Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Teaching Nonfiction Writing

I'd like to post some of my thinking here about nonfiction writing.  I recently read the book, Because Writing Matters, a short compilation of the collected thinking of the National Writing Project.  This is an organization that is near to my heart, since I attended the Summer Leadership Institute this past summer with the Illinois Writing Project.

I proposed a breakout session at the upcoming DuPage County institute day conference (I don't remember the official title), and I am considering how I can use this material.  It's useful for establishing the warrant for writing instruction, the purpose and value of writing instruction to teachers at K-8 schools where writing is not explicitly tested and only indirectly mandated through state learning standards.  (How do you usefully promote writing instruction to teachers by saying, "You are supposed to be doing it anyway."  That's a little too parental.)

There are chapters that outline the value of writing instruction for purposes of promoting learning and for improving test scores.  But that also feels disingenuous, at the very least.  Writing is not only - or, in my view, should not be considered only - a means to some other end.  It is an end in itself, a valuable and useful tool that students need in order to be successful in high school and college.

I think that this book is more about arguing for a particular policy or instructional choice.  It does not necessarily provide methods for promoting effective writing instruction.  Perhaps that case is obvious and does not need to be argued.  If it ever does, this book is a useful tool for defending the instructional choices that we make.
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