Revision Decisions by Jeff Anderson and Deborah Dean Reviewed by Donalyn Miller
The first time I presented at a big conference was in 2005 at the Texas Middle School Association Conference. My friend Beth Parton and I shared “50 Engaging Warm-Ups for the Language Arts Classroom.” Don’t laugh too hard. Consider it proof that evolution is real.
I was a third-year teacher and had never attended a professional conference outside of my school district or college. Overwhelmed by the session program—I didn’t even know how to read one—a teacher in the exhibit hall recommended that I attend a session on grammar instruction presented by a San Antonio teacher.
I almost didn’t go. Grammar? Right before lunch? My experiences with Mr. Quinn’s ninth grade English class—the only C on my high school transcript—still haunted me. To me, teaching grammar was the worst part of being an English teacher. My students could tell. I knew that my hang-ups with grammar prevented me from teaching it well, so I reluctantly went to the session.
In more than one way, that grammar session changed my life. It was the first time I met Jeff Anderson.
Over the next hour, Jeff not only convinced me that grammar was interesting, he shared innovative methods for teaching grammar without Daily Oral Language drills, diagramming sentences, worksheets, or suffering. Who was this guy?
Even in those days, Jeff was a dynamic presenter. Funny, smart, prepared, and over-the-top enthusiastic about teaching writing well—I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. When I heard he had just published his first book, Mechanically Inclined—I knew Jeff wasn’t like my teaching friends and me—he was Elvis.
Jeff attended our session and sat in the back. At the end, he came up and thanked Beth and me for the information we shared. It meant a lot to us. He was a teaching rock star on the rise, but he wasn’t a prima donna. He was approachable and kind.
I bought Jeff’s book because he was nice to us. I wasn’t convinced I could be a better writing teacher over the long haul, but I was questioning a lot of traditional teaching methods at the time and reshaping my practices. I might as well reconsider my grammar instruction, too.
Trying out some of Jeff’s methods with my students that year, I knew he was on to something. My students’ writing improved and I didn’t dread teaching grammar so much.
Jeff and I crossed paths often over the next few years. He taught professional development in my district, and his books and ideas transformed writing instruction for my colleagues and me. I bought every book he wrote and attended his workshops and conference presentations whenever I could.
In 2007, while attending the NCTE Annual Convention in New York City, two publishers offered me contracts for The Book Whisperer. Paralyzed with fear, I was afraid of making a huge mistake. I didn’t have an agent. I didn’t know the first thing about writing and publishing a book. I didn’t know anyone who could give me advice.
That’s not exactly true. I knew one person.
Rushing into the conference center one morning, I saw Jeff getting onto a shuttle bus and flagged him down. As he was swept onto the bus, I told Jeff about the book contracts. He gave me his card and said, “Let’s talk about it.” Yeah, right. Like I am just going to call Jeff Anderson.
I called him. We talked for two hours while washing our laundry from NCTE. He told me that my instincts were good and the book sounded wonderful. Later on, he agreed to write the foreword for The Book Whisperer. I still smile every time I see his name on the cover with mine. As much as he’s taught me how to teach writing to my students, Jeff Anderson has taught me how to live and work as a professional author. He’s not Elvis to me anymore. He’s Yoda.
When Jeff told me that he was working on a new book with the brilliant Deborah Dean, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. If these two thought leaders had something new to teach me, I wanted to learn. Revision Decisions: Talking Through Sentences and Beyond pushes our thinking as Jeff and Deborah introduce a framework for teaching students how to revise. By framing and naming revision techniques in ways we can model and practice with students, Jeff and Deborah help teachers understand the revision process and move students forward as writers and thinkers.
Focusing on the importance of sentence combining as the foundation of good revision, Jeff and Deborah offer a framework that supports writers first, then their writing. Trust, practice, risk-taking, play—without these fundamentals it’s difficult to engage students with revision.
From this supportive foundation, Jeff and Deborah move teachers step-by-step through model lessons that show young writers how to examine mentor texts, reflect on techniques, and hone in on targeted changes that improve their own writing.
Rich with resources, Revision Decisions offers lesson sets, anchor charts, authentic sentence models from children’s authors like Sarah Albee and Albert Marrin, and conversations from students as they ask questions and learn to revise.
Above all, Jeff and Deborah remind us that it’s about the writer, not the writing. With nurturing and focused, engaging instruction, these two mentors show us a path to teaching writing better and leading our students toward confident, competent writing lives. This book is a must own for writing teachers or anyone interested in improving their writing.
After years of learning from Jeff, I expect nothing less.
To call Jeff Anderson a grammarian or writing guru diminishes his importance to our profession. As much as Janet Allen, Lucy Calkins, Nancie Atwell, Kelly Gallagher, and Penny Kittle, Jeff has influenced thousands of teachers and their students.
Underneath his groundbreaking ideas for teaching writing, his research knowledge, his high-energy presentations, and his writing talent—Jeff Anderson respects writers. He understands what it means to teach—to hold fragile writers in his hands and guide them through the tough business of writing.
No matter how old they are.
Don’t miss Sarah Gross’s interview with Jeff Anderson and Deborah Dean. Enter to win a copy of Revision Decisions, too!
Donalyn Miller has taught fourth, fifth, and sixth grade English and Social Studies teacher. She is the author of two books about encouraging students to read, The Book Whisperer (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2013). Donalyn co-hosts the monthly Twitter chat, #titletalk (with Nerdy co-founder, Colby Sharp) and the Best Practices Roots (#bproots) chat with Teri Lesesne. Donalyn launched the Twitter summer and holiday reading initiative, #bookaday. You can find her on Twitter at @donalynbooks or under a pile of books somewhere, happily reading.