Reviewed by Cynthia McKenzie
Anna Roseboro’s Teaching Writing in the Middle School is designed to be a practical guide to support the work of beginning English Language Arts teachers. Roseboro sums up her teaching philosophy by stating, “Good writing takes less time to grade. Keep students on task by making your presence felt and coaching their understanding as needed.”
Roseboro begins at the beginning of the school year by “Scoping out the Year in Preview” with tips for personalizing a classroom, setting up a classroom library, and a first unit to promote social networking within the classroom.
She moves on to writing across the curriculum, grammar, informative writing, persuasive writing, poetry, short stories, and public speaking before ending her book with a unit on celebrating names. Roseboro shares tried and true writing units and strategies that facilitate good organization, classroom management, and curriculum implementation in a middle school writing classroom.
Basic guidance for beginning educators
The most valuable resources contained in the book for beginning teachers may be the grading structures and classroom management tips. These are areas where inexperienced teachers often struggle to find their footing.
Early in the first chapter Roseboro lists general grading guidelines:
C= THE SEA – Complete
B= THE BOAT– Complete and Correct
A= THE SAIL – Complete, Correct, and Creative
All of these are explained in detail along with a recommended use of rubrics. Roseboro adds detail to the grading guidelines within each unit in the subsequent chapters.
Roseboro gives clear classroom management guidance during her beginning unit and continues to add management tips throughout the book. As an example, in the chapter entitled “Entertaining Writing – The Short Story” she takes us step by step through Option A: Working in Pairs – Desk Touching Exercises and Option B: Working in Groups – Writers’ Workshop.
This is not a book that focuses on conferring with students, small group work, or a list of basic assignments to include in a given writing genre. However, Roseboro includes snippets of information about each of these topics in the chapter where it fits best. Again, this is a practical guide for a beginning teacher to use over the course of the entire school year.
Peer to peer feedback
Roseboro firmly believes that while feedback on student writing is important, not all feedback needs to come from the teacher. She clearly explains how to train the students to give strong feedback to each other during class time. This is explained in a step-by-step manner useful for a beginning teacher.
Small group and pair strategies such as scavenger hunting, peer editing, and creating a class story, which are interspersed in the units, provide concrete examples and promote student engagement and reflection, both of which are vital to student learning.
Another valuable resource is an appendix which has a variety of teacher resources linked to the various chapters and projects suggested in the chapters. These resources are a good place to begin. They can be used as is or adapted as the starting point for developing the larger writing assignments which are part of most middle school curricula.
After 32 years of teaching and coaching, I found very few new ideas in this book, but it’s not written for veteran professionals. Paired with a curriculum map and a coach or professional development focusing on conferring, it would be very helpful to a new or less experienced classroom educator.
I am planning to pass this book on to one of my new middle school teachers!
Cynthia McKenzie (@McKenzieCyndy) spent 25 years as a passionate teacher of reading and writing before becoming a literacy coach and the high-ability coordinator for her rural school district. In her eighth year as a coach, Cynthia enjoys working with both teachers and students. She and her husband live in northern Indiana.