You know how there was always a girl a few years ahead of you in high school who was just the coolest? Maybe she had great hair, or drove a vintage VW bug, or was a master at rocking the thrift store finds while you just looked like you were wearing your grandpa’s clothes?
Shawna Coppola is my English teacher version of that girl. She is smart, funny, and insightful. She’s always a few steps ahead of me in my thinking, and I’m always up for the cognitive stretches. Her work makes me a better teacher of teachers and I’m thrilled to be able to share with you her latest book Writing, Redefined: Broadening Our Ideas of What It Means to Compose. (FREE SHIPPING from Stenhouse)
I loved Coppola’s last book Renew: Becoming a Better and More Authentic Writing Teacher. In that text, she takes the reader through exercises to facilitate reflection around instructional practices and it shifted my thinking in so many ways.
This latest book does the same. In this one, Coppola does the same kind of shifting around composition. If you follow her on Twitter (@ShawnaCoppola) then you have seen the bones of this work evolving. Using her own compositional experiences as models, Coppola nudges us (then pushes) to think about what composition means, and who has access to it. Steeped both in research and her unique voice, she takes us through a journey of thinking about composition and why it needs to be redefined.
But the text isn’t just about theory (though there’s such a lovely blend of theory that I appreciate. I love seeing where ideas come from). Coppola also shares real-world examples of her ideas. In fact, authenticity drives much of what she means when she talks about redefining composition. From podcasts to infographics to ‘zines, Coppola illustrates (pun intended) the possibilities when we crack open the definition of composition.
The book is lovely too. It’s full of colorful pull quotes (this one from one of my favorite professors, Jason Palmieri). There are QR codes that take you to more examples, both from students and real-world texts. One of my favorite images comes on page 22 when Coppola uses a throwback image (anyone else have flashbacks to state assessments in the early 80s?) and addresses the yeah-buts (see Tweet below). She doesn’t want you to keep reading without first examining your beliefs and hesitations.
One of the most powerful parts of the text is when Coppola addresses what every nay-sayer says when you start inviting students to use different types of composition. How often do we hear “Yeah, they’re writing, but is it rigorous?” Coppola doesn’t roll her eyes at that question — well, knowing her, she probably does roll her eyes — but, she pushes back on this idea. She encourages us to dig deeper. This tweet from Angela Stockman (another one of my faves) illustrates the point.
Coppola also cautions us, those of us so willing to dive right in with multi-modal writing, to avoid falling into the craftivities trap where it’s more crafts and less compositional craft. She goes on to outline what the differences between activities and composition are by using three guiding principles: authenticity, intentionality, and richness of learning.
Do yourself a favor and order this book. Read it with colleagues. Tweet Coppola (or me!) to engage in discussion. Grab your notebook and start experimenting with composition.
You will be a better teacher of writers once you redefine writing.
Angela Faulhaber is a literacy coach in Cincinnati, OH. She loves memes and gifs and blackout poetry, all of which are explored further in Writing Redefined.