I’ve long been exploring how we might expand notions of what writing is, and what composition is, for years, and so have many others, particularly those of us affiliated with the National Writing Project. More than ten years ago, a book I co-edited Teaching the New Writing centered on this topic.
Shawna Coppola and I have often interacted on Twitter, sometimes with our friend Troy Hicks as a connector thread, and so I was excited and interested to learn more about her new book Writing Redefined (Broadening Our Ideas on What It Means to Compose).
(Note of disclosure: Shawna sent me a copy of her book to review. I made and shared comics as I was reading her book).
In her book, as in her teaching practice, Shawna explores a lot of terrain, but in a thoughtful way that balances rigor and exploration, bringing her own experiences as a teacher and literacy coach into the mix, and the wealth of resource she shares via QR Code within the book is staggering, and sure to keep an interested teacher inspired. As I think about her book, I wonder even more than ever how we might use the moments of the Pandemic/stay home to bring more of these kinds of authentic writing ideas into our online spaces for students, to engage them in meaningful compositional strategies and projects.
Shawna effectively makes the case that by limiting “writing” to words on a page, as opposed to being part of a multi-modal multi-medium stew of visual, audio and more, we are limiting our students as writers, too. We’re asked to think about alphabetic forms of writing (essays, etc.) might form barriers to students who struggle with traditional writing, who might have language barriers, who might have cultural barriers (particularly those students from cultures with a focus on oral traditions), who have other strengths to bring into the writing classroom.
Each chapter digs deeper into topics, but I appreciated the last chapter, where she anticipates the many questions and concerns teachers might have about ‘redefining’ writing with a larger net. Shawna patiently counters six different concerns with thoughtful, helpful advice and considerations.
While she may not have broken new ground in her book, Shawna effectively frames the discussion on what it means to write in this modern, digital, visual and audio age, in a way that can reach classroom teachers knowing that the dichotomy for young people of “school writing” versus “non-school writing” is always evident, but not insurmountable. Shawna builds some bridges.
Peace (draw it sing it act it write it),