ENG 410 Article/Book Reviews
Spring 2007

Note:  Transferring text frequently causes the loss of formatting.  While I have attempted to catch the more obvious ones (like paragraph breaks), the point of posting the material to the web is to make it accessible, not "perfect."

Articles are ordered by student, alphabetically, on this page, but alphabetized citations below are linked to the specific reviews.

Atwell, Nancie. Lessons That Change Writers. Portsmouth, NH:  Heinemann Educational Productions. 2002

Culham, Ruth. "The Trait Lady Speaks Up." Educational Leadership 64.2 (2006): 53-57. Academic Search Premier. 4 March 2007. http://search.ebscohost.com.

Fletcher, Ralph. 
Breathing In, Breathing Out.

Harris, Karen R., Steve Graham, and Linda H. Mason, eds. “Improving the Writing, Knowledge, and Motivation of Struggling Young Writers: Effects of Self-Regulated Strategy Development With and Without Peer Support.” American Education Research Journal 43:2 (Summer 2006): 295-338. ProQuest. Western Kentucky University Library, 17 February 2007 < http://proquest.umi.com.libsrv.wku.edu/pqdlink?>.

Hillocks Jr., George.  The Focus on Form vs. Content in Teaching Writing.  Research in the Teaching of English.  Volume 40: Number 2, Urbana: Illinois, 2005.

Kohn, Alfie. (2006) The Trouble with Rubrics. English Journal, 95(4). Retrieved March 28, 2006, from http://www.englishjournal.colostate.edu/Extensions/EJ0954Speaking.pdf.

Langer, Judith A. (2002) Effective Literacy Instruction: Building Successful Reading and Writing Programs. New York: National Council of Teachers of English.

O’Day, Kim. (1994). Using Formal and Informal Writing in Middle School Social Studies. Retrieved February 22, 2007 from http:// members.ncss.org/se/5801/580113. html.

Weaver, C.  Teaching Grammar in Context.  Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1996

Zinsser, William “Inventing The Truth The Art and Craft of Memoir”. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1995.

Joanna Busse

Culham, Ruth. "The Trait Lady Speaks Up." Educational Leadership 64.2 (2006): 53-57. Academic Search Premier. 4 March 2007. http://search.ebscohost.com.

In Ruth Culham’s article, “The Trait Lady Speaks Up,” she discusses the six traits of writing and debunks five popular myths concerning those traits. When she refers to “the trait lady,” she is referring to herself, having spent twenty years advocating and educating teachers about the traits.

The six traits are: ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and convention. A last trait is added, which Culham calls the “+1” trait: presentation. The traits, Culham declares, “represent a language that empowers students and teachers to communicate about qualities of writing” (53). Since the traits only “came into being” twenty years ago (53), there are five myths Culham lists which have accompanied spreading knowledge of the traits.

The first myth is that “[t]he traits are a writing curriculum” (53). This Culham outright contradicts. Although she cites the traits as an assessment tool and a basic definition of good writing, they address few of the technical aspects of writing, brainstorming about a topic, and how to discern about the use of sources. The second myth is an idea that “the writing process and the traits are different things” (54). Culham debunks this by saying that rather than opposing each other, the writing process and the traits are basically “two sides of the same coin” (54). The writing process is a process in which a student explores his writing in the backdrop of the traits. Myth three addresses the thought that the traits are a program teachers must implement. As Culham states, “they are a model, not a program” (54). A program includes a curriculum, and Culham has already shot down the myth that the traits are a curriculum. So the traits are not a program either.  Along those same lines, myth four assumes that the traits, if taught, can replace the act of teaching writing. This they cannot do, since they do not address the concepts of revising, brainstorming, and the question of individual input, and are not a curriculum nor a program. Myth five goes completely off the deep end in the other direction, making the claim that “[t]he traits are not part of writing workshop” at all (55). As Culham says, “[i]n fact, the traits are the language of writing workshop” (55). Within the context of the workshop, the six traits are discussed and applied; writing workshop, in fact, would not exist without them. Thus the five myths concerning the six traits are debunked, and the traits enable all student writers to triumph in the end.

