Monday, August 17, 2009


A couple of weeks ago, I finished HOLDING ONTO GOOD IDEAS IN A TIME OF BAD ONES. It truly is one of the best professional books I've read in a long time, and I've been carrying it around since then, trying to put together a coherent post. Unfortunately, given that it's the beginning of the school year, not to mention the fact that we've just finished two weeks of two-a-days at football, I've finally decided the coherent thing is just not going to happen. But I loved this book, and really, really want people to read it, so we can talk about it, so I thought I'd just pull out a few of the quotes I loved, as teasers, and maybe those will make you want to read the book for yourself. So here goes:

"In my experience, excellent instruction rarely feels rushed. As a learner, you feel there is time to explore, there is the tolerance of silences, there is the deliberate buildup to an activity, there is the mental space to work in. This space is harder and harder to create" (11).

Newkirk argues that teachers must continually exercise what he calls "situated judgment." The teacher must have a repertoire of strategies but must "harmonize" these strategies in different ways, in different situations. The technical term for this kind of judgment is called kairos or timeliness, 'the ability to make judgment which is accurate in meeting occasions as they arise and rarely misses the expedient form of action" (25).

Newkirk believes that teachers' decision making process can be compared to that of doctors and nurses, who walk into a situation, and have to draw on a number of different sources of information (microtheories), such as knowledge of that specific child, knowledge of teaching and learning, knowledge of group dynamics, and knowledge of school culture, to make decisions. He says, "Each situation is, to a considerable degree, a unique experience that can't be anticipated by a preset procedure" (27). It makes sense to me!

"Readers comprehend for a reason. We discuss novels; use information in newspapers to form opinions, which we share; use our reading in our writing-- reading (or reading comprehension) is a means to a more public expressive act. We act on what we learn, and learning research shows that by acting on it, we retain it, something any writer can attest to. To view individual comprehension as an end is to confuse the part with the whole, it is to fail to see reading embedded in other language activity; it is to separate reading from its public uses" (61)

In a chapter on Expressive Writing, Newkirk talks about how young writers are expected to achieve "well-controlled" organization and "tightly controlled" language very early on. He compares young writers to young athletes, saying, "Promising young athletes, in my experience, rarely have their abilities in total control; they try moves or passes that are often beyond their current ability; they may expend too much energy on a play that has little chance of success; they are often not "smooth and natural- and this daring is actually a measure of their promise" (71)

1 comment:

Beth S. said...

Hi Carol. I followed you over here from Sarah Miller's blog.

Thanks for this thorough review. I've had this book on my "to read" list for a while now, and my uncle who's an English professor recommended it to me so it was nice to read your review of it. I will have to get a copy and read it soon!