Thursday, November 10, 2022

Their Voices Were Unanimous & the Verdict Was Reached...Graduate Students Made Arguments Why @sonyahuber's VOICE FIRST Needs to Be Taught

One of my favorite nights a year is when I get to teach argumentative writing (arggh-u-mentative writing) for middle and secondary schools. I've always been assisted by Kelly Gallagher's Write Like This, and I'm an addict of Best Practices in Writing Instruction edited by Steve Graham, Charles A. MacArthur, and Michael Hebert. Then this year, I added Sonya Huber's Voice First: A Writer's Manifesto, University of Nebraska Press, after I was given an advanced reader's copy and, fortunately was able to 'blurb' a review. I loved it, knew I wanted to teach it, set up an interview for The Write Time (see end of this post), and awaited to hear what my students would thing. 

Throughout the semester I've fed Sonya Huber some of the reactions my students have had from weekly readings, but this week I went Jack Sparrow, as I typically do on arrrgh-ument night. After we debated cats, dogs, dinosaurs or no pets (EVER!) and played a few rounds of Zobmondo, we drew from Gallagher and highlighted the importance of having five bulleted reasons for every one of the arrrghhh-uments we wish to make. 

Of course, we also listed pet-peeves, debated reasons for those, viewed political cartoons, and read Op-Eds to get a feel for the ways arguments work in Western society. My exit-slip, however, was for students to argue whether or not I should keep Sonya Huber's Voice First: A Writer's Manifesto in future iterations of this course. I was hoping for debate, but the battle was one-sided. These middle-grade, high school, and English-language learning teachers unanimously argued that, "Yes. Sonya Huber's Voice First belongs in future renditions of a graduate on teaching writing. 

The are some of the bulleted points they made (condensed for purposes of this post):

  • Voice First is accessible, personal, relatable, and relevant (easy to read)
  • Voice First challenges writing conventions in the best way 
  • The language in Voice First is poetic and infused with raw vulnerability   
  • Voice First contains the most brilliant insights 
  • Voice First guides writers toward the discovery and (re)discovery of their own voice(s). 
  • The content is relevant in Voice First
  • Sonya Hubers’s stories are intriguing – she gives multiple experiences to make her case
  • All the strategies (‘try this’ activities) in Voice First can be modified for every grade level
  • The writing activities are abundant and useful in Voice First
  • Sonya Huber opened my eyes to the importance of considering audiences for particular voices
  • Voice First is brilliantly laid out, logical, and smooth. It was like rising a friend each week
  • As I read Voice First, I realized I was instantly becoming a better writer
  • Chapters in Voice First are short, with great references that are perfect for teachers
  • Love Sonya Huber's asset-first, positive attitude towards teaching writers. We all can write!
Now, I knew I loved the book, but there are many books I've loved, taught, and celebrated in which students despised me for teaching them. I'm somewhat skittish about trying new books, because I love to stick to the ones that my graduate students applaud and find useful (Gallagher's Write Like This is one of the best, and I wish it was updated because it, like Ralph Fletcher's The Writer's Notebook, make K-12 teachers think differently about teaching writing. They are incredible resources). My students made the case to me that, yes, Sonya Huber's Voice First is a reliant, no-brainer, keeper! 

Last nights aarghh-uments from my graduate students were: 
  • The best teachers don't inhibit or censor, but allow writers to go in their own direction through choice.
  • A great teacher helps to refocus students towards a successful written outcome through mentoring.
  • A teacher needs to motivate youth through variation and excitement.
  • Student-interest should be paramount to the genres we expect them to write.
  • Teachers should encourage purposeful, meaningful, real-world writing opportunities, and
  • Voice First. Keep assigning Huber!
I most definitely heard what they had to say, and value their opinions.

My graduate students rock. Sonya Huber rocks. And I will be singing praises for Voice First next week at the National Council for Teachers of English. Okay, mates. Time to make some coffee and hit update on this Blog.