Education

Getting Real About Student Writing

January 09, 2012 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Write Like This: Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling & Mentor Texts
By Kelly Gallagher
Stenhouse Publishers, 2011, 256 pp.
Teacher Book Club Dates: Feb. 21-23, 2012

In his acclaimed Readicide (2009), high school English teacher Kelly Gallagher offered a provocative explanation for young people’s lack of interest in reading: A big part of the problem, he argued, could be traced to the “inane, mind-numbing” ways that reading is taught in many schools. Now, in Write Like This, he turns his attention to writing instruction, which he believes is in a similar—if not more dire—state of crisis.

Book Club Sponsored By:

At a time when strong writing skills are a virtual prerequisite for meaningful employment, Gallagher says, writing as a subject of study “seems to have gotten lost in many of our schools.” It has been “buried in a avalanche of standards, curricular pacing guides, huge class sizes, worksheets, over-the-top testing, and, yes, even more testing. …" When writing is taught at all, he continues, it is often subject to “prescribed school discourses” that limit students’ development and fail to capture their imagination. For Gallagher, it’s no wonder that, by one estimate, as many as 70 percent of students graduate from high school with inadequate writing skills.

So how can teachers bring new life to the proverbial second “R”? Gallagher, a 25-year teaching veteran, argues that writing instruction needs to be reoriented around two interlocking premises. First, teachers should emphasize the “real-world” purposes of writing by giving students prompts and assignments that engage their intellects and demonstrate the value and function of thoughtful composition. Second, they need to provide students with authentic modeling of how this kind of writing is done.

Much of Gallagher’s book consists, in turn, of detailed descriptions of how he teaches his students to write in six different real-life discourses, including “Express and Reflect,” “Evaluate and Judge,” and “Take a Stand/Propose a Solution.” By his account, he generally begins by giving his students a graphing or brainstorming activity to get them familiar with the discourse in question. (When teaching “Evaluate and Judge,” for example, he has them create product-comparison charts.) Then he provides a series of ever-deepening writing prompts designed to show the students how writing in these various modalities can help them express themselves and develop their thoughts in ways that are distinctly pertinent to their interests.

Related Resources

• Kelly Gallagher’s website

• Kelly Gallagher on Twitter

Video trailer on Write Like This

Publisher’s page on Write Like This

As a reader, it’s hard not to be impressed by the cleverness and variety of Gallagher’s short-writing prompts. In the “Express and Reflect” section alone, he has students writing “reverse poems” about their core beliefs, exploring “watermark events” in their lives, and reflecting on their personality types under Jungian psychology. You get the feeling that students could have fun with these assignments—which of course is a big part of Gallagher’s point.

To provide a foundation for the assignments, meanwhile, Gallagher furnishes sample pieces by professional writers—what he calls “mentor texts”—that the students are asked to reflect on, pull apart, and even imitate. And perhaps more unusually, he does the writing assignments himself in class, using an overhead projector or document camera to demonstrate his compositional process. Gallagher believes this modeling is central to improving students’ conceptual grasp. “I am the best writer in the room, and as such, I need to show them how I grapple with this mysterious process we call writing,” he explains. “Students must see the process to understand the process.”

If it sounds like Gallagher goes about teaching writing with a certain missionary zeal, that’s because he does believe that, as an English teacher, he plays an essential—and embattled—societal role. At several points in the book, he emphasizes the value of writing development as a counterforce to a rampant consumer culture that devalues reflection and critical thinking. Teachers have an obligation, he suggests, to give young people the time and attention they need to understand and harness the power of individual expression.

That may mean sacrificing some state standards or diverting from prescribed curricula, Gallagher acknowledges. “If my students grow into adults who cannot write,” he asks, “will it really matter that they had good scores on a state test they took when they were thirteen years old?”

—Anthony Rebora

Teacher Book Club selections are made separately and without regard to sponsorship arrangements.

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Whole Child Approach to Supporting Positive Student Behavior 
To improve student behavior, it’s important to look at the root causes. Social-emotional learning may play a preventative role.

A whole child approach can proactively support positive student behaviors.

Join this webinar to learn how.
Content provided by Panorama
Student Achievement Webinar Examining the Evidence: What We’re Learning From the Field About Implementing High-Dosage Tutoring Programs
Tutoring programs have become a leading strategy to address COVID-19 learning loss. What evidence-based principles can district and school leaders draw on to design, implement, measure, and improve high-quality tutoring programs? And what are districts

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: November 17, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Nearly a Million Kids Vaccinated in Week 1, White House Says
Experts say there are signs that it will be difficult to sustain the initial momentum.
4 min read
Leo Hahn, 11, gets the first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. Last week, U.S. health officials gave the final signoff to Pfizer's kid-size COVID-19 shot, a milestone that opened a major expansion of the nation's vaccination campaign to children as young as 5. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Education How Schools Are Getting Kids the COVID Shot, and Why Some Aren’t
Some district leaders say offering vaccine clinics, with the involvement of trusted school staff, is key to helping overcome hesitancy.
5 min read
A girl walks outside of a mobile vaccine unit after getting the first dose of her COVID-19 vaccine, outside P.S. 277, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
Education Biden Administration Urges Schools to Provide COVID-19 Shots, Information for Kids
The Biden administration is encouraging local school districts to host vaccine clinics for kids and information on benefits of the shots.
2 min read
President Joe Biden, and first lady Jill Biden walk to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. Biden is spending the weekend at his home in Rehoboth Beach, Del. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)