Ten Texts That Will Get Teachers Writing by Shawna Coppola
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: the best teachers of writing are also writers themselves.
What I don’t mean by this:
- Any ol’ writer can teach students to write.
- By “writers,” I mean professional, published authors.
- If you don’t write, you can’t teach students to write.
What I do mean is this: teachers who themselves enjoy a semi-regular habit of writing (and I use the term “enjoy” loosely) understand what writers go through on a regular basis. They understand the challenges writers face, the myriad of processes they have, the exhilaration felt upon composing one–just one!– amazing line. They understand both the pain and the joy of writing.
They understand, too, that writers generate ideas for their work a thousand different ways. Read a dozen interviews with authors (and illustrators, too), and you will hear a dozen different answers to the question, “How did you come up with the idea for ____?”
As a writer myself, I often share with students the fact that most of my ideas tend to come from my own reading. Although this has been the case for decades, I have only recently begun to understand how significantly I am influenced by my favorite authors, illustrators, and texts. As a literacy specialist in a K-6 school whose primary job it is to support the teachers with whom I work, I have also begun to more consciously share this and other writerly “a-ha moments” with my colleagues during our monthly writing sessions (modeled on the fabulousness that is Kate Messner and colleagues’ Teachers Write! virtual writing camp, which you can learn about in Kate’s book 59 Reasons to Write: Minilessons, Prompts, and Inspiration for Teachers and/or here: http://www.katemessner.com/teachers-write/). These sessions, during which my fellow teachers and I read great texts, brainstorm possibilities for writing, and– most importantly–write, have been without question the most popular professional learning opportunities I have ever offered. They have also, in my humble opinion, been the most effective: never before have I received so much positive feedback from those who, after one of these sessions, have successfully used a strategy they learned or shared an understanding they constructed with their students. I actually do very little in the way of anything beyond offering my colleagues this low-risk time to write and to reflect together–but it works better than any “workshop” on teaching writing I could possibly dream up. Point being: teachers of writing need opportunities to write.
And in planning these sessions, I have found that there are countless texts that–just by virtue of being fun, or controversial, or unique– lend themselves to more writing. Of those countless texts, here are ten that I have chosen to share with you today. These texts provoke. They resonate. And I have every confidence that they will inspire you–and the teachers you know– to write, too.
This collection of essays that span a wide range of topics (politics! Scrabble tournaments! Sweet Valley High obsessions!) will inspire your inner writer to look at life with a much sharper, more witty, and more discerning eye.
Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor by Lynda Barry
If you’ve ever wanted to take a course on writing, images, and/or creativity, look no further than this quirky, brilliant peek into the author/illustrator’s one-of-a-kind pedagogy.
We Should Hang Out Sometime: Embarrassingly, a true story by Josh Sundquist
What would your former crushes say if you asked them why things didn’t work out? You could either really ask them, like the author did (cringe!), or write about what you think they’d say. Which sounds more fun?
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
This is the book I wish I had written– a savory mash-up of memoir, encyclopedia, and Amy’s signature wit. A mentor text like no other.
Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry edited by Billy Collins
If you’re a fan of Linda Rief’s quickwrites, check out this collection of–you guessed it– 180 contemporary poems for some great “quickwrite” inspiration. If you don’t know what a quickwrite is, Google it. Now.
Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
Beautifully illustrated artifacts (courtesy of the great Maira Kalman) from a young couple’s relationship, along with accompanying letters, detail the myriad of reasons why teens Min and Ed are no longer a pair. Who wouldn’t be inspired to write about a breakup after reading this YA gem?
The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum
So many ideas for writing abound in this smart, humorous essay collection by the popular yet controversial Los Angeles Times columnist.
This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Men and Women edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman
Based on the National Public Radio series of the same name, this essay anthology will move readers to examine their own personal beliefs–with the benefit of having eighty mentor texts with which to inspire and guide them.
What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self edited by Ellyn Spragins
What would you say to your younger self if you could write her a letter and send it back in time? Perhaps even more compelling…what wouldn’t you say?
Micro Fiction: An Anthology of 50 Really Short Stories edited by Jerome Stern
Nancie Atwell recommended this anthology, which she uses with her students at the Center for Teaching and Learning. After reading the first story, “The Poet’s Husband,” I became obsessed with trying to write one of my own–in under 250 words.
Shawna Coppola is hoping that, in time, you’ll all forget about AKR’s Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life so she can get away with publishing her own version someday (but shh…don’t tell Amy). Barring that, she’ll likely continue to wallow in her own river of crushed dreams. You can find her writing about her life using a non-encyclopedia format on Twitter (@shawnacoppola) or on her blog at mysocalledliteracylife.com.
I am with you! Teachers of writing MUST write!! I love this list of books!!! I will be grabbing those titles that are new to me. Thank you! 🙂 Such passion and inspiration in this post…I LOVE it! (P.S. Best of luck with your own version of AKR’s book. That’s one of my favorites!) 🙂
As always, this post sent me immediately to Amazon. Thanks for the resources and for the work you’re doing with teachers. It’s invaluable.
The whole read through, I was thinking maybe this is the direction our teachers’ writing group should take nextt year. Then I see the post is written by Shawna , a neighbor teacher & person who turned me on to Nerdy BC! Love both the PD idea & NBC. Thanks Shawna.
Such a great reminder of the need to walk the talk of our craft. Another one I love is The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha @1000awesome –I love using Awesome and some of the others you’ve listed with my student writers. Thank you for the list with those I’d not heard of. They are now on my Wish List.
Thank you so much for this list. I love the ideas you have for fun writing opportunities. I will definitely be looking for some of these works as inspiration for my own writing.
What a great post and a valuable reminder that writing teachers need to write. I realized this after I participated in Nanowrimo the first time. It was like a veil had lifted from my eyes and I truly began to understand what I’ve been asking my students to do for years. It was a great lesson for me and I’ve continued to write ever since. I think my students have been the ones who have reaped the reward. I’m intrigued by a writing group at school. I’d love to be part of something like that. Thanks for your great suggestions and ideas.
Reblogged this on My So-Called Literacy Life and commented:
Today’s Nerdy Book Club post…
Great entry. I would add Steven King’s, On Writing, although may not be gender specific.
LOVE this post! Totally agree with you! Teachers who write are more equipped to teach their writers. They are better able to relate to the struggles their writers go through, and they are seen as authentic. I, too, love Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. I wish I had written it! It has inspired me to try out some of the techniques. I’m going to check out the other mentor texts you recommended. When you do these writing sessions with teachers, how do you organize it?
Hi everyone! Thank you so much for your positive feedback, your shares, and your comments regarding this post. I would love to share in greater detail what I do to provide my colleagues with regular opportunities to write–but also to LEARN from all of you as well! Please feel free to DM me on Twitter (@shawnacoppola) or email me at email@example.com. I’m excited to collaborate with those of you who are interested!
I agree about writers teaching writers, Shawna. Love this list, will put these books on my TBR list!
Thanks for your comments about teachers and writing. Your writing is very engaging and I bet you are a great writing coach!
GO Shawna!! So fun to see you here!!
Thee look like some great books for inspiration. I will get these as soon as I can. Thank you!
Great list. Thanks for the inspiration!
As a teacher we often teach but don’t do. Our students need to see the struggle in our minds, how we edit and revise our thinking as we write and from where our ideas come. Processing our ideas takes practice and time, we need to let them incubate and form. Too often our students see the finished product and not the struggle. We need them to see our authentic process of idea to page to revision to final as a mentor process of thinking that translates to the page.
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