When we teach students to express themselves well in writing, we are doing so much more than simply helping them to do better on school assignments. We are giving them tools so that they can express themselves to the world in the best ways possible. When we teach students to become better writers, we are teaching them to become better thinkers. We are teaching them to connect ideas, to unpack arguments, to angle details, and to draw conclusions. Perhaps most importantly of all, we are teaching them that what they have to say matters.
Many students feel powerless in their environments. They don’t feel they have a voice, or a place in the world to share it. In writing workshop, we can teach them that they do have power, the power of words, and they do have a voice, a voice they can use for good. Any writing unit in which students are taught to choose and grow their own ideas (every unit in the Units of Study for Opinion/Argument, Information, and Narrative Writing, that is) will help students to find their voices. But there are some that are more specifically angled toward helping students to identify and express their opinions on topics that matter to them. These are:
Editors are the crucial, unseen collaborators of published writers. In her new book, Back and Forth: Using an Editor’s Mindset to improve Student Writing, Heinemann author Lee Heffernan describes adopting that role in her classroom and how it helps student-authors dig in and produce dramatically better writing. Lee relies on both student-centered pedagogy and the experiences of numerous professional writers and editors. On today's podcast, we started our conversation with why students can be reluctant to revise.
Thankfully, I selfishly agreed to write the foreword for this book. Not only did it mean I could read it before anyone else, but I could also see how another teacher implements writing instruction using a project-based format. By page seven, I was annotating comments like, “I love the voice.” “She is so honest.” “I can try this idea tomorrow.” Jealously, I wanted to be the author of the book, not just the foreword!
By Chapter 3, the jealousy was gone and I was captivated. I thought to myself, This teacher-author knows me. She knows my struggles. She knows what I care about as a writing teacher, and most importantly, she knows the wide range of students I teach. Author Liz Prather shows readers how to balance authentic, engaging writing instruction with the responsibility of meeting standards to prepare students for college and beyond. She understands that choice drives engagement and that when students have a purpose or an opportunity to investigate something they are curious about, the desire to write well increases.
There are many reasons to read this book, but I’d like to highlight two—one for teachers and one for their students:
In The Stories of Science, authors Janet MacNeil, Mark Goldberg, and Melissa London describe how many of the elements of good science stories are meant to grab and hold the attention of the audience. (After all, what value is a story with no audience?) As they put it "In the movie The Never Ending Story, a boy reads a magical book and finds himself falling into the fantasy world described by the author. This is exactly what we want the audience to do when they read, hear, or see science stories."
In the book, the authors point to several strategies are used to lure readers into a story (and keep them there). Here are the four essential elements of engaging science stories:
Remember the scene in the movie Alien where the baby alien bursts out of the crew member’s chest cavity? The same horror we felt watching that monster erupt onto the screen is what many students experience when facing revision. Really, who can blame them? They just finished sweating over a writing assignment—and that was hard enough. Now you want them to go back and revisit that very same piece? Have you lost your mind?
In Writing with Mentors, high school teachers Allison Marchetti and Rebekah O’Dell prove that the key to cultivating productive, resourceful writers—writers who can see value and purpose for writing beyond school—is using dynamic, current mentor texts.