Saturday, November 4, 2017

Review of The Writing Teacher's Companion by Ralph Fletcher


When I was asked to review the newest book by Ralph Fletcher during Back to School season, I couldn't resist.  The man is a legend when it comes to Writer's Workshop.  And I feel like ever since our district adopted Journeys, I've been floundering a bit in terms of refining my writing instruction.  So I forced myself to take a break from my Back to School to do list and crack open The Writing Teacher's Companion.  Suddenly 45 minutes had passed and I was halfway through it.


For a professional text, this book is a super easy read.  Fletcher's voice is strong, and as the title suggests, it's companionable.  It really does feel like a naturally flowing conversation you might have with someone who enjoys their topic and feels so comfortable with it that you feel like you want to hear more, and then go try it yourself.  He doesn't claim that writing instruction is easy, but all his talk of "student choice," "building interest" and "less focus on high stakes testing" is infectious.

The only drawback to this book is that it feels a little unorganized.  I found myself laughing a little because he says himself that he doesn't like graphic organizers, doesn't use them, and values voice over structure.  Mission accomplished then!  Even some of his Table of Contents headings fail to help you find what you're looking for:  "The Burnt and Broken Cookie Plate" and "Something for a Rainy Day" are hints that this book is not primarily about actionable steps, but more about piquing interest.  And he does explain he was purposeful he chose the word "companion" for the title.  The book does what it says, and even as one who appreciates organization, I enjoyed it.

So if you're already familiar with Writer's Workshop, but need a refresher, or need to feel that excitement about launching it again this year, it's a good choice.  And don't get me wrong, it's not JUST a feel good book.  I did learn some new things.

One of the most valuable sections for me was on "Engaging Boy Writers."  This is something I have always struggled with.  Not EVERY boy, obviously, but those 2 or 3 every year that shut down and say "I can't think of anything to write."  And will not write.  And will either disrupt the whole class, haunt the nurse/bathroom/water fountain like clockwork during independent writing time, or just suck all your conferring time needing his hand held and still not produce anything other than direct answers to your most basic questions.  Fletcher has 2 other books devoted to this topic (as I learned in the appendix) so I now know what to read next to further my own development. And really, the appendix has a variety of "next steps" once you finish reading and realize, "I need to troubleshoot THIS part of Writer's Workshop."  Again, just as a knowledgeable companion would do. 

So if you're interested in this book, I'm having a contest to give a copy to someone!  It's open from now until Sunday 11/12/17 at 12pm EST.  That way you should receive your copy in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.  In the comments below, write something you love or struggle with when it comes to teaching writing.  You may even enter with TWO separate comments (one with your love and the other a struggle) because I'd love to have a balance.  Since I already wrote about my struggle, I'll write about favorite part of Writer's Workshop as well.  I love reading those stories with strong voice, where it sounds like the child is telling me something funny that someone said, and the circumstances around it.  When I start getting stories like that, I know I've "arrived" in terms of making the class a place where kids are comfortable enough to share authentically.   

Disclaimer:  I received two free copies of this book from Scholastic in exchange for a fair and honest review.





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10 comments :

  1. I struggle with ensuring that I conference frequently enough with each student.

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    1. Yes! I feel the guilt as well. I'm lucky to have a teaching partner who listens to me vent and reminds me "Just do what you can."

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  2. I am struggling with getting kids to elaborate on the particular moment they want to share. They seem to get to the point right away, and then wonder why their story is so short. Then they just add all kinds of junk to make it longer. UGH! What I'm really happy about right now is that my kids are really trying to use some new leads! No one is writing "Hello, my name is ___, and I'm going to tell you about ___." Thank goodness! Also, I just had the opportunity to see Ralph Fletcher speak at a small literacy conference yesterday. I picked up two of his books. This wasn't one of them. I was kicking myself for not getting this one. Thanks for the opportunity!

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    1. Yes, building suspense is tough! I like to show kids a couple different models to help. One is fairy tales. Two failed attempts and then success helps the pacing of a story feel familiar. Or if I want more character/setting development, Patricia Polacco books are a good length to digest in a day or so. Which of his books did you get?

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  3. I love hearing my students writing. When I’ve taught leads or conclusions or maybe having them elaborate on their body and they do it. However they go above and beyond what I expected! It sometimes moves me to tears. I have cried in class. Lol. Being inspired by Ralph Fletcher and colleagues such as yourself helps me to keep sharing the passion for writing. Thank you!

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    1. Writing is so personal, and sharing stories can be a powerful way to build classroom community. Thanks for sharing.

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    2. Congratulations, Lorrin, you won! Please leave your Email in the comments section by 11/26/17 so I can arrange delivery of your copy of Ralph Fletcher's book, The Writing Teacher's Companion.

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  4. This giveaway is closed and the winner will be announced tomorrow. Thanks for reading!

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  5. The winner of Ralph Fletcher's new book, The Writing Teacher's Companion is my third commenter. Congratulations, Lorrin Harris! Please leave your Email in the comments below by Sunday, 11/26/17.

    Everyone else, thanks for reading. I'm working on my next book review and I hope to have it up in a few weeks. Stay tuned for another giveaway!

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  6. Even more tips related to the thematic of writing and all the realted topics are revealed at this source

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