When was the last time you shook up your writing instruction? In Renew!: Become a Better and More Authentic Writing Teacher, author Shawna Coppola builds on the premise that our students are ever-changing, and so is our collective knowledge base. Instructional strategies that have worked in the past may need to evolve accordingly. Coppola guides K-8 writing teachers with a three-part framework for Rethinking, Revising, and Renewing their approach—and finding new energy along the way.
Using the framework, Renew! examines the most pervasive educational practices in writing instruction and poses questions that guide teachers to revise those practices to ensure they are effective for all students. Coppola believes the work is challenging, yet critical, referencing R. Buckminster Fuller’s “Knowledge Doubling Curve:” According to Fuller's paradigm, the amount of time it takes for us to increase our collective knowledge base by 100 percent will continue to shrink the older we get. If this is true—or even close to being true—how can we, as educators, ever feel satisfied with teaching our students the same concepts, using the same methodologies and practices, that we have in the past?
The book offers a road map for renewing key aspects of our practice, including:
How we teach the writing process: Over time and frequent usage, some of our favorite teaching strategies can become rigid. Coppola gives a candid account of how her enthusiasm for “the writing process” as an undergraduate led her to teach writing for years as a set of pre-determined steps. Now she teaches that there are many variations of the writing process, and many twists and turns along the path. One foundational strategy used is opening up her own process as a writer—and her writer’s notebook—to students and encouraging them to think and talk about their process with classmates.
What we mean by “Writing:” Coppola argues that drawing isn’t an accompaniment to writing; it is writing. Its another form of composition through which students can tell stories, convey ideas, and engage readers. The book is full of visual compositions by students as well as Shawna’s wonderfully simple and evocative sketches from her writer’s notebook.
The tools we use to teach writing: The most ubiquitous tools used to teach writing—from anchor charts to graphic organizers to sentence starters etc.—tend to be teacher-centric rather than student-centric. Renew! invites students into the process of constructing tools that are meaningful and helpful to them. The book includes a range of examples of tools built collaboratively with students.
How we assess and evaluate student writing: Coppola draws a distinction between assessment—which should be an interactive conversation with students—and evaluation, which is about judging and categorizing what students know and can do. Renew! offers a range of examples and resources that illustrate effective feedback for student writers, including online videos of teacher-student and peer-to-peer conferences.
Renew! also offers ideas for how teachers can nurture their own writing lives and thus reinvigorate their instructional practice. Through rethinking, revising, and renewing their practice, teachers can not only strengthen students’ skills as writers, but also nurture students to become critical thinkers, problem solvers, and risk takers in the classroom and in our rapidly-changing world.