You are here

Write Beside Them: Risk, Voice, and Clarity in High School Writing


Kittle, Penny. Write Beside Them: Risk, Voice, and clarity in High School Writing. Heinemann, 2008.


Kittle’s book encompasses most aspects of teaching writing a practicing teacher will be interested in learning about, including how to manage writing conferences, her classroom teaching schedule, stories from her classroom and students, and myriad examples from teaching with the workshop model, focusing on idea generation, different genres, mechanics, and assessment.

A major premise of the book surrounds the idea that teachers of writing continuously work through the process themselves to better prepare them to teach. Kittle models this in each chapter from showing students how and why she writes in her writing notebook, where she gets ideas, writing for herself, exploring genres, and responding to texts. She carefully works through how she teaches writing with the workshop model. The core foundations of the workshop include high expectations for all students, craft study, collaboration, listening, and flexibility. She stresses the importance of writing with students along with the need for teaching choice and the importance of high interest, mentor texts that she is constantly collecting inside and outside of her classroom.

One of the biggest takeaways from the book is that teaching writing is not a linear process. Kittle says, “A writer’s workshop must serve writers, not a teacher’s need for order.” Internalizing this idea is coupled with teachers’ understanding of their own writing process, knowing the essentials to teach among different genres, continuous gathering of strategies, matching students to appropriate mentor texts, helping students find their own writing process, and sharing methods, as she does in this book. This takes a lot of work that can be made easier within a PLC or department.

Classroom Application

The focus on assessment has more to do with feedback than a grade at the end of students’ papers. She explains how and why she gives feedback on drafts, reading for craft and content separately. Students play a major role in providing feedback for each other and taking ownership of their own writing through coming up with questions on their own drafts. While she does provide feedback on all drafts, she also comments on final drafts but includes a “qualities of writing” sheet that students can use in the future. Student self-evaluation, ongoing opportunities to improve, and use of final portfolios all contribute to students' abilities to write well.