This year on Moving Writers, I am dusting off some old-but-wise books on my shelf about writing, creating a tiny review, then considering how one passage from the book can inform writing instruction today, even decades after the book was first published.
This month, I’ll consider After The End by Barry Lane, the original edition.
Length: 230 pages
Year of Publication: 1993 (second edition 2015)
A Tiny Review:
This practical, fun-to-read book takes you inside a writer’s workshop and shows how to help students engage in quality revision in all sorts of genres, though narrative writing is center stage. There are plentiful student examples as well as mentor texts from books that were popular in the mid 1990s.
I was in middle school when this book was released, and I recognized many of the book titles it references; younger teachers and our students may not. Nonetheless, as mentor texts, the passages hold up, and the 2015 edition swaps out newer mentors.
The chapter on “Explode a Moment and Shrink a Century” will help you show your students how to manipulate time in their storytelling. I learned this concept at a workshop years ago and have found it incredibly helpful, though only now did I realize that Lane wrote about it (and attributes the term “exploding the moment” to teacher Ilene Wax). Each idea in this book feels similarly instructive, meaningful, and catchy for kids.
The last chapter, “The Writing Doctor” identifies common “ailments” writing may exhibit, playfully names it with a Latin-sounding name, and then gives a snappy move a teacher may make along with a chapter reference from this book that will be helpful. I like this!
One Wise Quote:
“Several weeks ago I asked some teachers how their students revised. One woman said, ‘I ask them questions like, “Don’t you think you could expand a little bit here?”’ When we examine this question closer we see that it’s not a question at all, but more of a command. The teacher might do what the teacher says, and in doing so even make a story stronger, but whose story would it be?”
In Today’s Classroom:
This quote reaffirms something for me: It is easy to say things that sound like questions but read like commands. These often move the writing, but not the writer. So how can we ask questions in a way that best provoke growth in our writers that outlives the assignment?
Lane goes on to explore this, giving the example of the “explode a moment” technique, and showing how once we name a craft move, we can use it in our questions.
So here are a few questions I want to keep at the forefront of my time with students:
- Can you show me where you are using some of the strategies we’ve learned about recently?
- What are you most proud of in this piece? What part still bothers you?
- Which part of this piece do you want to stand out the most to readers? What have we studied that can make it shine?
- As a reader, I’m a little confused here. What else can you add that might make this clearer for me?
- Can you read this part aloud and tell me what you think might need a little bit of revision?
- Let’s see what AI can do with this part. (Twenty seconds later . . . ) What do you notice about how the bot handled this? How can that observation help you? Is there anything here you can blend in with your words?
A second edition of this book was released in 2015, and I definitely recommend getting a hold of it. You’ll enjoy the way Lane stays true to his original vision for revision, but now includes more about writing argument, QR codes to videos that will demonstrate his techniques, and mentor text from more current writers.
It’s heartening to see ideas for teaching writing that stand the test of time, and revisiting the original edition of this classic of writing instruction reminded me why teaching writing is such a challenge and such a joy.
My book, Poetry Pauses: Teaching with Poems to Elevate Student Writing in All Genres is now available from Corwin Press or on Amazon. You can connect with me on Twitter @theVogelman or at my website www.brettvogelsinger.com
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Thanks for this post. It came at a good time for me. The last couple of years have seen my classes get so much bigger than they used to be, and in an effort to get to as many writers as possible each day, it has become easy to jump directly into making suggestions instead of helping them think about their writing in a different or deeper way. I needed a reminder to slow down in my conferences. In the last few days, I’ve met with a couple students who had powerful closing lines that weren’t their closing lines; they had a couple other sentences after actually made their endings weaker. In thinking about your post, I didn’t just tell them what I noticed. Instead, I asked them both to reread their last several sentences and look for the line that they thought was the strongest ending. In both cases, they pointed out the ones I had noticed, and it was great to see them come to that conclusion on their own.
Eric, thanks so much for leaving this comment! It made my day, and gave me some good reminders I needed today as well. A long roster really does weigh on English teachers, doesn’t it?!?!