________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 18. . . .May 2, 2008


Reclaiming Reluctant Writers: How to Encourage Students to Face Their Fears and Master the Essential Traits of Good Writers.

Kellie Buis.
Markham, ON: Pembroke, 2007.
128 pp., pbk., $24.95.
ISBN 978-1-55138-220-3.

Subject Headings:
English language-Composition and exercises-Study and teaching (Elementary).
English language-Composition and exercises-Study and teaching (Secondary).
English language-Remedial teaching.


Review by Kristen Ferguson.

*** /4



Most classrooms are places we cannot expect writers to write willingly and well. Reluctant writers do not learn to write willingly through direct teaching quite often that is what has gotten them into difficulty in the first place. Too much teaching and too many restrictions on their choices for writing can cause them to backslide into boredom and lack of interest or concern for their writing.


We have all taught students who hate writing. They may refuse to write or write so little that it is impossible to assess their work. For these students, writing has become mundane, dull, and a waste of time. These students are reluctant writers. As teachers, we ask ourselves, how do we reignite their enthusiasm for writing? In Reclaiming Reluctant Writers, Kellie Buis takes on the task of helping teachers reshape their writing programs to engage students who have become disillusioned and disheartened with writing.

     Chapter one of Reclaiming Reluctant Writers outlines how teachers should use a combination of process writing and the explicit teaching of genre to create an enabling environment for reluctant writers. Chapters two through seven each introduce critical success factors that teachers need to address in order to change their teaching of writing. The six success factors Buis examines in the book revolve around nurturing a series of skills and abilities: the discovery and flow of ideas, fluency, style, organization, reflective revising, editing, and publishing, and finally, nurturing pride. Throughout the book, Buis explores key ideas about writing by debunking myths and examining the reality of reluctant writers. She then discusses the challenge that the reality of reluctant writers presents for classroom teachers.

Myth: Writing is for the transmission of information.

Reality: Writing has many values to students beyond information processing. It has many functions in our society and in our personal and public lives. An important function can be to create worlds of experience for the writers, develop their thoughts, and thus have great personal value to them.

Challenge: Engagement is reduced to its lowest level for reluctant writers when they see no potential value in writing in their personal lives. How do we ensure that our reluctant writers discover that they do have time and choice to develop deeply human, personal reasons to write?

     In order for teachers to change teaching practices, Buis outlines a number of fundamental teaching and learning strategies to engage reluctant writers. Buis calls this process of teaching and learning an "action plan" and recommends that a teacher use an action plan format to teach six to twelve different genres per year. These action plans are made up of a series of activities. First, she explains that students need to learn and become inspired through hands-on events, just as they were in the primary grades; Buis calls these experiential learning activities "eyewitness events." As teachers, we often tell students to write about what they know, and these eyewitness events allow students to write about first-hand experiences. For example, if students are writing poetry about nature, the students could go on a nature walk. Buis also advocates for the use of a number of writers' tools and tasks, including eyewitness notebooks (in which, for example, students would write freely about their feelings and sights on the nature walk), free writes, and progress journals. Two key teaching strategies that Buis presents in action plans are read-alouds (teachers read texts aloud to the class) and write-alouds (teachers model how to write a text and explain their thinking process as they write). To help students organize their writing, Buis includes eyewitness organizers to help students plan their work. Finally, peer conferencing and student-led exhibitions give a purpose for reluctant writers to share their work and have pride in it.

      Reclaiming Reluctant Writers is a book created to inspire teachers to motivate all students to enjoy and produce good writing. It is evident that Buis views writing as a holistic process rather than as a set of skills taught through direct instruction. This approach may be different from the way many teachers currently teach or view writing. Regardless of one's philosophy of instruction, there are many tangible and practical ideas in Buis's Reclaiming Reluctant Writers. For example, most teachers use read-alouds frequently as a teaching strategy because of the value that hearing good writing has for students. Buis's book, however, also reminds us about the importance and the power of a teacher creating a text using write-alouds (modeled writing using think-out-louds). Free writes are another tried and true method of fostering writing fluency and Buis eloquently reminds us why we should use them in our teaching of writing. Another strength of the book is in bringing writing instruction back to authentic experiences. Why can't writing be a hands-on activity? Buis's eyewitness events and eyewitness notebooks demonstrate that all students have something to write about if they have experiences.

      Reclaiming Reluctant Writers is a book that could help both new and veteran teachers to try a different approach to writing. This book is recommended for teachers of grades 3-9 who feel like they have tried everything to motivate the reluctant writers in their class, or for those teachers who want all students in their classrooms to create and enjoy authentic writing.


Kristen Ferguson teaches Language Arts at the Faculty of Education at Nipissing University and is a doctoral student in Education at York University.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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