Ann Marie Corgill's new book OF PRIMARY IMPORTANCE: WHAT'S ESSENTIAL IN TEACHING YOUNG WRITERS is a MUST HAVE! No question! OF PRIMARY IMPORTANCE is a book about primary writing workshop and I really don't know of any other professional book that does what this book does. It really brings together all that there is to running a great writing workshop for primary kids--teaching well while staying true to what we know about how kids learn. Ann Marie has been teaching for fifteen years --at the Manhattan New School in NYC and now in Alabama. Although this is marketed for primary teachers, I think there are definitely things to learn if you teach older students too.
First of all, the book is gorgeous. From the cover, to the inside color photos, to the photos throughout, you can see that Ann Marie creates beautiful spaces for her students to learn. You read about the space but you also have the opportunity to see the space. It is also clear that Corgill values student art and she makes that part of her students' work. (You see some of the student art on the front cover of her book.) As a writing teacher, I love the process of writing. But my struggle in the classroom was always in balancing the process with the product---finishing things up in ways that kept to my beliefs and also ended in products kids could be proud of. In this book, Ann Marie shows us how to value both.
I would not say this is a how-to book. Ann Marie is all about the "whys" of her teaching. She understands the theory behind all that she does and her book helps us think through our own writing workshops. She also spends a lot of time talking about the issues she has with mandated curriculum and the importance of workshop. But she also gives us some nuts and bolts. She shows us her yearlong plan and then goes into depth with each unit of study---sharing book titles and planning that goes into each unit. At times, she even tells us exactly how she had kids create the art that went along with a piece of writing. Reading the book will make you want to be just like Ann Marie, but, it is clear that she doesn't expect us to just do what she does. She is sharing her story so that teachers can become better teachers of writing.
I can see this book working for teachers no matter where they are in the teaching of writing. For me, it helped me think through issues with my own teaching--reflecting as you do when you hear an expert teacher share their story. I also got some ideas and found lots of things I wanted to try. For teachers who are looking for units of study, Ann Marie shows us the nuts and bolts to many of her units--including children's books she uses in her teaching. Teachers can easily pick a unit to try "Ann Marie Style". Or you can follow Ann Marie's yearlong plan. For teachers new to the writing workshop, this book is a great intro into the best of what writing workshops can be.
Assessment is a huge part of Ann Marie's work and she shares her assessments and record-keeping. So many books ignore this piece. Again, Ann Marie is able to show us how she balances process and product when she assesses. Ann Marie has several routines in place and shares several folders that help her keep track of student growth. She also shares ways to involve students in the assessment process.
Her family celebrations sound like a great time for students and parents and she spends time telling us about those events.
From classroom space to routines to tools to strategies--Ann Marie covers it all. This is a book written BY a classroom teacher--one of the best writing teachers I know--FOR classroom teachers. It is thoughtful and practical, grounded and political, all at the same time. I really can't think of another book for elementary writing teachers that does as much as this book does. It will definitely impact writing classrooms everywhere.