Monday, June 6, 2011

Review: The Writer's Workshop--Imitating Your Way to Better Writing

The Writer's Workshop: Imitating Your Way to Better WritingThe Writer's Workshop: Imitating Your Way to Better Writing by Gregory L. Roper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An appealing aspect of Gregory Roper's The Writer's Workshop: Imitating Your Way to Better Writing is that it is accessible to educators of all levels. On the surface, a teacher of middle grades might balk at the fact that he uses writing by Dickens, Hemingway, Joyce, Cicero, Pope Gregory VII, and Henry IV to illustrate his points.

True, I can't guarantee that my 8th graders would read Pope Gregory VII and comprehend much at all--however, I can report that they understood the passages by Dickens and Hemingway; the little generators inside their skulls hummed to a warm to glow when I explained Roper's point about Civil War soldiers only having grammar school educations...yet they wrote beautiful letters.

How did they do it? How did the classic writers and orators do it? Roper suggests that there is enough evidence to point to one consistent answer: imitation.

At the very least, some of the literary examples in this book are accessible to middle grade readers and the rest are useful to you to help you build a lesson about Roper's core concept--imitation improves our writing and has for centuries.

Roper makes no claim that he is inventing the concept of imitation. The value of his book rests in the fact the he explains each point extremely well--he includes core exercises and extended core exercises in each chapter. His examples and their explanations are thorough--he patientl teaches them to you. He does not write beyond your grasp or "speak" down to you. The book has the feel as if it were written by a teacher who has struggled with teaching writing in the past...and it is.

At the back of the book, Roper's chapter notes are some of the most useful I've discovered. While chapter notes may be often easily ignored, these take you deeper into the core concepts, suggest other ways to present these ideas to students...include modifications to exercises or how you might share pieces with your kids.

I like the fact that Roper really sticks to one very specific point for the entire book, yet he offers a wealth of example, exercise, and teaching points for teachers of all levels to incorporate.

On Friday I introduced his lesson on Hemingway's style to my class of 8th grades. We read the short story A Day's Wait and then discussed it. I allowed Roper's notes to guide me through the lesson--the kids got it. Then they set out to imitate what they perceived Hemingway was trying to do. We reviewed the concepts again today and worked on revision--tomorrow we share and discuss. This is after working through his lesson on Dickens earlier last week.

My 8th graders are catching on--I'm running out of days to workshop my kids on the rest of Roper's exercises.

I enthusiastically suggest that if you are a teacher of writing to check this book out for yourself. I find interesting and full of ideas--I'm actually looking forward to designing a few more lessons over the summer based on the concepts in Roper's book.

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