Friday, February 11, 2011

Resource Book Review: Writing Alone and with others

Writing Alone and With OthersWriting Alone and With Others by Pat Schneider

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I spent the better part of two years researching a plan for the development of our current creative writing course and the past two years teaching it and adjusting it according to the needs of our students. In that time I have picked up many articles and books on writing. I've found that many books address the craft from the perspective of writers trying to publish. I've come across few which tackle the specific needs of an instructor and the best of that small selection is Pat Schneider's Writing Alone and with others.

Other books have instructed me in what to teach and what to tell writers to avoid or edit; some have provided a strong framework for designing a course in public school. Rarely have any made me stop and question what we do and how we do it when we teach writing in school. I will let some of her comments speak for themselves and you can judge whether or not this is someone you want to read:

As teachers we need courage--the courage to look clearly at the risks we ask our students to take, and a willingness to take those risks ourselves by writing and reading with them.

If you are a teacher, the most important preparation for your teaching is the liberation of your own writing voice.

Let writing be one place in the school experience where teacher and student are "in this together."

What about grades? I hate them. I am not alone. Good teachers everywhere understand the damage that is done by grading a young artist's work. And they try in every way imaginable to avoid them, mitigate them, soften the blow. Grading hurts the creative process.

The problems with teaching writing in our educational system cannot be fixed by mandated tests. It can only be fixed by the true commitment of all of our people to the education of all of our children.

In teaching writing, the problem with "standards" is their subjectivity. Historically, the have weeded out the voices of difference, and narrowed the channel of those who reach professional acceptance.

As far as it is possible, grading of student writing should be avoided. (This does not mean a lack of evaluative feedback. On the contrary, we can give encouraging feedback and build the writer within each student.)

Similarly, schools should not sponsor contests. For every one student who is chosen as excellent, there are many who come out of the contest having learned that their work failed--the opposite of the learning we want.

Author Pat Schneider ( is a teacher. She works out of the Amherst Writers & Artists Group ( Having read her book and browsed each site I've come to think of Schneider much in the same way I think of Uta Hagen, Stella Adler, and Isadora Duncan--an artist who sees things so clearly that they are able to positively influence anyone who comes within their orbit.

There are certainly several adjustments I need to make as I move forward with this class. If you investigate this further you will find that there is a companion DVD with the book, and many workshops and training sessions for writers and teachers.

Truly an inspirational person and message for any teacher.

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