Creating Confident Writers: For High School, College & Life
By Troy Hicks & Andy Schoenborn
In Creating Confident Writers, Troy Hicks (professor of English and education at Central Michigan University) and Andy Schoenborn (high school English teacher, composition instructor and teacher consultant) provide a broad perspective of what it means to be a young writer and how to teach them as a writer-teacher. Their approach takes in the very best of the self-expressionist, critical literacy, environmental and literature based orientations towards writing teaching.
We have decided to structure this review by using our framework of the 14 principles of world-class writing teaching (Young 2019; Young & Ferguson 2020; Young & Ferguson in press).
- Build A Community Of Writers
‘When writers surround themselves with beautiful words, probing thoughts, and emerging ideas, it is hard not to want to be a part of it.’ (p.32)
One of the most pleasing things about this book is that the authors stay true to their word. This book really does share how to create a climate of confident writers in your classroom. This is because they keep focused on the behaviours and dispositions that need to be developed to create such an environment. Troy and Andy repeatedly discuss the need for promoting the affective domains of writing for pleasure such as: confidence, intrinsic motivation, agency, personal responsibility, desire, metacognition, self-regulation, co-regulation, and importantly, writer-identity.
- Treat Every Child As A Writer
Hicks & Schoenborn want to move young people away from the continual feeling of failure in the writing classroom. They point out that when young people only write for their teacher’s evaluation, they always feel a sense of failure as they routinely receive their manuscripts back covered in red pen. They rightly point out that this need not be the case; that children can feel a sense of confidence and success if their writing is allowed to go beyond the teacher and reach their audience.
- Read, Share, Talk & Think About Writing
Hicks & Schoenborn rightly acknowledge that conversation is essential in the development of the writer. They share many ways in which the community of writers within the classroom can powerfully talk and reflect on writing while it is still in the process of becoming.
- Pursue Authentic & Purposeful Class Writing Projects
Hicks & Schoenborn understand that class writing projects must be framed as an invitation to participate and apprentice writers must be given personal responsibility for interpreting the writing project so that it can bring them personal satisfaction and that they can write from a position of strength. The authors offer a framework of why, how and what to help teachers accomplish this. Why indicates the purpose and audience and invites children to find their personal meaning within the project. How challenges children to consider how best to share what it is they want to write about, before finally spending time considering what they will have to do to be successful.
What struck me most about the work of the authors was their examples of practice in devising authentic and purposeful writing projects using digital media and digital multimodal texts. They share how teachers can invite children to create blogs, vlogs, digital community maps, multimedia journalism, and ‘Pecha Kucha’ presentations.
- Pursue Personal Writing Projects
Andy Schoenborn shares how, every other day, his students are given twenty minutes to pursue and craft personal writing projects. As a UK writer-teacher, I can’t help but reflect on the significant difference between this and the utterly flawed concept of ‘free-writing Friday’ (Cowell 2018). Andy holds apprentice writers, and their personal writing projects, in the highest possible regard.
- Teach The Writing Processes
‘For writers, composing a new piece of writing, putting it away, thinking on it, digging back, crossing out, seeking feedback, and reworking is the work of their craft.’ (p.90)
While Troy and Andy comment on all aspects of a writer’s process, they devote a whole chapter to the process of revision; the most undervalued and most misunderstood part of a writer’s process by teachers in schools. They share some innovative practice in helping students reconsider what they’ve initially written in an atmosphere of explorative and sociable enquiry.
- Teach Mini-Lessons
While mini-lessons are suggested as being an essential aspect of effective writing teaching, the authors do somewhat neglect to share with their readers what these might look like and how they can construct your own.
- Be Reassuringly Consistent
It was comforting to see that Hicks & Schoenborn advocate for the reassuringly consistent routine of a contemporary writing workshop approach. Through such an approach, students are provided with time to read for pleasure before receiving high-quality instruction in the craft of writing. They are then afforded significant amounts of time for writing and given the opportunity to talk and share their developing compositions with others. This happens every day and it’s this momentum of writing day in and day that creates confident writers.
- Balance Composition & Transcription
While it’s insinuated through their discussion of revision and the importance of young people taking their time with their writing, the authors don’t go into detail about how teachers can ensure a balance is kept between teaching about the compositional aspects of writing and how we can get students to focus on transcriptional accuracy. They rightly allude to the fact that if writers are writing for real audiences, then attention to transcription and conventions becomes a natural priority. However, I suspect teachers will have wanted more guidance on how this is done practically.
- Set Writing Goals
We know that alongside world-class writing instruction in the writer’s craft and in the processes involved in composing texts, setting goals is one of the most effective teaching strategies we can employ in our classrooms (Young & Ferguson in press). It’s therefore pleasing to see the authors devote a whole chapter to this subject. They make the particular point that when children are allowed to work within a writing workshop approach, they have the time, space and support to achieve their own writing goals and meet the expectations of the curriculum.
- Pupil-Conference: Meet Children Where They Are
Hicks & Schoenborn share a great deal of advice and expertise on how teachers can talk writer to writer with their students as well as provide some inspirational advice on how to support peer-conferencing amongst your pupils. This was one of the many highlights of the book.
- Be A Writer-Teacher
There is no doubt that both Hicks & Schoenborn are writer-teachers. You can hear that they live the writer’s life both inside and outside their classrooms. It’s therefore unsurprising to see them highlight the need for teachers to be writer-teachers if they are to utilize the most effective writing practices most effectively. They are bold in their claims that writer-teachers simply know better than non-writer-teachers what their pupils need most and can teach writing from a position of expertise and empathy.
- Literacy For Pleasure: Connect Reading & Writing
‘Writers who read are often eager to write themselves, because the more joy they find in a book the sooner they think to themselves, I can write like that! Which, of course, they can’ (p.32).
I found the moments where Hicks & Schoenborn discuss the connection between reading and writing to be some of the most thought-provoking and interesting parts of the book. They repeatedly share the importance of daily sustained reading time to help build young people’s reader-identities and point to the fact that strong readers are strong writers. Quoting one of their students, they share how her reading helps her: ‘with every book I picked up, I absorbed a little bit of that author’s writing soul’ (p.28). In addition, they provide rich guidance on how teachers and students can form genuine, deep relationships with mentor authors and mentor texts that go well beyond the shackles and flawed conceptions of the book planning or novel study approach towards writing (Young & Ferguson in press). They invite teachers to share with their class mentor texts they have used themselves to help them craft their own texts and to give their students an apprenticeship in how to do the same. They suggest that this helps fulfill the aim that teachers should be using three types of mentor texts: texts by professional writers; texts written by the writer-teacher themselves, and writing by their students (both past and present). The authors make a strong case when they suggest that without providing this variety of mentor texts, teachers create a culture in the classroom where children feel a sense of intimidation, inadequacy, imposter syndrome and failure if they can’t craft texts to the same level of highly-experienced and professional writers.
- Interconnection Of The Principles
In conclusion, Hicks & Schoenborn provide teachers with a cohesive and well thought out approach which reflects what we best know about the effective teaching of writing (Young & Ferguson in press). By reflecting on the wisdom shared within these pages, teachers would be perfectly placed to create confident writers.
- Young, R., (2019) What is it ‘Writing For Pleasure’ teachers do that makes the difference? The Goldsmiths’ Company: The University Of Sussex
- Young, R., Ferguson, F., (2020) Real-World Writers London: Routledge
- Young, R., Ferguson, F., (in press) Writing For Pleasure: theory, research and practice London: Routledge