Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Reference Book Review: Stein on Writing

Teach, lead an activity which takes some skill or talent, or coach a sport long enough and you'll inevitably ask yourself a form of the following question, "How do I get my kids to do that?"  I've been to many coaching clinics and teaching conferences where I saw or heard about an interesting technique or outcome...and then I asked myself, "How am I going to be able to get my kids to do that?"

My kids are not your kids--in the classroom or on the field.  People aren't canned.  Yet, we all listen in attentively as others share their successes and we try to identify some common threads which we can follow in our own unique situations.  All too often, we struggle taking something back with us to actually modify and use in our classrooms.

What I am driving at is Sol Stein's book Stein on Writing quickly jumps from the Amazon.com bookshelf to owning a conspicuous spot on my desk in school.  Stein is patient and thorough in explaining craft, technique, and strategy but he is at is best when he reduces his ideas down to something I think all writing teachers can take back to their classrooms with them.  There are so many teaching points here--things which you can directly say to students and note on their writing--and you also get the benefit of several exercises and demonstrations to back into a classroom.

Stein's coverage of topics is exhaustive.  From the common topics such as The Secrets of Good Dialogue to The Basics of Plotting the writing teacher will be able to pull and build very specific and meaningful lessons no matter who or where you teach.  Imagine a discussion with your class on markers as they relate to character or introducing them to idea of resonance and the effect it has on a reader...do these things exist in our teaching manuals or in our mass professional development meetings.  My guess, from my experience, is no.  We have to dig for our own professional improvements ourselves.

If you teach creative writing I strongly suggest this book as core to building your class.  It gave me the answer I'm always looking for--how do I teach MY kids to do that?

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