Every so often we like to ask our authors about the books that most affected their teaching, the books that served as turning points in their practice or opened their eyes to a new way of approaching their work, thinking about education, or seeing children. In this installment, we bring you the professional book top five of Vicki Vinton, a literacy consultant and writer who has worked in schools and districts across the country and around the world. She is the coauthor of What Readers Really Do: Teaching the Process of Meaning Making and The Power of Grammar: Unconventional Approaches to the Conventions of Language, and most recently is the author of Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading: Shifting to a Problem-Based Approach. You can also find Vicki online, at the popular literacy blog To Make a Prairie.
By Jennifer Serravallo
The Writing Strategies Book started shipping this week. I’ve been overwhelmed and humbled by the positive responses and enthusiasm from so many. Before you all get this book in your hands, though, I need to get something off my chest:
This book would not exist were it not for a community of friends, mentors, colleagues and teachers—giants—whom I’ve been lucky to know. I want you all to know them, too.
My most immediate teacher and mentor around the teaching of writing is Lucy Calkins. I first read her books in college, leaned on them heavily throughout my years in the classroom, and eventually was lucky enough to spend years with her at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Her contributions are deep-reaching—not only in writing curriculum and workshop methods of instruction but also as a mentor to so many who have gone on to inspire others. If you asked Lucy, though, she’d probably tell you she stands on the shoulders of her mentors, chief among them Don Graves. I came to Graves’ books, such as Writing: Teachers and Children at Work, many years after being introduced to Lucy’s books, but through Lucy, I was learning from this work years before going directly to the source.
Every so often we like to ask our authors about the books that most affected their teaching, the books that served as turning points in their practice or opened their eyes to a new way of approaching their work, thinking about education, or seeing children. In this installment, we bring you the professional book top five of Ken Lindblom, Associate Professor of English and Associate Dean for Academic Programs in the School of Professional Development at Stony Brook University (SUNY), and former high school English teacher. Ken has also served as the editor of English Journal and is on the Executive Board of the Conference on English Education (NCTE). Ken is a co-author of the Heinemann book Making the Journey, fourth edition, which published in the fall of 2016.
Every so often we like to ask our authors about the books that most affected their teaching, the books that served as a turning point in their practice or opened their eyes to a new way of approaching their work, thinking about education, or seeing children. In this first installment, we bring you the professional book top five of Katie Wood Ray, whose professional background includes both elementary and middle school teaching experience and two years as a staff developer at The Reading and Writing Project, Teachers College, Columbia University. She was also the coeditor of the journal Primary Voices K–6, a publication of the National Council of Teachers of English. She has authored and co-authored many titles , including In Pictures and in Words, What You Know by Heart, Already Ready, and About the Authors. Katie spent many years as a professional development presenter, and is currently an Executive Editor of professional books at Heinemann.
William Zinsser, 1922–2015
by Katie Wood Ray
Last night, when I saw the news William Zinsser had died, I was sitting in front of my computer at my parents’ house. I am working from here this week in a mobile office with just the bare necessities. Beside me on their dining room table, the table that fed me as I grew from a girl into a woman, lay my worn, trusty, heavily highlighted On Writing Well.
I brought it with me. A bare necessity.
On Writing Well. Another table that fed me as I grew from a beginning writer to a more accomplished one, though still a work in progress. And it’s the work I still have to do, as a writer and now as an editor, that keeps bringing me back to William Zinsser’s table.
I think of my writing life in two distinct phases, B.Z. and A.Z. Yes, I wrote and actually published articles and books before I ever encountered On Writing Well. When I reread my own work, I see the clear demarcation of what came before and what came after this powerful book. I would like to beg the pardon of readers of all my B.Z. books (though I'm not going to tell you which ones they are).
I learned so many lessons from this great teacher—really, so many—but two in particular stand out. One, is pruning. Zinsser said, "Examine every word you put on paper. You'll find a surprising number that don't serve any purpose." Believe it or not, this is one of the truest things I know about writing. I have become downright masterful at taking a 1,000 word piece and cutting it to 800 words and no one, not even the writer, can tell what's missing. Just eliminating the word that in almost every use cuts a word count like, well, like that!
Good writing is lean and confident.
The other lesson that stands out for me is Zinsser's advice about "little qualifiers." He says, "Prune out the small words that qualify how you feel and what you think and what you saw…Don't say you were a bit confused and sort of tired and a little depressed and somewhat annoyed. Be confused. Be tired. Be depressed. Be annoyed. Don't hedge your prose with little timidities. Good writing is lean and confident." My southern-born self fights against a culturally ingrained habit of timidity in my language, but I am mostly over it thanks to Zinsser's good teaching.
His teaching was generous, but in the end it was his basic stance to language that caused me to have a little literary crush—no, a literary crush—on William Zinsser. I don't suffer language bores gladly, but he was no bore. My heart was fixed when I read, "usage has no fixed boundaries—language is a fabric that changes from one week to another." Anyone who's studied the craft of writing seriously knows this to be true, but Zinsser embraced it and he found a way to write about how to write without fencing you in.
You will think I am lying, but I am not, when I tell you I opened On Writing Well to a random page before I began writing this. I landed on page 65 where I'd highlighted these words: "The perfect ending should take your readers slightly by surprise and yet seem exactly right." From where I'm sitting, at my parents' table where endings feel too close these days, the idea of a perfect ending makes me smile. William Zinsser was 92. A good, long life that gave and gave to so many and hopefully felt rewarding in kind. A perfect ending.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