Culham’s article was interesting because it introduced a previously unknown aspect to me: the six traits of writing. Plus one. On page 55 of her article, figure 1 is a rubrics chart which uses the traits to assess written works. This is a great tool not only for the educator and writer, in providing a rubrics chart to compare to, but also in demonstrating Culham’s point, that the traits are an assessment tool, but little more when we are discussing teaching and curriculum.  Her reasoning concerning the traits leave little room for disagreement, as it can be seen that most of the arguments she uses build upon each other. She demonstrates well how the traits can be used in the classroom, though not replacing a program or curriculum, since they are not that, but as a supplement and a foundation for the improvement of writing.

Laura Knight

Book Review “Breathing In, Breathing Out

            “Breathing In, Breathing Out” by Ralph Fletcher is a book that gives advice to both new and old writers.  It gives guidelines to go by to help one find their inner voice.  In this book Fletcher researches the different usages of keeping a writers notebook and how the effects of this can be useful for writers to avoid blockage and to open up their minds and expand their ideas. 

            Keeping a journal as I like to call it, or a “writer’s notebook” is a safe haven for ideas.  Keeping a notebook of ideas is helpful because in your writing thoughts and feelings can be expanded and changed.  Notebooks are supposed to give a writer a peaceful place to work out their thoughts and feelings and help their ideas grow and flourish.

            Fletcher describes keeping a journal as a better way to keep writing structured.  Writing thoughts down keeps them more organized.  In the first chapter titled “A Place to Write”   it talks about writing in a comfortable setting.  In class we have discussed getting “into the zone” and this is what this chapter reminded me of.    To get yourself into the zone a comfortable place to write is essential.  Finding that place is the first step in helping writers in finding their voice.  When you find a place where you can feel comfort and inspiration it helps thoughts and ideas flow more easily through the mind.

            The next few chapters in this book talk about what moves one as a person.  These chapters discussed writing on something that spawns passion.  It is much easier to write about something that we are passionate about than something we are not. 

            This book was about how to find an inner voice in our writing and how to improve that voice.  I found it a great easy read and liked the suggestions on how to get into the zone.

            Overall this book could be very helpful for a writer who needs a little inspiration.  This book could be used as a guideline for writers block.  It had good advice on how to connect to with our inner selves to better help our writing skills.

Leigh Morin

Kohn, Alfie. (2006) The Trouble with Rubrics. English Journal, 95(4). Retrieved March 28, 2006, from http://www.englishjournal.colostate.edu/Extensions/EJ0954Speaking.pdf.

This article starts out with the author, Alfie Kohn, describing his own false impressions of “the two” forms of assessment: crude letter grades versus portfolios and rubrics.  He, like many professionals in the education system today, assumed that the new approach was much better than the old system simply because it was purported to give educators, students, and parents more information regarding the students' performance.  As he researched this topic further, Kohn came across one article, “Understanding Rubrics,” by Heidi Andrade.  In her article, she explained that “rubrics make assessing student work quick and efficient, and they help teachers justify to parents and others the grades that they assign to students.”  Kohn's immediate response to this was, “Uh-oh.”

Kohn explains why this statement worried him in the following paragraphs.  “Something that's commended to teachers as a handy strategy of self-justification...doesn't seem particularly promising for inviting teachers to improve their practices.”  Also, although the goal of the people who tout portfolios and rubrics is supposedly to eliminate grades, this simply provides them an easy way to “legitimate grades by offering a new way to derive them.”  Finally, Kohn mulls over the “quick and efficient” line, imagining teachers as “grading machines.”

The author explains later in the article that some of the critics of rubrics say that they may never be able to deliver what they claim, and will eventually rely on the discretion of the teacher.  However, Kohn is more concerned with the prospect of the success of rubrics than their possible failures.  “Just as it's possible to raise standardized test scores as long as you're willing to gut the curriculum...so it's possible to get a bunch of people to agree on what rating to given an assignment as long as they're willing to accept and apply someone else's narrow criteria.”

