Last week a publisher sent me an ad for a new book for teachers which is now on pre-order:
The Reading Strategies Book made the New York Times Best Seller List by making it simpler to match students’ needs to high-quality instruction. Now, in The Writing Strategies Book, Jen Serravallo does the same, collecting 300 of the most effective strategies to share with writers, and grouping them beneath 10 crucial writing goals.
In her introduction, Serravallo explains her purpose:
My aim in this book is to offer my favorite, most useful collection of strategies that span all aspects of the writing process, all genres and modes of writing, and that will work well with students in grades K–8.
Appealing and practical
I just dipped into The Writing Strategies Book, but I found it pretty impressive.
I can see why the book would appeal to teachers.
Serravallo writes well: There are no long-winded, polysyllabic sentences. She has an authentic voice that sounds like person-to-person communication.
The book’s page layout makes it easy to find information and apply it quickly.
What Serravallo says is practical. She knows her audience and gives them what they need.
But 300 strategies is excessive
I have reservations, however, about needing 300 strategies.
My career blended writing nonfiction for adult readers with teaching nonfiction writing to post-secondary writers, which I realize is a far cry from teaching K-8.
However, I’ve found both as a writer and as a writing teacher, the fewer the strategies, the better the writing outcomes.
One of my gripes about K-12 English programs is that they are not strategic: Strategies are ways of systematically implementing a process designed to achieve carefully defined goals. Does that sound like anything that happens in K-12 education?
Students come to first year college composition with no strategies for tackling routine writing situations. They treat every writing situation as if it were unique when, in fact, they, and most other people, regularly encounter perhaps a half dozen different writing situations.
10 strategies instead of 300
Instead of 300 writing strategies, I have just 10—and three of them are actually research strategies.
Ten are all I need to write nonfiction on a daily basis.
Ten are all I need to teach nonfiction writing.
Ten are all my students require to learn to write nonfiction competently.
To make the writing process efficient, I need to make sure each individual:
- Understands the strategy.
- Memorizes the strategy.
- Uses the strategy repeatedly in disciplined practice.
Something that’s done once is not a strategy.
A strategy is only strategic after it’s an automatic response to a set of stimuli.
A real strategy enables the user to recognize almost at a glance when conditions require something other than the strategy — something innovative, something creative.
Real strategies scale.
Real strategies can be deployed in situations far different from that in which they were learned and on tasks far more complex than the tasks on which they were practiced.
I’d call them feedback
What Serravallo calls strategies, I’d call feedback.
In a writing class, feedback is talking to an individual student about what he’s doing, finding out what the student is having difficulty with, and and helping the student find ways to overcome the problem.
Strategies enable the writing student to get along without the teacher present.
Feedback shows the writing student how to understand and use the strategies.
I’ll continue to advocate for a few good strategies for writing teachers: I think my system beats Serravallo’s.
But regardless of what age your writing students are, if you’re looking for good suggestion on how to provide students with feedback on their writing while they’re writing (when it can do some good), you ought to take a look at Serravallo’s Writing Strategies Book.