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Book Review: Renew! Become a Better and More Authentic Writing Teacher by Shawna Coppola

Written by Robyn Chegwidden, Amanda Dudek, and David Richard

Take everything that you know about the “writing process” and put it on hold. Shawna Coppola challenges the effectiveness and orthodoxy of every aspect of what it means to be a writing teacher. At times cheerleader, at others a scold, Coppola leads the reader through many different methods of teaching emerging writers their craft.

 “The minute—no, the very second—that we believe we have done all we can for our student writers—that we have learned all there is to learn about, say, teaching them how to write satisfying conclusions, or how to generate ideas for writing—well, that is also the very second we become less effective.”

The author contends that there is no one way to reach a finished project and many of the traditional methods may not be helpful to all students. Rather than a linear process that begins with a “brainstorm” on through a finished, polished final draft, the writing process may take many different routes. Rubrics may be too confining. Five paragraphs may not be enough. Five paragraphs may be too much. Indeed, limiting the process at the outset does both the author and the evaluator a disservice. Donald Graves, largely hailed as the creator of the early ideas regarding the writing process says:

“Don’t be fooled by the order in which I describe the writing process. I have to use words, which follow each other in systematic and conventional fashion, for you to understand what I am about. This suggests that thoughts follow in a systematic order for everyone. Not so.” (Grave 2003, 220-221)          

Coppola is nothing if not passionate about her subject. Her anecdotes, gained from sixteen years as a public-school teacher and mother of two, illustrate the practices that she wishes to challenge. Are rubrics helpful? What should a graphic organizer look like? How is a story told? What should the revision process look like? What is the most effective way to grade? In the end, the most important idea about writing is that the story gets told. This can be accomplished either through visual composition, written word, or a combination of both. All these topics and more are discussed in her easy to read, 100-page work. The author includes many different ideas and concepts with which to assess our own writing pedagogy in the ongoing struggle to meet the ever-evolving needs of our students in a constantly changing social environment.

           Renew! is easy to read; it is aimed at those that teach emerging writers in the elementary grades. Secondary school teachers may find that much of the content is inapplicable to students in high school, but this detraction is ameliorated by the upbeat tone and lively language of the author. There are so many different techniques offered that there is guaranteed to be something for every teacher of writing to apply in the classroom. Renew!Become a Better—and More Authentic Writing Teacher, is sure to offer some new ideas for all. It is Coppola’s hope that we all can internalize a habit of rethinking, revising, and most–important –renewing our teaching practices.  

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