Finally, Kohn gets to what I believe is the heart of this piece: the effect rubrics are having on student writing.  He cites an article by Linda Mabry that claims “compliance with the rubric tended to yield higher scores but produced 'vacuous' writing.”  This standardization of assessment may also lead to students' inability to write without detailed instructions.  According to the article, a Michigan teacher complained that “her students, presumably having grown accustomed to rubrics in other classrooms, now seemed 'unable to function unless every required item is spelled out for them in a grid and assigned a point value.'”  If the goal is to improve student writing, then rubrics may not be the best course of action.  Teachers need to reassess their own assessment, according to Kohn, “to make sure it's consistent with the reason we decided to go into teaching in the first place.”

While I personally tend to achieve better results from my work when I know in advance what is expected from me, I understand now how some students' creativity may suffer from being given standards that are too precise.  Those students will, as a result of being given a rubric, focus all of their attention on how well they are doing instead of what, how, or why they are doing the assigned writing.  It will stifle their creativity and cause them to become more exact, but less interesting writers.  While rubrics can be used successfully when mapping curriculum and planning units, they should not be used for any and all assignments.

Like Kohn stated in his article, just because a new strategy for assessment is better than “the old way,” that doesn't necessarily make it authentic.  Teachers need to use some of their own creativity to try to find other methods for assessing students' work.  If the old standards don't measure up, try something new.  However, if that doesn't work effectively either, try something else.  In my own classes in the future, I will make sure to use a blend of many different styles of assessment, including the tried-and-true letter grade system, the “new and improved” rubric system, and other methods such as student peer grading and assessment based on creativity.  The key is for the teachers to not simply rely on what the “experts” tell them.  They are the ones in the classrooms every day—it is up to them.

Scott Poe

Weaver, C.  Teaching Grammar in Context.  Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1996

            In her book, Weaver presents a philosophy by offering teachers practical ideas for teaching grammar in the context of student writings, as opposed to the traditional, formal method of teaching parts, structures and definitions in isolation from student writing.  The book begins with a historical account of the traditional reasons for teaching grammar alone as a school subject, but then delivers a plethora of research suggesting that grammar taught in such a way is less effective than teaching grammar in the context of student writing. 

            In the earlier chapters, as well as in later chapters that summarize information from earlier chapters, the author argues against teaching formal grammar in schools.  She presents a wealth of research material to prove there is little to gain from teaching grammar “as a means of improving composition skills”(13).  Students find such instruction boring, and it appears to them as little more than tedious exercises, which “may be adequate if all that is required is that students pass a test, but the application of grammatical concepts may require cognitive understanding that is not so readily gained through practice exercises” (104).  Research shows that students are more inclined to retain information concerning stylistic considerations when they are viewing the information in the context of a piece of writing they care about or that means something to them.  She argues, “If schools insist upon teaching the identification of parts of speech, the parsing or diagramming of sentences, or other concepts of traditional grammar (as many still do), they cannot defend it as a means of improving the quality of writing” (13).

            In the next section of the book, the author suggests alternatives to the formal teaching of grammar; that is, she presents guidelines for teaching grammar in the context of student writing and gives insight into ways to stress the piece of writing rather than the correction of errors, as “One of the problems with overreacting to errors is that it stunts our students’ growth as writers.  Under pressure not to make mistakes, students have often written less interesting pieces of writing” (81).  Don’t rant on errors.  Everyone makes them.  Instead, address errors during the revision and editing phases of writing instead of grading something that is not a complete piece of writing (one that has been through the drafting, revision and editing phases).  One particular way, in addition to the above, of helping students focus on writing more than grades is to offer publication opportunities for students, whether it is a school, community or national publication.

            In the final section of the book, the author describes the uses and appropriateness of mini-lessons.  She notes that all the practice in the world does not promote adequate understanding if students are not trained in the concepts they need to know in order to make their writings proficient.  She offers two ways to present a mini-lesson: to the class, or to the student.  When a teacher notices the majority of a class having the same or a very similar problem, a mini-lesson for the entire class should be used.  When only a student or a handful of them have a problem, the mini-lesson should be restricted to just those students, as there is nothing to gain from teaching students in things they are already aware of and are applying consistently and adequately.  She notes also that a key element of a mini-lesson is “that students are not given follow-up exercises to practice what has been taught.  The teacher simply helps them use the information if their writing suggests a need for the skill and they seem ready for it” (151).  Exercises take up time that can be spent writing, and in order for students to become better writers, they need the time spent on writing optimized.

