Close Writing: Review and Giveaway

Close Writing

“Mrs. Sokolowski, I’m done!”

It’s a refrain I’ve heard often from students, who tell me they are completely finished with a piece of writing. More times than not, as I read the student’s work, I see that the piece could use more revisions, more editing, more care. I’ve always felt that having a passionate purpose and a sense of audience would make students more invested in their writing, but the truth is, sometimes they just don’t know that the writing needs work, even when they care about it and know they have a real audience. They don’t know, because they haven’t read their own piece.

In Close Writing: Developing Purposeful Writers in Grades 2-6 (2016), Paula Bourque writes, “A common concern is that students’ writing often seems incomplete or confusing and that writers did not seem to notice until they read their work with the teacher. The teacher has twenty to twenty-five students in a classroom. We cannot be the sole impetus, encouraging students to closely read a body of writing. It’s ineffective for achieving the growth in writing we are aiming for. We need to teach our students to take on this responsibility” (9).

The aim of this book is close writing, defined as “cultivating a relationship between the writer and his or her writing through mindful and purposeful rereading, reflecting and revising (x).” The book is organized in three parts: Guiding Principles, Close Writing Lessons, and Close Writing with Authors.

Part 1: Guiding Principles

Bourque writes, “You might find my story helpful:

  • if you feel as if you’ve taught your students lessons on writing that are not being reflected in the work they produce;
  • if you find students don’t consistently go bak in and reread or reflect on the writing they’ve done;
  • if you have students who wait for you to tell them how to ‘fix up’ their writing before they attempt revision;
  • if you have students who consistently think that their writing is done and can’t imagine how it could be better;
  • if you have students who aren’t aware of the patterns, techniques, or craft elements they use or neglect in their own writing;
  • if you want to help your students build stamina for working on a piece of writing over time;
  • if you want to learn how to look better at student writing to analyze needs and celebrate successes; or
  • if you are looking for ways to help students be more mindful and purposeful during writing (10).”

As I read this list, I answered “YES!” to each and every bullet. As a third grade teacher, each “if” on the list matched what I see in my writing workshop and areas where I could use more ideas and strategies. In this section, Bourque references the literacy heroes who have inspired the idea of close writing, including Dr. Douglas Fisher, Kylene Beers, Robert Probst, Christopher Lehman, Kate Roberts, and Louise Rosenblatt. She shares examples of students who exhibit close writing characteristics and a chart of what it looks like to be a close writer. This section really helps the reader understand why being a close writer is so important for student growth.

Part 2: Close Writing Lessons

This is the largest section of the book, and an absolute goldmine of ideas! Each chapter begins with a relevant quote, then a personal story shared by Bourque. There is a text box near the story that highlights “the moral of this story”, pulling out the teaching point. Several specific lessons around the topic are shared, as well as classroom anecdotes, student work, charts, and photographs. After the lesson is described, there is a text box that details the step-by-step procedure for that lesson, which is very helpful. Each chapter has “Considerations for English Language Learners”, “The Gist of the Story” (sums up the main points of the chapter), and “Drafting Your Story,” where the reader is invited to answer questions about his/her own teaching practice around the topic. Chapter topics include Close Listening, Close Looking, Close Modeling, Increasing Volume and Stamina, Rereading and Reflecting, Revising, Eyes and Ears of an Editor, Assessment and Feedback for Close Writing, and Publishing and Performing. Each chapter also has “Peek Inside a Classroom”, which was one of my favorite parts to read! Bourque is a K-8 literacy coach in Augusta, Maine, and the teachers she works with and the way she collaborates with them was so impressive. I even sent Paula a tweet, asking if the teachers in the book were on Twitter so I can follow them!

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There were so many brilliant ideas in this section. I underlined, starred, and circled many strategies to try with my third grade writers. One idea I loved was “Rainbow Revision” (169), where aspects of the writing are color-coded when reread during revision. For example, students would underline sequences and transitions in green, thoughts and feelings in blue, dialogue in pink, etc. Once students are done reading and highlighting, they can see where they might need to revise and could write a “Next Steps” note.

Part 3: Close Writing with Authors

In this section, Bourque interviews several published authors about how their writing process, especially thinking about how they revise. Writing processes are shared by Megan Frazer Blakemore, Rob Buyea, Selena Castrovilla, Erin Dionne, Jennifer Jacobson, Lester Laminack, Cynthia Lord, Kate Messner, Lynn Plourde, Liesl Shurtliff, Melissa Stewart, and Tamra Wight. Bourque provides ideas for ways to engage with authors. The book ends with an Epilogue, in which Bourque reflects on being a close writer while drafting this book. Paula wrote a post about this experience during our Author Spotlight week last spring. Some final words of wisdom: “If we don’t love what we do, we won’t do it for long. Writers need to find ways to enjoy writing and have some fun. We love what bring us joy and pleasure, if this isn’t present in our writing classrooms, our students will never fall in love with writing” (275).

My Thoughts

In a sea of professional texts, why should you read Close Writing? If you have struggled with the “I’m done!” issue in your classroom and if your students need more strategies to help them envision ways to improve their writing, this book is absolutely for you! Paula infuses personal stories and classroom anecdotes throughout the book, which makes it highly engaging. Some books are wonderful at explaining theory, but never get to the practical application of how that looks in real-live classrooms. In this book, Bourque manages to provide a solid foundation of theory and then example upon example of ways to try it with students. I love the section where authors share their process and I am thinking of ways to integrate more of those stories into my writing workshop. I believe this book is a MUST READ for writing workshop teachers, and even though it is geared towards grades 2-6, I think the ideas could be adapted for younger and older students.

Thank you, Paula Bourque, for creating such a rich professional text that will surely help many of us teach our students to be close writers.

Giveaway Information:

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Close Writing.  Many thanks to Stenhouse Publishers for donating a copy for one reader.
  • For a chance to win this copy of Close Writing, please leave a comment about this post by Friday, August 26th at 11:59 p.m. EDT. I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winner, whose name I will announce at the bottom of this post, by Monday, August 29th.
  • 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.