With a target audience of Grades 3–8 teachers, Jennifer Jacobson, a former elementary school teacher and the author of fourteen children’s books, has drawn upon a treasure trove of experience in writer’s workshop to create No More How Long Does It Have to Be: Fostering Independent Writers in Grades 3-8 (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019).
A useful compilation of strategies to implement in order to engage and support writers in the classroom, this manual begins with sections on planning for independence, routines to support independent writers (minilessons, building stamina, conferring, and author’s chair), and moves into explicit lesson plans when exploring units on the narrative, informative, and persuasive writing. The final section is a chapter on assessment, standardized testing, and publication.
Each chapter contains useful tips and ideas that can be put into use right away. One such gem is the fun suggestion to approach the focused editing of conventions by using a designated crayon or pen color for each target (use a blue crayon for capitalization errors, green for punctuation, and purple for spelling).
Jacobson’s section on what to do during writing conferences is explicit and valuable. The focus, she writes, should: 1) be on the student’s writing goal (ex. adding voice), 2) use “mirroring” when the teacher retells what they heard to increase the sense of audience for the student and create value for the student’s writing, and 3) give the opportunity for the student to extend the subject matter while experiencing the writing in a fresh way, and 4) teach one new skill.
The lesson plans offered in units for teaching narrative, informative, and persuasive writing are brief and easy to read. Organized into approximately five days of lessons, they include exploring mentor texts, brainstorming, think aloud possibilities, rubrics and activities that encourage metacognition of the writing process. A five-minute quick write activity she suggests, for instance, is “What will readers gain from reading your story?” Each unit also incorporates suggestions for additional lessons related to the teaching focus.
This book is another teaching resource worthy of a look-see for its discerning focus on writing in today’s classroom.
Elizabeth Ann Walker is a bilingual educator with a background in the performance arts and wellness. A certified yoga teacher, trained sound therapist and meditator, Elizabeth has spent many years teaching literacy in Quebec and New Brunswick. She is an avid reader slowly working on writing about a 12-year transformative experience with Lyme disease.