            In all the author presents a noteworthy book that, unlike most books, actually presents solutions to problems; however, there are some issues in the book that I am not convinced are ideal ways to teach.  For example, one suggestion the author has concerning corrections on final drafts is to purposely overlook errors.  It is understandable that students spend a great deal of time working a piece of writing from first draft to final draft, but that still does not excuse the fundamental role of the teacher: to instruct.  The author writes, “Many teachers follow a hands-off policy for at least some final drafts, especially if the writing is not being sent to an unknown audience” (97).  Regardless of who does or does not read the piece, errors are still errors, and the failure to notify a student of such errors is a failure in teaching. 

            The above is the only criticism I can find for the book, but, it is important to note, the author presents alternatives even to the criticism.  For example, directly after her idea to neglect errors, the author suggests, alternatively to that, to put a check mark in the margin where the error is and have the student locate and repair the error.  She notes, however, that caution should be used here because using a checkmark in such a fashion will only work if the student already understands the kind of error in question.  Of course, the in-depth sections on mini-lessons give ample suggestions on how to correct this as well.

            Overall, the book is worth consideration for a reference.  Weaver puts in the work years of experience.  Even with the only criticism I did find with the book, there are, directly next to it, alternatives to the method that are sensible.

Sarah Slaughter

O’Day, Kim. (1994). Using Formal and Informal Writing in Middle School Social Studies. Retrieved February 22, 2007 from http:// members.ncss.org/se/5801/580113. html.

Using Formal and Informal Writing in Middle School Social Studies

This article was published in a journal put out by the National Council for the Social Studies which is one of the country’s leading professional associations for social studies teachers.  It discusses the value of writing in Social Studies and History curriculum classes.  The article organizes the value of writing in the following way.

·              Using writing to encourage thinking

o       Writing encourages students to think more and process information more fully.  She calls pre-writing “pre-thinking” in her class and says that this contributes less dominant students to participate more in discussions because they have thought out what they are going to say ahead of time.

·              Writing encourages independent learning

o       If a student writes down what they already know than they are more likely to bride the less familiar information with more familiar information.  Also, through their own writing, students begin to find more evidence of author bias in what they read.  In this way writing helps students to become more critical thinkers of social studies.

·              Raising teachers’ comfort level

o       O’day says that in many subject areas, teachers are apprehensive about including writing into their curriculum.  Social studies teachers tend to see themselves as the transmitters of information and are at first uncomfortable with students writing informally in their classes.  Because of the fears, students and teachers alike will need to practice this in order to develop comfort.

O’Day says that both formal and informal writing is a learning tool in Social studies classrooms and it improves student thinking and performance.

I thought this article was great.  O’Day did a wonderful job at making the case for more writing in Social Studies classes.  I agree that writing does create more critical thinkers.  Also, writing helps us to express ourselves.  In a Social Studies class writing can help students express what they know and why what they are learning is valid or not valid.  I especially love the idea of pre-writing as pre-thinking.  Giving students a chance to brainstorm and plan for class discussions takes the fear and intimidation out of that aspect of class and encourages more participants.  It also allows for a maximum amount of students to feel confident and knowledgeable.

The article could have been a little longer with more examples of how different writing strategies were successful in her classroom.  She had wonderful theories, but more evidence would have been appreciated.

Sarah Slaughter

Langer, Judith A. (2002) Effective Literacy Instruction: Building Successful Reading and Writing Programs. New York: National Council of Teachers of English.

                 This book, written by Judith Langer is basically a collection of the findings of a research project called the “Excellence in English Project” which is a five year study directed by Langer for the National Research Center on English Learning and Achievement.  Langer defines effective teachers of English as being teachers who work within the realities of modern-day middle school and high school English classrooms, most in poor, urban areas with minority students and create students who are engaged in literature, practiced in writing and comfortable with intelligent literary discourse.  Six general findings came out of the study:

1.       In effective schools, learning and instruction related to knowledge and conventions of English and high literacy take place as separated, simulated, and integrated experiences. In contrast, in typical schools, although each approach might be used at some time, one or another instructional approach dominates.

