An Excellent Writing Companion for Teachers
The Writing Teacher’s Companion: Embracing Choice, Voice, Purpose, and Play
By Ralph Fletcher
(Scholastic Professional, 2017 – Learn more)
Reviewed by Erin Corrigan-Smith
I am sure I am not alone when I say teaching writing is a daunting task. Sometimes it feels as though I am asking my students to do the impossible.
We study mentor texts in order to emulate the writing styles of professional writers, but this does not always have the intended result. The problem with this is not all professional writers are good writers, and sometimes children cannot “see the forest for the trees,” so to speak, when they are emulating style.
Some teachers would say the “Captain Underpants” series or other graphic novels should never be emulated, due to their unique style and sometimes off-color language, but this is what many students gravitate toward when given the choice for reading. By exposing students to a wide variety of writing (reading) styles, students are then able to pick a style which truly speaks to them and their interests.
Author Ralph Fletcher brings over 30 years teaching experience to The Writing Teacher’s Companion, as he reminds readers and educators that writing (and teaching writing) can be fun! In order for students to find joy in their writing, they must write every day. It may seem counter-productive, but Fletcher assures readers that by getting students used to the writing process, they will soon be able to find joy in it, as well.
Fletcher compares writing to learning another language, and it is easy to see his point: one cannot become fluent in a new skill if one only practices the new skill sporadically.
One of the most common sense ideas in the book addresses writing with students. I believe teachers often overlook this process because we are under an ever-present time crunch, but Fletcher reminds us how imperative it is to see someone else, in a mentor role, write, edit, and revise in real time.
A succinct, easy-to-use book
Fletcher’s chapters are arranged in easy-to-follow, logical order. The chapters are full of practical tips and skills, and one will want to keep this book on the shelf in order to access its panoply of teaching ideas.
Fletcher has made the book even easier to navigate because the chapters are short, and he has highlighted the key ideas of each section in blue so a reader can quickly go to a section and read just the important details – with room to make notes and come back to later for deeper review.
I will admit I was a little surprised to see a chapter titled “Engaging Boy Writers” because I never considered it would take something more to teach them. I should have known better, because I can often see a different struggle in them in the classroom. This is another example of how Fletcher forces one to rethink teaching beliefs, as he challenges readers to elevate their teaching in order to push writers further.
This book does not read like a college textbook or a professional development tome – so full of information that it becomes difficult to comprehend. Fletcher keeps the book short, to the point, and free of minutia which would bog down any reader or scare a new teacher. Because the text is so lean, it appears as less threatening, even though it is about teaching writing. Less is more, as we often hear writing teachers say.
A useful guide to improved student writing
Overall, this is a simple, approachable book with useful, practical text on how to implement effective writing teaching in the classroom. By offering choice, Fletcher asserts that students will be more engaged, and more apt to improving their writing simply because they have bought into its importance.
Erin Corrigan-Smith is a middle school ELA teacher in a suburb of Atlanta. She has a B.A. and M.A. in English, and her focus of study is children’s literature. During the school year, she is faculty advisor to the cooking club and drama club. In her downtime, she enjoys going to her family’s cabin in the North Georgia mountains with her husband and dog to read and relax.