Sunday, July 17, 2011

Resource Book Review: Time for Meaning

Time for Meaning: Crafting Literate Lives in Middle & High SchoolTime for Meaning: Crafting Literate Lives in Middle & High School by Randy Bomer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great strength of Randy Bomer's "Time for Meaning" is a clear focus on how the physical and social structures of a classroom affects the writing process. As an aside before I go too far into my review, he focuses on the secondary classroom but it is certainly transferable to the middle school classroom.

Bomer writes, "I want my classroom to be receptive rather than transmissive or gregarious." Backed by the research of Murrary, Calkins, Atwell et al. Bomer tells us what his goals are and how he attempts to achieve them.

Later in the book he spends a chapter relating some of challenges in establishing a writing class--resistance from both (some) students, (some) peers, and (some) administrators. It illustrates the how heavily invested our culture is in clearly measurable objectives and assignments. Where the research and our cultural preferences clash is in the fact that writing is recursive and unique to experience and development of the individual. Furthermore, what our culture recognizes as the standard measure of competent writing--the five paragraph essay is a piece of the wedge which prohibits young people from developing their writing ability.

I want to add, that the final chapters which highlight the resistance and, at times, venom of individuals is a sad circumstance in education. Usually reserved for young teachers (easier prey), the criticism Bomer received ("your program") from some colleagues was divisive and ignorant. Yet, it is worth reading--not that any of us would experience the same treatment, but it is good to hear where the other side comes from--and I'll leave my comment at that. Read and judge for yourself.

You might think by reading that previous paragraphs that Bomer is proposing something absurd. Quite the contrary, he speaks of demonstrating value in student work, keeping detailed records of what students say and do, conferring with students on a daily basis about their reading and writing, and establishing that literature can help us create an awareness and respect for many things.

His students keep a writer's notebook and use it daily. His teaching style is to ask questions based on what the students write--pushing them to go deeper, to keep asking why, to live a life founded (in part) on inquiry. And writing is a great place to practice that skill.

Bomer offers many great ideas for incorporating a writer's notebook in your class--this book is great mix of current sound research and practical methods of encouraging a depth and extension of the traditional student writing produced in many schools today.

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