2.       In effective schools, test preparation does not mean mere practice of test-related items.  Rather, the focus is on the underlying knowledge and skills needed to do well in coursework and in life, as well as on the tests, and these become part of the ongoing English language arts learning goals and the students’ ongoing received curriculum.  In contrast, in the typical schools, test prep means test practice. It is allocated its own space in class time, often before testing begins, apart from the rest of the years’ work and goals.

3.       In effective schools, overt connections are constantly made between knowledge, skills, and ideas across lessons, classes, and grades as well as across in-school and out-of-school applications.  In contrast, in the typical schools, connections are more often unspoken or implicit, if they are made at all.  More often, the lessons, units, and curricula are treated as disconnected entities.

4.       In effective schools, students in English language arts classes are overtly taught strategies for thinking as well as doing.  In contrast, in typical schools, the focus is on the content or skill, without overtly teaching the overarching strategies for planning, organizing, completing, or reflecting on the content or activity.

5.       In effective schools, the tenor of the instructional environment is such that, even after students reach achievement goals, English language arts teachers move students beyond them towards deeper understandings of and ability to generate ideas and knowledge.  In contrast, in the typical schools, once students exhibit use of the immediate understandings or skills and focus, teachers move on to another lesson.

6.       In effective schools, English learning and high literacy (the content as well as the skills) are treated as social activity, with depth and complexity of understanding and proficiency with conventions growing from students’ interaction with present and imagined others.  In contrast, in typical schools, students tend to work alone or interact with the teacher, and when collaborative or group work occurs, the activity focuses on answering questions rather than engaging in substantive discussion from multiple perspectives. 

Although, all the schools in the study were different, they all shared one common thing.  Each nurtured a climate that coordinates efforts to improve student improvement, fosters teacher participation in a variety of professional activities, and creates instructional improvement activities in ways that offer teachers a strong sense of agency, values commitment to the profession of teaching, engenders caring towards students and colleagues, and fosters respect for learning as a normal part of life.  The book in separate chapters highlights two schools with effective teachers in urban school districts, highlights an effective teacher of English language learning, and highlights an effective teacher in a suburban school with rich professional support.  Each of these sections is broken down into a discussion of the school profile, the teacher profile, classroom settings, program organization and professional support.  The book ends with a summary of how to create educational culture within which students learn and contains an Appendix section with more detailed information regarding the schools specifically and specific class activities. 

                This book reads very much like a scientific study and in that regard is very dense.  However, it is full of thorough information about successful English programs and how to implement them.  I appreciated the descriptions of shared positive attributes among teachers and schools and specific information about English programs that work and are successful.  As a pre-service teacher, the professional profiles of ‘effective” teachers were enlightening and can serve as a basis for my own professional development.  I believe this study to be fairly well-conducted, and extremely well-reported.  Due to the abundance of information provided, there is much to be learned, and the study is completely capable of being understood and analyzed by the general reader.

Mindy Smith

Hillocks Jr., George.  The Focus on Form vs. Content in Teaching Writing.  Research in the Teaching of English.  Volume 40: Number 2, Urbana: Illinois, 2005.

In the past teachers of writing have only focused on the form of writing.  They believe that once they know the forms of writing:  the parts of a paragraph, the parts of an essay, the structure of a sentence, and the element of style then the students, should be able to write a paper flawlessly.  They also believe in very little instruction over content.  However this essay says that if the students decide to write about and pay less attention to the form that they will be writing in.   It also claims that even if they decide what to write about and do some research on the topic, knowing forms and formatting will not help the students pull out the content of the paper from the research they have.

The only real teaching that the author says occurs is direct example of good papers, and editing of their papers by the teachers, among which errors are usually fixed incorrectly.   The only way that the teachers are preparing the students for writing assignments and other kinds of writings at the primary and secondary levels is through writing assignments.  The assignment is that the student should write a multi-paragraph composition called a five-paragraph theme (5P).  This would be a highly structured five paragraph essay. However many times the only strategy taught for generating ideas and specific content of the papers was prewriting or maybe brainstorming.

The author also claims that if teachers were to teach about content we would have better writing.  However in order for this to happen one of three things must occur.  They are as follows:  1) universities should teach new teachers a different way of teaching writing; 2) change the way teachers that are already teaching teach; or 3) changing the format of state tests to include data for the students to write about.  Then the teachers would adapt and begin to teach content “to the test”. 

