Because The Story of My Thinking was a very practical book, I think it deserves a very practical response. I came to this book because I was looking for something that would help me bridge the organization gap so many of my students have when it comes to essay writing. Organization certainly an area I struggle with in my own writing, so it makes teaching it all the more difficult.
The beauty of this book is that it gives thirteen straight to the point lessons on how to help students create well crafted essays without being too formulaic or sucking all the creativity out of the writing process. Essentially, they provide the bones, or maybe even just the assembly instructions for the bones, and the writer provides everything else. In an ideal world, this is how I like to teach expository writing, but wasn’t what was happening.
While I haven’t had too many opportunities to try everything in the book, the few things I have tried (mainly experimenting with kernel essays and timed writing), have worked beautifully. Most of my students are reluctant writers in general, and all of them are reluctant essay writers. The new tricks I’ve picked up in this text have helped one struggling writer perfect her organization. She went from floundering on the page to writing a concise and organized argumentative essay in forty minutes. Was she going to win a Pullitzer for it? Nope, but it would get her a four on the HiSET, and that’s pretty damn good. Another student hadn’t written an essay in about twenty years, and admitted what he had written back in middle school probably wasn’t that great to begin with. When we used a format suggested in The Story of My Thinking, we got an essay that, again, would pass muster.
I look forward to playing with this book some more and seeing what I can do with it and it’s tools in other areas besides just preparing students for timed writing situations, such as the HiSET or Writeplacer (a college readiness exam for writing). I will be teaching a writing basics class this fall and hope to see students from some rough drafts to more polished pieces, where just “passing” isn’t our main goal.
If you have students who are struggling with essay writing (or perhaps you struggle in that are yourself) and you’re looking for something new to try, I strongly encourage checking out this book. The lessons are solid and the materials are handy. Even better, one of the authors, Gretchen S. Bernabei, has her own website where many of the materials and concepts this book talks about are available for free. The benefit of the book, I think, are the cohesive lesson plans and solid examples of student and teacher work.