Pyrotechnics on the Page: Playful Craft That Sparks Writing was inspiring to me as both a writer and a teacher of writing. Ralph Fletcher uses wonderful personal examples of how language has evolved and been the focus of playful experimentation within his family and classroom. His ultimate goal is getting the reader to enjoy experimenting and having fun with words and to instill that same passion in children. What a breath of fresh air from the mandates of standardized testing in which the word ‘playful’ rarely factors into the equation! Pyrotechnics helped me understand the functionality of word play on a whole new level, and showed me just how critical it is to authentic writing purposes (next time you pick up a newspaper, pay attention to how many headlines are comprised of puns and alliteration–Fletcher argues for a real world application that is undeniable.) This author realizes that getting kids to fall in love with words is the key to developing strong readers and writers, and his enthusiasm is catching as he explores similes, allusions, idioms, cliches, slang, sentence reversals, and more. Best of all, an entire section of the book is devoted to writer’s craft lessons that use mentor texts, which makes it easy to implement the ideas with a wide variety of age groups.
No More “I’m Done!”: Fostering Independent Writers in the Primary Grades is one of those books that you can’t wait to take immediately into the classroom and start using. In her wise and down-to-earth way, Jennifer Jacobson describes her experience with ‘letting go’ of teacher-directed writing and moving toward writer’s workshop. I love that she devotes serious attention to the classroom management aspect of this, covering both spaces and routines that foster self-reliance and self-direction. The section called ‘Mini-Lessons That Support Independence’ and the huge collection of activities called ‘A Year of Mini- Lessons for Growing Writers’ makes implementing writer’s workshop simple for the teacher and engaging for kids. When I first read the book a few months ago, I was coaching a teacher who had taught 5 of the 6 Traits of Writing to her students but was struggling with voice. This is no easy concept for fourth graders, but when I read the lesson ‘What Did You Learn About The Writer?’, I knew it would be perfect for her class and co-taught it the very next day. Immediately, the students understood what was meant by the term ‘voice’ and we saw major developments in their writing. Since that time, I’ve used mini-lessons from this book with every teacher I’ve done literacy coaching with–it’s absolutely fantastic.
Writing to Explore: Discovering Adventure in the Research Paper, 3-8 tackles a subject of potential dread for both teachers and students: the research paper. David Somoza didn’t like the dull reports his students were submitting, and talked to his friend Peter Lourie (who is both a teacher and nonfiction writer) to find out what the writing process is like for real-life nonfiction authors. He discovered that Peter totally immersed himself in the place he was studying: he looked at photos, watched videos, interviewed locals, and completed a variety of other online explorations that could be extremely exciting for students to try. With Lourie’s help, Somoza introduced the genre of adventure writing to students: solid research enhanced by a bit of fiction in the form of creative license and “history and geography woven in to make the papers complete.” Somoza’s fifth graders chose a place and researched it for months, then wrote about it as if they’d actually been there, complete with documentation of where they stayed and what they ate at nearby restaurants. The amount of practical internet research skills Somoza was able to teach his students in a completely authentic way is astounding. These two authors remind us that other words for research are study, discover, explore and investigate, so why should research papers be dull? The reproducible forms at the end of the book will take your students from “What’s an adventure paper?” to the final stages of publication and sharing. With such high-quality templates, guidelines, and sample reports for students to use, I know the Language Arts teachers I coach will be excited to experiment with this genre.
Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice is another brand-new release. Authors Ruth Ayres and Stacy Shubitz write one of the best writing blogs out there (Two Writing Teachers) and are true content experts. They’ve divided the book into 6 chapters (assessement, choice, conferring, mentors, mini-lessons, and routines), and each chapter is broken down into 3 cycles, which are ten day sections. Ayres and Shubitz explain you can read a cycle at a time, a chapter at a time, or all year long. This is a unique format that is especially valuable for writing, since it’s such a fluid subject and it can be difficult to ensure you’re including all the different aspects in your teaching. If you’re the type of teacher who tends to lose direction with writing workshop mid-way through the school year like I have, reading just a little bit each day (something like a devotional) would be a great solution. Each concept is just a page and a half, and includes an inspirational quote, challenge, and 2 questions for reflective practice. It’s the perfect amount of practical application and inspiration to help you tighten your focus and refine your writing workshop as the year progresses. Some of the authors’ innovative ideas are the result of a great deal of thoughtful planning (such as a launching celebration complete with class toast using apple juice: “To writers’ workshop!”) while other ideas arose spontaneously (such as the use of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” as an impromptu mentor text.) Ayres and Shubitz also talk about their experiences with being required to teach in ways they knew weren’t benefiting kids–like Daily Oral Language practice–and how they worked within administrative guidelines to use ‘mentor sentences’ to teach conventions instead. Day By Day is a relevant, practical resource for any literacy teacher. [Review copies of all books generously provided by Stenhouse Publishers.]
What books have shaped the way YOU teach writing? What’s inspiring your literacy teaching now? Share your thoughts in the comments!