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Becoming a Close Writer by Paula Bourque

This week at Two Writing Teachers we will be featuring seven published authors and illustrators. We hope this blog series will inspire you to read, write, and create. Also, we hope these posts will be useful to you in the classroom when you use an authors'/illustrators' texts with your students. 
This week at Two Writing Teachers we will be featuring seven published authors and illustrators. We hope this blog series will inspire you to read, write, and create. Also, we hope these posts will be useful to you in the classroom when you use an authors’/illustrators’ texts with your students.

To be a successful teacher of writing, teachers must write themselves.  –Donald Graves

Leave a comment on this blog post for a chance to win a copy of Paula's book.
Leave a comment on this blog post for a chance to win a copy of Paula’s book.

I have always written. I’ve kept a journal most of my life, I have multiple writers’ notebooks, and blog about my teaching and learning on a regular basis. But I hadn’t truly put myself through the same writing process I expected of my students until I signed a contract to write a book for Stenhouse. That was a game changer. I learned so much about the writing process, teaching pedagogy, and myself as a writer.

My journey as a writing teacher is a long one. During the past 29 years, I’ve been a classroom teacher, Reading Recovery teacher, literacy specialist, and instructional coach. I’ve dedicated my life to nurturing literate lives for our students. One way has been to network with other educators to share ideas and collaborate. It was just such an encounter with a colleague that started me on my latest journey. Jennifer Allen is a literacy coach in a nearby town, as well as an accomplished author for Stenhouse. We got together two years ago, and I shared my concerns about students who don’t closely read their own writing and my ideas for supporting them. She asked if I had considered writing about it, and would I mind if she shared my idea with Philippa Stratton. Of course, I didn’t mind, but I had no idea Philippa was the president of Stenhouse, and an editor would soon contact me to discuss my latest thinking.

That is when I met the best writing teacher of my life. Maureen Barbieri, an author, teacher, and editor liked my ideas and encouraged me to submit a proposal. I spent that entire summer vacation researching, writing, and revising that proposal. It was exhausting, and at times anguishing. I was filled with doubts. Who was I to teach so many talented teachers about writing? It was Maureen who encouraged me just to tell my story. I wasn’t writing a college textbook or dissertation on close reading in writing; I was sharing my ideas and experiences. I was telling my story, not the story.

I realized what Tom Newkirk said in his book Minds Made For Stories, was true for me. “We seek companionship of a narrator who maintains our attention, and perhaps affection. We are not made for objectivity and pure abstraction—for timelessness. We have ‘literary minds” that respond to plot, character, and details in all kind of writing. As humans, we must tell stories.” I wanted teachers to see themselves and their students in my stories. I wanted to bring the teaching and learning going on in my schools to life. I just needed to tell my story.

Once I submitted my proposal, I had to read and respond to reviewers hired by Stenhouse. That was tough. They pushed, challenged, and questioned my ideas. I had tremendous empathy for my student writers as I read these reviews! It was important not to be defensive, but to reflect and respond. Some of those comments were incredibly helpful, once I had time to digest them. I addressed the concerns and queries with my editor, and she presented my proposal to the editorial staff.  Then I waited.

I was at my son’s soccer game when I got the email from Maureen titled “Congratulations!” To say I was excited would be an understatement. It was incredibly surreal. I was elated and yet a bit terrified. Now the real work would begin. I’d be putting a piece of myself out there for the world to examine-I needed it to be my very best.

During that writing year, I kept notebooks beside my bed as I woke with ideas swimming in my head. I would try things out in classrooms and see where that led. I would teach all day and write all evening (and weekends). I realized stamina wasn’t always steady. There were fits and starts and painful lulls. I began noticing what I was experiencing as a writer playing out more obviously in our writing workshops. I realized close reading was important to my writing, but so was some occasional distance. I talked to dozens of authors about their process and noticed many commonalities as well as idiosyncrasies. I saw firsthand that there is no one right way to be a writer and thought about those implications for my teaching.

The funny thing is, the story I started out to tell wasn’t the same one I finally told. Another belief I held as a writer became self-evident: Writing doesn’t just reflect thinking, it shapes thinking. The more I explored the idea of close writing with my teachers and students, the more questions I wondered, the more epiphanies I uncovered, and the more ideas evolved. My proposal centered around teaching students to closely read their writing, but developed into so much more. How could we help our students develop a relationship with their writing and explore their writing identities? Closely reading their work was just the first step.

