The following is the foreword written by Barry Lane for the new book Writing, Redefined by Shawna Coppola.
“What kind of a country are we going to have if children do not see themselves as having voices other people want to hear?” —Donald Graves
His name was Joey, and he was a third grader with a mop of hair that seemed to go in all directions at once. He came up to me after a writing assembly I presented at his school and announced, “I am a great writer.” We talked for a while as he described the epic novel he had written, complete with illustrations. I kept nodding as he described the intricate, thrilling sci-fi plot, and the movie script he had started, happy to see a child so deep into a work of his own imagination. Then, somewhere near the end of our conversation in the frantic, post-assembly gymnasium, just before his teacher asked him to rejoin his class that was queuing near the exit, his eyes dropped, his voice lowered, and he murmured, “I just can’t write the way they want you to.”
I responded with the first thing that popped into my head.
“Who are they?”
His eyes remained downcast.
“The teachers,” was all he said before he scampered off to join his class.
Now, as I sit here writing the foreword to Writing, Redefined, a book that may forever change how teachers see writing, I ask the question again: “Who are they?” Who is the “they” that tells us what writing is and what it can do? Are “they” a group of legislators who have declared that schools should make students college and workplace ready and have enlisted testing and textbook companies to devise a plan? Are “they” compliant teachers in a state of fear who must raise their students’ test scores just to keep their jobs? Are “they” the reading and writing programs that tell us the approved genres of study, aligning each lesson with an educational standard, as if giving us an official permission slip for each concept taught? Or are “they” someone or something else, something more expansive, more inclusive, more marvelous, as author Shawna Coppola suggests?
You are holding in your hands an entry ticket to this wondrous world of multimodal writing. Writing, Redefined is a book that will help you become the kind of writing teacher who helps students like Joey give themselves life-altering assignments. In her unique comic voice, Shawna Coppola has found a way to help you navigate the overwhelming world of multimodal writing and find ways to incorporate it into your daily classroom teaching. This is a book to read and reread, think about, read, reread, and think about again. The plethora of online resources Shawna provides will keep you exploring multimodal writing all year long and will give you plenty of ways to explain these invitations to write to curious administrators and parents. Shawna is like a friendly tour guide who points out dozens of attractions, from podcasts to blackout poems to collages, and then invites you to explore them. Listen to her and listen to the true teacher voice inside yourself who longs to create something miraculous with your students.
As you read this book and take some of Shawna’s world-expanding suggestions, remember that the endgame is not simply improving literacy skills. There is something that happens when you create a class where students are free to explore all writing forms and modes, something you cannot even begin to imagine. At this point, I could say that you “empower” your students, but the word “empower” is a lie because it implies that teachers have the power to start with, and then give it to their students. Think about it. Aren’t writing teachers more like the good witch Glinda in The Wizard of Oz, who simply points to the ruby slippers and says to Dorothy, “You’ve had the power all along. Use it.”?
Think of the look in Joey’s eyes as he describes his epic story and remember:
“There’s no place like home.
There’s no place like home.
There’s no place like home.”
Writing is home.
--Barry Lane, author of 51 Wacky We-search Reports