Write Like This: Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling and Mentor Texts
reviewed by Anne Wescott Dodd - November 09, 2012
Title: Write Like This: Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling and Mentor Texts
Author(s): Kelly Gallagher
Publisher: Stenhouse Publishers, Portland, ME
ISBN: 1571108963, Pages: 264, Year: 2011
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BBL. CUL8R. Does the shortcut- language students use when they text each other hinder their writing ability? How can teachers engage students in learning to write in meaningful ways? In Write Like This Kelly Gallagher offers a rationale and strategies to help teachers create opportunities and assignments that will help students become the effective writers they need to be.
In the first chapter, Moving Writing to the Front Burner, Gallagher shares an example from the California Highway Patrol exam that measures three elements of writing: clarity, vocabulary, and spelling (p. 1). It shows how important writing is to getting a good job. Gallagher argues that writing well has become a gatekeeping skill across the workforce. Thus, it is in students interest as well as societys for schools to emphasize writing well. Gallaghers approach is based on two premises, which he explains with charts and student examples:
1. Introduce Young Writers to Real-World Discourses (p. 8)
2. Provide Students with Extensive Teacher and Real-World Models (p. 15)
Gallagher begins Chapter Two, Express and Reflect, with a personal story about his lack of interest in his studies, a distant third behind girls and basketball (p. 23). When the coach he admired died suddenly of a heart attack, Gallagher was moved to write a heartfelt letter about the coach that was published in the local newspaper. Writing this letter was a powerful way for him to 1) express his feelings and 2) reflect on a tragic experience so that he could move forward. The chapter includes a variety of assignments and student examples, ranging from My Favorite Mistake to What My Childhood Tasted Like, as prompts for student writing.
In Chapter Three Gallagher focuses on writing to, Inform and Explain. He begins by listing a number of ways he has had to write in real life, for instance, letters about insurance, cancelling a water order. This type of writing is not just necessary for students to get through school but also because they will grow up to be the next generation of bloggers, journalists, scientists, police officers... For these careers and many others, one needs the ability to inform and explain through writing (p. 64). Once again, Gallagher offers a panoply of engaging activities and assignments teachers can use with their students.
Chapter Four, Evaluate and Judge, describes Gallaghers approach to helping students research and evaluate what they find. First, Gallagher asks students to create charts for making consumer decisions, such as buying a guitar, as preparation for writing. They learn to write reviews of products and books. He explains how students can transfer this process to other types of evaluative writing, such as writing about the effectiveness of a YouTube video or a web site.
In Chapter Five, Inquire and Explore, Gallagher reminds the reader that the National Commission on Writing found that writing is being shortchanged in schools and recommends that schools double the amount of writing across the content areas (p. 115). Writing not only shows what students know, but it also leads the writer to new ideas (p. 116). He provides a brief exercise for the reader to test his point with a challenging paragraph from James Madisons The Federalist Papers. Writing also improves reading ability and can be used to give students time to think about issues in a deeper way. As Gallagher says, Writing primes the thinking pump (p. 118). The chapter also includes a wide variety of activities, but the most important point here is that writing can be a valuable tool for learning in any content area.
Gallagher uses Dave Cullens book, Columbine (2009) to introduce readers to Chapter Six, Analyze and Interpret. He shared passages from the book with his students to help them recognize how writing can move beyond summarizing and into areas that sharpen the writers ability to think and the readers ability to understand (p. 137). He asks students to interpret nursery rhymes, use pictures as symbols to analyze and convey information, and learn to observe closely and ask the right questions as they gain understanding about a subject before they write. The student examples, strategies, and his classroom process described in this chapter provide a clear roadmap for teachers to follow with their students 1) to help them become better writers and 2) to more carefully analyze the literature they read.
Chapter Seven, Take a Stand/Propose a Solution, begins with Would you rather questions as warm up to introduce students to the idea of taking a stand, e.g. Would you rather be able to fast forward life or to rewind it? (p. 175) Then Gallagher asks them to complete a Four-Square Argument Chart to show all sides of an argument theyve had with a friend or family member. Students learn the importance of understanding both sides when they consider any issue, such as a ballot proposition. Gallagher helps students draft all parts of the paper, sometimes by modeling the writing process in front of his class. To show students how to develop their arguments, Gallagher teaches them to construct paragraphs from templates he calls The Hamburger and Set Them Up; Knock Them Down (pp. 181-183). The chapter ends with a discussion of writing problem-solution papers.
Polishing the Paper, Chapter Eight, reminds the reader that getting students to dabble in these discourses [the forms described in previous chapters] is only half the battle (p. 203). Motivating students to rewrite/revise and polish first drafts into finished pieces is perhaps more difficult. To show what revision (re-see) means in concrete terms, the author asks them to examine before-and-after photos of a house that has been revised. Then he explains a graphic, RADaR, representing the four steps of revision: Replace, Add, Delete, and Record (p. 206). He then models the revision process with his own writing in two ways: 1) on a handwritten draft and 2) electronically using Microsoft Word Track Changes. This chapter also contains many examples of student revisions. The last part of the chapter focuses on editing and all that suggests. In a closing note, Gallagher notes the importance of getting students (and teachers) to see the distinction between revising (making better) and editing (making correct) (p. 222). Both have a role to play in writing effectively.
In the final chapter, The Wizard of Oz Would Have Been a Lousy Writing Teacher, the author shares his 10 core beliefs about the teaching of writing, ranging from the chapter title (#1) to #5 There Is No Such Thing as a Five-Paragraph Essay (pp. 230-231) and #10 Purposes for Writing Should Be Blended (p. 236). By ending the book with a summary of his beliefs about teaching writing, Gallagher makes clear the connection between theory and practice. These principles are the foundation for the classroom practices he describes so well in the rest of the book.
Readers will find Write Like This a pleasure to read because Gallagher writes in a user-friendly conversational style with many personal anecdotes. Because the book includes so much detail and so many examples, it can be a blueprint for teaching writing, especially useful for the novice teacher who isnt sure how to proceed. Experienced teachers will find many ways to enrich their teaching in this rich collection of engaging activities and assignments in this book and additional information in the appendix and extensive bibliography.