Thursday, July 9, 2009

Because Writing Matters--Review and Discussion Questions

To be honest, I got roped into reading this one. There was a kerfluffle having to do with two different workshops my writing project site was hosting this summer. One was an online book discussion group and one was based on the NWP publication Because Writing Matters. In the turn of events the book discussion group wound up reading this also.

I started the book with a great deal of reluctance. I expected it to be dry and dense. It was neither. The NWP and Carl Nagin did an excellent job of making the case for why there should be writing at all grade levels and in across the curriculum. He used case studies of real teachers and schools that used writing to improve their students academic achievement. Often these improvements were was about as subtle as news coverage of Michael Jackson’s funeral.

To help make the case to administrators and central office personnel, he focused some chapters on what they, by virtue of their jobs and the current political climate, must focus on: test scores. He also made sure that all the facts in the book were products of and backed up by research--not just the anecdotal evidence of a few classrooms. This is also mandatory today, as it should be. If teachers don’t use research to inform their instruction, they are doomed to Santayana’s vicious circle.

In reading the book I was reminded of practices that I need to promote more in my classroom and was constantly stopping the reading to either make notes about changes to my classroom site (or just going ahead and making the changes I wanted to see in my online world).

While the information here is nothing that an NWP member would not expect, it is still an excellent summation of the current research as well as a powerful argument for the need to make the teaching of writing all-pervasive in our schools, at all levels.

It would make excellent reading for staff development, especially via the format of professional reading groups. And, with that in mind, I would like to offer some of the pre-reading, reading, and post-reading questions that we developed in my book study group.


1. Describe your view of the teacher's role in the teaching of writing.

2. Describe your view of the student's role in the teaching of writing.

3. Describe your view of the administrator’s role in the teaching of writing.

4. How would you rate the importance of writing in education in general, and your subject in particular?

(These would also make excellent post-reading questions. The participants could compare their original answers with those they hold after reading the book.)


1. Should there be a required course for all teachers on writing pedagogy?

2. How could it be "sold" to the students as being important in their particular discipline?

3. Should there be a stronger composition requirement for Language Arts majors? It seems that the stereotype of an English teacher has been someone who loves the literature so much they want to re-experience it and share it with others. Would a stronger writing component, maybe requiring courses in writing from the English department as well as literature, help?

4. What book on writing pedagogy has most influenced your instruction of writing in the classroom? I would be interested in more than the title and author, but also in the hows and whys of this book's importance to you. For the purposes of the question limit yourself to one (or at most two) books.


1. If writing is a subject that can never truly be completely mastered, what should our goals as writing instructors be?

2. How do you deal with the ambiguity in writing instruction--the idea that there is no guaranteed formula for success every paper? How do you get students to deal with it without becoming so frustrated they quit writing?

3. How can we teach, maybe just can we teach, students to write “powerful, memorable, provocative, [and/] or moving” papers?

4. How would your faculty respond to a mandatory inservice (or series of inservices) on writing pedagogy? Can you think of any ways to promote more of a “buy in” by faculty members who are not specifically responsible for writing scores?

5. What are your assumptions about writing?


1. Were you taught writing as a process or as a product? How did this influence your development as a writer?

2. How do you see the reading-writing connection as it relates to what you reach? How can you use this connection to improve your teaching?

3. Can technology improve the teaching of writing in your classroom? If so, how--if not, why not?

4. How can we help students who lack knowledge of “Standard English” to become better at that without making them so frustrated with writing that they rebel?


1. Think of a writing assignment that you gave that maybe didn't go as well as you had hoped. Using the information in this chapter, what could you do to improve that lesson before you teach it again?

2. If you don’t have any lessons that include a writing component, pick a lesson that you could use writing with. How would you include writing in teaching that lesson?


1. How do we get our fellow teachers to buy into ongoing professional development on writing? What objections could you foresee to such a professional development plan? How can these objections be overcome?

2. How can school districts make it easier for teachers to do this kind of professional development? I know they could just order us to, but that produces attendance--not results. What can administrators and central office personnel do to help create acceptance of professional development for writing?


1. What is the impact of mandatory writing assessments in your classroom? In your school? In your district?

2. Beyond essay questions and research papers, how can you use writing in your classroom to assess student progress in your subject area?

3. How useful are rubrics? Should they be absolute or more flexible?

4. Should holistic assessments be more focused on content or correctness?


1. What do you think about the concept of assigning writing vs teaching writing? Do you find the criteria valid? Using these criteria, which would you say you do in your classroom?

2. What lessons do you draw from the two case studies? Do you think they could (or should) be adapted for your school?

3. How can we get administrators and central office personnel to understand the importance of teaching writing across the curriculum at all grade levels?


These questions were posed on pages three and four of the book. They are good questions to keep in mind as you read and make excellent post reading discussion questions.

Why does writing matter?
What does research say about the teaching of writing?
What do we mean by “writing processes"?
What are some features of an effective writing classroom?
How can writing be used to develop critical thinking?
How does writing fit into learning across the disciplines?
What kind of professional development prepares teachers to teach and use writing?
What does a school wide writing program look like?
What are fair ways to assess writing?


elizibith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gail Desler (Nola's girl) said...

Art, so glad I wondered into your blog (via Talkies) and discovered this post. I've had the book for a couple of years but just haven't sat down to read cover-to-cover. I will now!

Next on my list is Teaching the New Writing;-)

PS My real blog = Blogwalker