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Real Writing

Modernizing the Old School Essay

Mitchell Nobis; Daniel Laird; Carrie Nobis; Dawn Reed and Dirk Schulze

High-school writing prompts often ask students to provide overly simplified responses to complicated issues, but a person’s stance in the real world can rarely, if ever, be reduced to “agree or disagree.” Arguments are complex, with more than two points of view and a range of evidence to consider; however, writing classes don’t always embrace that complexity. Real Writing: Modernizing the Old School Essay contends that engaging fully with complex texts and difficult, nuanced arguments helps students become better thinkers and writers, more fully prepared for life both in and after high school.

By offering students current texts to read and issues to discuss, teachers introduce their students to more complex arguments. Real Writing: Modernizing the Old School Essay recognizes the value of various types of texts, but the need for contemporary readings in our literature and composition classes is important for relevancy related to student engagement, the Common Core State Standards, and participation in our democratic society. This book shares curricular moves to engage students in reading and writing authentic arguments.
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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 136Size: 6 1/4 x 9 1/2
978-1-4758-2478-0 • Hardback • September 2016 • $65.00 • (£44.95)
978-1-4758-2479-7 • Paperback • September 2016 • $34.00 • (£23.95)
978-1-4758-2480-3 • eBook • September 2016 • $32.00 • (£22.95)
Mitchell Nobis is an English teacher and department chair at Seaholm High School in Birmingham, Michigan. Mitchell is a co-director of the Red Cedar Writing Project at Michigan State University where his work revolves around the National Writing Project tenets that the best professional development is “teachers teaching teachers” and to best teach writing, teachers must be writers themselves. He is also the 2016 president of the Michigan Council of Teachers of English. In his spare time, he writes and plays basketball. He is in his 20th year of teaching. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchNobis.

Dan Laird is in his 16th year as an English teacher at Leslie High School in Leslie, Michigan and is also a teacher-consultant for the Red Cedar Writing Project for which he is the co-director of the RCWP Greenrock Writers Retreat for writers in grades 8-12 as well as an instructor of various themed Spartan Writing Camps for writers in grades 6-8. He earned his master’s degree in education with a focus on technology and learning from Michigan State University. Dan has conducted professional development for teachers in the area of argument writing and has been a resource provider for the National Writing Project’s website Digital Is. Follow Dan on Twitter at @dandanlaird.

Carrie Nobis is an English and biology and chemistry teacher at Groves High School in Beverly Hills, Michigan, and a teacher-consultant for the Red Cedar Writing Project at Michigan State University where she is the co-director of the RCWP Greenrock Writers Retreat for writers in grades 8-12. She earned her master’s degree in curriculum and teaching from Michigan State University. Carrie regularly invites her science students to use disciplinary literacy skills to deepen their understanding. She is in her fourteenth year of teaching, and earlier in her career, she taught in Detroit Public Schools and in an alternative high school in West Bloomfield, Michigan.

Dawn Reed is an English teacher at Okemos High School in Okemos, Michigan, and is currently in her 11th year of teaching. She is a co-director of Red Cedar Writing Project at Michigan State University. Dawn earned her master’s degree in Writing and Rhetoric with a specialization in Critical Studies in Literacy and Pedagogy from Michigan State University. She conducts professional development for teachers focused on technology integration and the teaching of writing. She is co-author of Research Writing Rewired: Lessons that Ground Students’ Digital Learning (Corwin Literacy 2015), and she has published in various journals, books, and websites. Follow Dawn on Twitter at @dawnreed.

Dirk Schulze is an English teacher at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia, and a teacher-consultant with the Northern Virginia Writing Project. He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan, his master’s degree in education from George Mason University, and was awarded National Board Certification in 2008. A former Outward Bound instructor, he is in his fifteenth year of high school teaching and strives to make his classroom a place where he and his students can take risks and learn from both their successes and their failures.
Chapter 1: The Living Essay: Reading Contemporary Essays
Chapter 2: Exploring the Complex Gray Area
Chapter 3: Civic Engagement and Responsible Argument in Digital Environments
Chapter 4: Exploring Argument from Multimodal Sources
Chapter 5: Creative Writing as Argument
Chapter 6: The Real Work

About the Authors
In Real Writing, five teachers invite you into a conversation about writing essays: how complex and unique and beautifully crafted they can be. These wise teachers show that joy and rigor are dependent on curiosity — in students and in teachers — as their own critical thinking about teaching is made visible. You will find much to think about here. Enjoy this important journey.
Penny Kittle, English teacher and author of Write Beside Them

Real Writing: Modernizing the Old School Essay makes the bold arguments that our students will become more engaged in the art of composing and that they will develop identities as powerful essayists when they are encouraged to produce real texts for authentic audiences and purposes. As English teachers, we need to heed their call; today’s youth have so many valuable contributions to make to the larger world of ideas and it is our professional and moral responsibility to cultivate and affirm their unique and beautiful voices. Towards this noble end, the authors have presented us with an honest and thoughtful guide to revolutionizing the teaching of writing in the age of digital participatory culture. Essays, they remind us, are key artifacts in the manifestation of civic society and the act of writing them an essential civil literacy. I am inspired by their words to become a better teacher and a more audacious and prolific composer myself.
Ernest Morrell, Professor of Education, Teachers College, Columbia University

Pity the essay. Few forms carry the stigma of school writing like that thing we call the 'essay,' particularly in its 5-paragraph form. Yet in the wild, the essayist tradition of exploration and argument amuses and delights, finding its place in magazines, short films, civic arguments, and cultural criticism of all types. It is the very medium of thought. The authors of Real Writing: Modernizing the Old School Essay urge us to liberate the essay from the constraints we as teachers artificially place on it so that it take up the passion and complexity that makes it worth reading and, for students, makes it worth writing. That’s what they have done, and in this practical and readable book they show us how we can do it as well.
Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, National Writing Project

Real Writing: Modernizing the Old School Essay is an accessible and eye-opening book. It reminds educators why the essay is so much more than a boring formality today. Instead, through practical examples and hands on activities, Real Writing reveals how to make composition vital and necessary in our classrooms. Challenging what writing looks like, who it’s for, and how to make it more impactful than any formulaic five-paragraph example could ever hope, Real Writing is a call-to-arms for instructors everywhere; it guides us to take a solid look at what just might be the secret weapon for student engagement in our classrooms today.
Antero Garcia, Antero Garcia, Assistant Professor of English, Colorado State University