All the while, my editor Maureen never told me what or how to write. She asked questions, reinforced what she thought was strong, reminded me of my focus, and shared her experiences. She let my story unfold, and we made discoveries together, just like the best writing teachers do. I was experiencing the writing process from both sides of the desk, and it was fascinating.

I also had to accept the concept that Writing is never done; it is only due. I had deadlines, the way our students do. Even on the day I handed over the manuscript, I was still exploring close writing ideas in our classrooms. That story is still growing.

I know many of you have stories to tell. Wonderful stories are unfolding in classrooms all across the world, waiting to be told. I encourage you to share them. Hone your craft as a writing teacher and walk the talk. Be a close writer! I am sure you will make discoveries on your journey the way I have. And you just never know where that journey will take you. I certainly didn’t.

 

Paula headshotPaula Bourque is a K-8 literacy coach in Augusta, Maine.  She has been a classroom teacher, Reading Recovery teacher, literacy interventionist and adjunct professor in her 29 years in education.  She is the author of Close Writing: Developing Purposeful Writers in Grades 2-6 (Stenhouse, 2016). She lives in Maine with her husband, two teens, and a houseful of pets. You can follow her blog at LitCoachLady.com or website at PaulaBourque.com.

GIVEAWAY INFORMATION (from Stacey):

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Close Writing: Developing Purposeful Writers in Grades 2 – 6.  Many thanks to Stenhouse Publishers for donating a copy for one reader.
  • For a chance to win this copy of Close Writing: Developing Purposeful Writers in Grades 2 – 6 please leave a comment about this post by Saturday, June 4th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. We’ll use a random number generator to pick the winners, whose names will be announced at the bottom of this post, by Monday, June 6th.
    • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, my contact at Stenhouse will ship your book out to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – CLOSE WRITING. Please respond to my e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

Comments are now closed. Thank you to everyone who left a comment on this post. A random commenter number was used and bennisbuzz’s commenter number was selected so she’ll win a copy of Close Writing.

61 thoughts on “Becoming a Close Writer by Paula Bourque Leave a comment

  1. It’s amazing how involving a reader, or two, can change the writing process. Anxious to read your story, Paula. Congratulations!

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  2. I loved this post! I have always believed that writing is a powerful vehicle for thinking – that one “writes one’s way to meaning.” What a powerful experience for you as a writer – to have the opportunity to engage in that meaningful struggle, and come out the other side a published author! Thank you for sharing your story, and congratulations on your achievement.

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  3. Even if I don’t win the giveaway, I think I would add this book to my professional library anyway! It sounds exactly like what I need to help my struggling writers.

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  4. This sounds like a book that would be extremely helpful! I love the way she called it “close writing”–this is so important for all writers! Can’t wait to check it out.

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  5. I love that you wrote this…I really am learning that revision is really at the heart of all good writing. I’ve spent the last year writing and revising and it still doesn’t feel done…just sent it to get a professional edit. Tomorrow, I get the results and can’t wait to see what they think and where I still need to revise. Thank you for writing it. xo

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  6. Thank you for sharing the process you went through as you wrote this book and experienced the close writing process with your students.

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  7. Love this. You shared such great details about your writing journey. What supportive editors! Loved the quote by Tom Newkirk and must remember it.

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  8. From the moment I read the title I was hooked. When did I become a writer, I wondered. Which teachers held my words, my vision, my heart close? I remember fifth grade language arts and Mrs. Wilson, specifically. Was that the moment, was she the teacher? I am not a classroom teacher in an elementary school AND I believe this book has a lot of value for me as a teacher of adults who want to write and somehow didn’t carry these lessons into adulthood. THANK YOU for this work. Love how the Tom Newkirk quote was used.

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  9. I love your quote, “Writing doesn’t just reflect thinking, it shapes thinking.” And for that process to occur, we have to be vulnerable enough to allow others to help us in that process….such a challenge because writing is so personal. Thanks for sharing your journey!

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  10. Met Paula in Maine at NerdCampNNE! Love seeing the spotlight shined on her and her important writing work! Thank you for the chance to win!

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  11. As the ELAR Instructional Coach, I have been tasked with developing and overseeing a campus writing initiative. Needless to say, I’m pulling from all of my knowledge, experience, and training. I’m eager to read your ideas on developing purposeful writers in the elementary grades.