I personally think that if teachers taught more about the importance of the content then it could improve student writing.  However I also believe that teaching form is also important.  I believe in this man’s research and I agree with him on the content teaching.

However I would also have to add that the students need the forms to be able to put what they want to say down on paper properly.  I also believe that a teacher could effectively teach both, and I believe that, that is what Dr. LeNoir is trying to teach us this through “Inside Out”.  Not only will this help us by bringing about this change in ideas of writing but it will also help our schools and our students to do better on these newer forms of standardized testing, for example the new composition portion of the SAT.

I really enjoyed reading this article and I would recommend anyone who wants to look at it to contact me and I’ll make them a copy.  It was interesting because of what he found out through his research. However, if you are only slightly interested I suggest you stick with our texts in class because he had little to add, it was however interesting to see his research.

Melissa Tallent

Harris, Karen R., Steve Graham, and Linda H. Mason, eds. “Improving the Writing, Knowledge, and Motivation of Struggling Young Writers: Effects of Self-Regulated Strategy Development With and Without Peer Support.” American Education Research Journal 43:2 (Summer 2006): 295-338. ProQuest. Western Kentucky University Library, 17 February 2007 < http://proquest.umi.com.libsrv.wku.edu/pqdlink?>.


The article, “Improving the Writing, Knowledge, and Motivation of Struggling Young Writers: Effects of Self-Regulated Strategy Development With and Without Peer Support,” examines the effectiveness of an instructional model (SRSD) designed to foster development in each of the following areas: strategic behavior, knowledge, and motivation.  The addition of a peer support component augmented SRSD instruction by increasing student’s knowledge of planning and enhancing generalization in two writing genres: the short story and the persuasive essay.  With and without peer assistance, the article concluded that students wrote longer, more complete, and qualitatively than those in comparison conditions (Writer’s Workshop).

The SRSD method is a simple three step strategy - topic selection, organization of the writing plan, and individual development of the plan (which includes development of vocabulary) and leads to changes and improvements in four main aspects of students' performance: quality of writing, knowledge of writing, approach to writing, and self-efficacy.  Additionally, data obtained during the study found that the SRSD method promoted student independence, improved writing skill knowledge, and increased motivation and effort, not only for second-graders but also for middle and high school students. Most importantly, for teachers working in schools where high-stake testing governs teaching methodology, the article provides conclusive validation for multiple positive “educational implications” (22) associated with explicit and systematical SRSD teaching strategies.


Although the article focused on young writers, interesting findings, which could easily be transferred to a high school learning environment, were found: (1) teachers should engage students as active collaborators in their own learning reinforcing ownership; (2) learning can be improved through self-regulatory skills; and (3) modeling, dialogue, sharing and scaffolding are critical.   The study, adequately confirmed through specific instructional procedures and relevant findings, that the SRSD method was an effective means of improving student writing.  Overall, the article was well organized, reader friendly, and provided effective classroom practices in writing instruction supported by valid and realistic data.

Melissa Tallent

Many books about teaching writing now exist to guide secondary teachers; yet most of them assume that students enter the classroom with a certain motivation and level of writing ability, an assumption which I associate with Nancie Atwell. Due to my preconceived formulation about Atwell,  I have been very condescending this semester in regards to the reading selections from In The Middle – a middle school teaching ‘bible’ of sorts.  Although I felt my opinion was justified based upon implementation and ideology of the reading selections, I began to question the validity and decided to devil deeper into another Atwell reading in hopes that I, too, could find the Atwell charm.

At first glance, Lessons That Change Writers appeared to be simplistic and again idealistic but the promise of practical curricular resources encouraged me to continue.  The book and companion binder, a plus for easy access and photocopying, is arranged in four sections:

1.                            Lessons about Topic- minilessons designed to aide students in finding a focused and profound starting point.

2.                            Lessons about Principles- minilessons designed to teach students the ‘so what’ of writing and ‘really bad words’.

3.                             Lessons about Genres - a series of minilessons on fiction, poetry, and essay writing.

4.                            Lessons about Conventions - minilessons which attempts to provide students with the knowledge and editing skills to perfect their writing both orally and visually. 

