Holding on to the Good Ideas In A Time of Bad Ones Six Literacy Practices Worth Fighting For by Thomas Newkirk persuades educators that despite setbacks that lead teachers and educators to doubt their profession because of strict accountability or “the watch-dog” effect of society there is truly a silver-lining at the end of the tunnel. That silver lining is that true educators persevere to teach their students to go beyond their potential even though there is a continuous push for standardized testing that dictate teachers instructional domain and evaluative measures of performance on students as well as teachers. What I took away from my professional reading by Thomas Newkirk is that no matter what: there are always components of effective instructional practices and teaching that must continue to occur in the classroom regardless of what is being “hammered” down the pipe-line. Those “good ideas” nurture and mentors a well-rounded student which in turn molds an educated student to assimilate into the workforce or a productive member of society.
According to Newkirk (2009) six literacy principles worth fighting for as we teach in the 21st century are the following principles: Balance the Basics—Between Reading and Writing, Expressive Writing, Popular Culture as a Literacy Tool, Literacy and Pleasure, Uncluttering the Curriculum, and Finding a Language for Difficulty. In Balance the Basics—Between Reading and Writing as cited in Newkirk, according to Graves (1978), “We need to right the balance between sending and receiving. We need to let them write” (48). The balance between Reading and Writing has shifted because of societal needs in technology whereby students are naturally assimilating skills in writing within their era of technology through texting, social networks, web creating, blogging, e-mailing, digital storytelling, and more. As teachers, we need to accept that students need to write not only for standardized test, but more importantly for the entertainment aspect of creativity, expressing and clarifying their ideas and opinions. Students of the 21st century are creators and producers; the call for a balance in Reading and Writing in the classroom is essential.
Newkirk and Graves advocates that Reading and Writing go hand-in-hand—it’s practically impossible to do one without the other. You need to write to read and read to write. In my classroom, reading and writing are inter-dependent like that of a symbiotic relationship. My students clearly understand that when they write they will read and share what they write. This allows them to appreciate different perspectives and hear each others' voices whether they are writing narratives, creative stories, poetry, argumentative writing, explanatory, or descriptive writing. They are cognizant that reading and writing is an evolving process of expressing thoughts, creating ideas into concrete visuals, and a discussion forum of communication.
The overall theme of Holding on to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones is that writing can no longer be in the shadows instead it is must be that beacon that parallels with Reading. Several sectional points stood-out in Newkirk’s validation of the importance of writing and discussion of what could be written during or after reading and shared: Using Habits of the Mind four main points are used as discussion points (as cited in Newkirk, 142):
1. The habit of observation—what do you notice? This is the capacity to slow down, pay attention, notice the unusual details, fact, or statistic—one that is not evident at first glance.
2. The habit of generalization—a key question is “What do you make of this?” What inferences, judgments, evaluations, conclusions, and theses do you arrive at? It is to think in patterns, to make connections.
3. The habit of evidence—what is the basis of your generalizations? And what makes you think this evidence is solid, when there is so much suspicious information available.
4. The habit of considering alternatives—how could it be otherwise? What credible positions might differ from yours? What are the “rivals” to your own position?
For me as a teacher, I would find these stem questions as an effective way to get students to think with a purpose while they are writing. It forces students to think at a higher level in order to express their thoughts. Overall, as a teacher, I believe that like everything else teachers as a whole and students must “buy-into” the importance of writing. Only then will we see change occur as a whole collective effort that fosters writers in all content areas and outside the walls of the classroom. Newkirk, (2009) emphasizes his message to educators in the Principles of Learning:
1. Demonstration and modeling—students need access to texts and writers who can demonstrate the craft of writing, particularly the skills they are trying to learn.
2. Practice—students need to engage in a VOLUME of writing, not all of it under the careful scrutiny of teachers.
3. Feedback—students need timely and precise feedback on their writing.
a. Provide opportunities for “students to read their work, to develop engaging writing projects” (145).
b. Create a network of readers beyond the teacher who can comment on student work—can include other students in class, tutors in a writing center, and “keeper” (parents, relatives, community members) who write letters of response to student portfolios (146).
4. Instruction—students need to learn some of the formalized principles of effective writing (what the ancients called the “art” of writing) (144).
This book is definitely one that deserves a finer and closer re-read because it has a wealth of information that makes practical and reasonable sense. As an educator, I would recommend this book to a colleague who is torn between the importance of Reading and Writing. My rating of this professional book receives a 5-star for down to earth advice that can be implemented, well-written information and sources, and easy to understand and relate as an educator.