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Getting It in Writing: The Quest to Become Outstanding and Effective Teachers of Writing

reviewed by Brian Kissel - January 19, 2012

coverTitle: Getting It in Writing: The Quest to Become Outstanding and Effective Teachers of Writing
Author(s): Deborah M. Stankovich (ed.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1617354813, Pages: 274, Year: 2011
Search for book at Amazon.com

Getting it in Writing, edited by Deborah M. Stankevich, brings together diverse teacher voices sharing a common passion: writing. In this collection of 17 personal essays, readers journey with authors into classrooms where dynamic writing processes are underway. Throughout this journey, chapter authors chart their own paths as writers, describe their initial experiences teaching writing to students, and share memories of students who inspired paradigm shifts.

Embedded within the essays are powerful teaching points—pathways to encourage readers to try new ideas in their own writing and their own classrooms. In her chapter titled The Art of Teaching Writing, Patricia Cavanaugh describes the types of writings her college students created—an excellent resource of lessons for teachers who teach in K-12 classrooms. Faith-Ann McGarrell takes us into her classroom of initially reluctant writers who, over time, became less frustrated when McGarrell broke the code that kept them from writing. And Deborah Smith brings alive Nanci Atwell’s classic text, In the Middle (1998) when she describes how her own reading inspired her instruction.

Each essay, well-written, serves as a companion for writing teachers seeking comfort, or solace, from fellow front-line colleagues. Most essays provide a timeline for readers to show how the author changed over time—mostly from their own childhood experiences, their participatory experiences in the National Writing Project, and by becoming avid writers themselves.

Threaded throughout the essays are beliefs each writer has about writing and writing pedagogy. Authors describe successful writing teachers as those who write themselves. They note that to teach successfully in the present, writing teachers must acknowledge their pasts as writing students. The authors explain that teaching is a journey in which progress requires change—the type of change that comes from deep discussions, continued professional learning, and the valuable skill of being able to think reflectively.

The most powerful essays are the ones that feature children as the teachers--the ones who write about the significant events in their lives, and, in doing so, inspire their teachers to look at learning in a new way. I think of one 7th grade boy, struggling with learning disabilities, finally managing to write about the day his father left him—and his classmates cheering him for committing his story to the page. I think, also, of a ninth grade young man named Brian who resisted the too-simplistic questions being asked on a standardized test in which he had to choose whether a character was either good or bad. As a critical thinker, Brian thought the character displayed qualities of both, even though the test only allowed one choice. The young man realized that questions leading to only one answer were probably not questions worthy to ask in the first place.

In their efforts to teach children how to write, the authors realized they needed to become writers themselves. For many of them, their experiences within the National Writing Project (NWP) brought them to this realization. In a month-long summer experience, teachers who attended the NWP summer institute traced their writing histories, devoted time to daily writing, and thought deeply, and discussed widely, the issues most pressing in writing classrooms today. The authors described this experience as transformative. It bonded together a community of writers, it created a safe space for dialogue, and it helped to coalesce a philosophy of writing pedagogy that placed student writers at the center of instruction.

The recent changes to federal funding render these inspirational stories bittersweet. In the past year, in an effort to reduce the federal deficit, lawmakers cut pet projects with X-acto knives and took chainsaws to proven professional development experiences like NWP. For many involved in the NWP organization (including this reviewer), the cruel cuts not only severed the professional community, it prevented others from becoming members. This lifeline, cited by the authors as richly influential, now must exist without the organization that funding provided.

Getting it in Writing offers hope. Where there are funding cuts to a meaningful organization, writing can be a connective lifeline of communication. Where there remains a need to read about a shared experience, writing can provide that common ground. And where there are teachers who yearn to know about the professional lives of their fellow front-liners, this book provides a comfortable companion.


Atwell, N. (1998). In the middle. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 19, 2012
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16659, Date Accessed: 5/20/2022 11:28:44 PM

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About the Author
  • Brian Kissel
    University of North Carolina at Charlotte
    E-mail Author
    BRIAN KISSEL is an Assistant Professor of Reading and Elementary Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is the co-author of The Literacy Coach's Companion and has published widely in the field of writing development and instruction.
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