Additionally, there is ‘how to arrange your minilessons’ section, which might be advantageous for a beginning teacher but not for a veteran teacher because most already have a standing syllabus. Each section followed a simple format – list of materials, discussion and purpose of lesson, actual lesson, and follow-up lessons and assignments with the primary focus of each on the ‘famed’ minilesson - a vehicle for helping students improve their writing.

Embedded within the minilessons Atwell includes writings that she describes as ‘the best of the best’.  Even thought I am not fan of minilessons, I did discover through careful review that with some tweaking the ideas would be appropriate for all ages but the ‘best of the best’ writing were not, in my opinion, the best and I would not use them as examples in a high school classroom.  In the midst of Lessons That Change Writers,I found the golden needle in the haystack – a list of rules, prompts, questions, and numerous Barlett’s quotes (about writers and writing) all of which were veritable and ready to be copied and posted in the classroom.

In conclusion, was my condensation of Atwell justified? No because of the hype surrounding Atwell, I was expecting an end-all fix-all bible and failed to look anything useful. Essentially, Atwell simply reiterates what all other authors are screaming which is real writers need to brainstorm, pre-write, and choose topics that deeply interest them; the key for all teachers is to find the approach that works best for their classroom.  Overall, I believe the book would be an asset for those who plan on teaching middle school but for the high school classroom, the following are better writing resources: Writing with a Purpose by Joseph F. Trimmer; Six-Way Paragraphs in the Content Areas based on the work of Walter Pauk; and Writing Step by Step 10th Edition by Randy DeVillez.  Even though Atwell failed to ‘win me over’, I am thankful I reviewed this book and I am thankful that Atwell ‘threw’ in the golden needles – I used one today.  When my juniors orated the popular copout, “I don’t have anything to write about, I responded with the word of Willa Cather “Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.”  They were, for a moment, speechless and for that, I say thank you Nancie Atwell.

Julie Walters

Zinsser, William “Inventing The Truth The Art and Craft of Memoir”. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1995.

I chose this book on writing memoirs because writing memoirs is an area where I have not had much experience.  The author, William Zinsser focused on the writings of eight authors, who are known for their memoir writing styles and techniques.  The authors that are reflected on in this book are Russell Baker, Jill Ker Conway, Annie Dillard, Ian Frazier, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Alfred Kazin, Toni Morrison and Eileen Simpson.    This book focuses on writing memoirs as a way to tell the stories of ones life and the people and events that make it important.

One of the important facts that I got out of this book is that it is important for the author to be aware of the important things in his or her own.  Knowing what is important helps the writer understand what should be included into a memoir and what can be left out.   Another important thing that I got out of this book is that a memoir can and will have some fiction in it.  This can not be helped because a memoir is written about the past, and are written from remembered truths and not necessarily what actually happened.

Even though I felt that there was many important tools discussed in the book to use when writing a memoir there are just a couple authors that really seemed worthwhile in mentioning.

Russell Baker focused his memoir on growing up during the depression.   He did an outstanding job showing how this time period affected both himself and the society in which he was a part of.  When asked how much of his memoir was truthful and how much is good writing, he stated “Well, all the incidents are truthful.”  What he meant by this is that there has to be some connection to fiction to be able to tell a story from memory.   

Toni Morrison seemed to focus on intertwining memoirs with fiction and finding the place in the middle where these two come together.  Ms. Morrison, has been a great voice to the African American Slaves, she has a great way of telling their story as though she lived it with them.   Ms. Morrison is able to creatively tell her stories and shows the reader how to do so through memoirs. 

            The best lesson I got out of this book was when William Zinsser wrote, “Be true to yourself and to the culture that you were born into.  Have the courage to tell your story as only you can tell it” (page 20).  I thought this book was a good guide when writing a memoir; it seemed to give good tips on becoming a strong writer.  However, I thought some of the writers featured were not very interesting and that they made the book longer and more drawn out than necessary.  I feel that reading this book, did show me some different things to look for when writing a memoir and I would recommend parts of it to other writers, however, I do not feel that it is necessary to read and study the book in its entirety.  By just studying a few of the contributors, one is able to understand what the others are trying to convey.

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