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  12. I’m excited to hear about this book! We often call on our students to closely read other student’s work — and apply that learning to their own pieces. Kids can easily dismiss “application” when they think, “well, that just isn’t for me” or “it won’t work in my piece.”

    Hopefully, this book can provide some different thinking to lead my writers! Thank you!

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  13. Writing shapes your thinking. Yep, I’ve found that true again as I take an online graduate class this summer. I think I’m going to write something and it turns out to be something else.

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  14. I loved reading Paula’s writing journey. I very much agree with the statement that writing shapes thinking. I think if we could get students to understand this idea they would see writing as more purposeful and relevant rather than just a task to get done. The book is on my TBR list.

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  15. Close Reading: Developing Purposeful Writers looks like a great book for a school book discussion group. With Paula’s varied background working with all types of learners, I look forward to reading the book!

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  16. Thank you for going through this process to help others become better at teaching writing. This is an area that I feel weak in and can’t wait to read and try your ideas

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  17. Fascinating post! Thank you for sharing your stories. My TBR list continues to grow apace. Thank you to Stenhouse for sponsoring the giveaway!

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  18. I was lucky enough to read this already, but have added it to my “must purchase” list, so that I can refer to it again, and again.

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  19. I love the line about writing shaping our thinking. It is so true. I am excited to dive into this book and share it will a few young teachers I know who are working on developing themselves as teachers of writing with young children. Thanks for sharing.

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  20. Any ideas on how to better help our writers are appreciated. It’s one of the longer processes for students, when I need them to reread their work I relate it to us rereading a book in class to discover new things about it and they should do the same with their own writing.

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  21. I loved hearing about the “village” that raises the author. This also was important to me: “Writing doesn’t just reflect thinking, it shapes thinking.” I, so, AGREE!

    THANKS!

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  22. Thanks for wonderful post. This goes right along with a cycle of PD that we just finished in my district. Our teachers were challenged to do the type of writing that we are asking students to do, and learn about their own process. I look forward to reading your book.

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  23. Thanks for sharing your journey, Paula. It is inspiring to be reminded that growing as writers continues into adulthood. I’m excited to read your story of becoming a close writer!

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  24. The thought of putting yourself in the shoes of our young writers is very powerful. I challenged myself last summer and realized my desire was not quite in line with my stamina. I plan on trying again this summer.

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  25. One of the biggest problems I see in students is the decision not to read their own writing. We tell them to revise, but that word often gets lost in translation, conflated w/ “edit.” And though the book focuses on 2-6, I’m interested in its implications for high school students, too.

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  26. What a great way to inspire my summer reading and writing! To feel what our students feel and take the risks that they do with their writing every day helps us connect and support them in a whole new way. Thank you for writing this book!

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  27. Thinking about leading a book study with Close Writing this summer. Intrigued with her thinking about reading their own writing closely. Thanks!

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  28. I would love to read your book about close reading! Writing is all about the process and the struggle is real when I try to take my students through the process. I want them to develop a love of writing. Keep writing and sharing with the rest of us.

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  29. I teach close reading but had never heard close writing and I’m excited about it. “I’m done!” “Ok check your work!” But check what? Just punctuation, missing words, spelling, and sentences that make sense? I have always known there should be more than that but didn’t know what and how I could have my students do it independently. I appreciate your sharing this and I am eager to learn more about it. Thank you!!

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  30. I’m excited to read this book! I feel like I am able to get my kids to generate writing ideas, but I still struggle with the revision process. They continue to come to me to ave me “check” it. It’s a process! I’m looking forward to learning how to really get them close read their own writing.

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  31. I love the line “Writing is never done; it is only due.” I had never heard that before — but had certainly felt it. I will share this with my students as we talk about the writing process and revisiting our work. Thank you for sharing your story!

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  32. From one “Mainer” to another, I’d love to win a copy of this book! I can’t wait to read it and your thoughts on guiding students to read closer. I agree with what you say about distance from a piece. I find my second graders can be more critical of a piece if they’ve let it sit for a few days and come back to it.

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  33. OK. I can’t even…In my mind, books are mostly done by the time the publisher accepts them, unless the person is an established author. I love that you have the team of editors, etc. to walk through the process with you and help you get the writing done. Thanks for sharing this. Now I am thinking in a new way!

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