Strategic Writing

Deborah Dean's Strategic Writing transformed how I think about teaching writing. I'd already become a devotee of the idea of teaching writing as decision making, i.e., helping students understand that writers make choices when they write and that those choices change the text in crucial ways. Dean's book helped me build on that idea with her emphasis on how human beings are strategic and how we can help students understand that they can be strategic when they write.

Yesterday, Debbie spoke to the San Joaquin Valley Writing Project's Summer Institute (held in conjunction with the Merced Writing Project). Her workshop emphasized that, for most students, the writing process involves creating a series of products that mark the "steps" of the writing process. As teachers, we fail to help students understand that the parts of the process are actually strategies that can be used in different writing situations. In her book and workshops, Debbie works to help teachers shift the way they and their students think about writing. She has developed a number of creative assignments that help students practice different strategies, and she asks students to reflect on how the strategies they use for one assignment can be used in other writing situations.

This approach makes so much sense to me. As teachers, we should be more concerned with helping students develop a wide variety of writing strategies that can be used outside of our classrooms and beyond the school experience. We do students a great disservice when we teach them that they can follow a series of steps that will "work" for any writing situation. Writing is too messy and complex for that to be true. Debbie's book encourages us to transform our classrooms in order to help our students become independent, successful writers.

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