Saturday, July 9, 2011

Resource Book Review: Clearing the Way

Clearing the Way: Working with Teenage WritersClearing the Way: Working with Teenage Writers by Tom Romano

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As I read more about the teaching of writing, a common message has arisen: encourage the writer.

Published over twenty years ago, Romano proposes finding the good in student writing, having students write more than a teacher could possibly assess, write and read all kinds of writing, talk about writing, talk about writing, and, oh yeah, talk about writing.

The same message is still be trumpeted today by members of the National Writing Project and many well-versed teachers of writing. Yet, the stereotypical red-pen wielding, mistake maven still dominates English classrooms. Shackled by any number of things, Romano asserts that teachers fall into the habit of becoming college professors. Our downfall is we critique the mechanics of writing so much that we kill the writer's voice. We do more damage by damning things like the comma-splice...

I got the most out of Chapter 8 where Romano addresses assessing student writing. He admits that there have been occasions where he has failed miserably at his job in this capacity. Yet, I am encouraged by his own revelation:

Distinguishing between the student and the writing is a fool's distinction. Writing is the writer. It embodies her voice, her passion, her thinking, her intellect, her labor, and, on some occasions, her very soul.
You are a fine person, but this piece of writing is a D.
Don't kid yourself--when that happens the writer is stung.
Such a method is directly opposed to our purposes as teachers.

I'm quickly becoming fascinated with how many teachers of writing are disgusted by the damage we do to young writers by grading their work. This is different than assessing. Romano and the rest lay out a variety of powerful and effective assessing models. But this issue of grading is sitting with me like a ghost this summer.

Romano's book resurrected the conversation for me today.

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