helped foster, first at University Heights Secondary School and more recently at The International High School, which serves the needs of recent-immigrant students. These projects, which have become the center post to his teaching, might best be summarized as a welding of multimedia presentations to a backbone of writing experiences ;in other words, applying technology to writing assignments designed to foster critical thinking. Allison saw his recent project, the "Atomic Bomb Project" (developed with fellow teachers Eliot Lable, Carol Tureski, Marsha Slater, Rachel Balsam, John Miottel, and Martha Ruiz) as a project that would build on everything he had learned from his colleagues to date about writing, thinking, and teaching. The project challenged students to examine the question, "Was dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima a good decision?" Students took and defended positions on this question, expressing their answers in multiple formats, some of which were later exhibited at the Queens Museum of Art.

On receiving this award, Allison said, "As teachers, we often don't get the opportunity to be recognized for our work . . . or to thank those who have supported us through the years. It felt great to be recognized by people who I respect so much--the National Writing Project."

Allison's award is as much a tribute to his completed work as to his constant reflection on the process. Even the nomination for the Fred Hechinger Award has had positive effects on and for its recipient. Collecting his life's work for presentation in the award's application portfolio, Allison found himself once again examining what he believes as a teacher. The outcome of this process of reflection and inquiry has yet to unfold, but if history is any indicator, it can only lead to good things for all of those associated with Paul Allison.

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