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Rock & Roll Literacy

by Sigmund Brouwer

Sigmund Brouwer has written some 19 novels for both the adult and YA markets, as well as numerous fiction series for early readers. Rock & Roll Literacy, a companion to his popular school presentation of the same name, presents educators with a guide to fostering excitement for writing in kids. Brouwer’s premise is that kids need to be allowed to approach writing as they do playing – applying spontaneity, improvisation, and few rules.

Since the best stories elicit emotional reactions, Brouwer argues, teachers should engage children emotionally. Tell them stories to get them excited about language. Let them write stories without imposing strict rules of grammar, spelling, punctuation, or length, to let them have fun with words.

The author’s argument is sound, even if his delivery sometimes resembles a pumped-up motivational seminar. Brouwer obviously cares deeply about encouraging kids to write and, by his own account, has had great success reaching even the most reluctant students. Educators will find numerous examples of stories that can be used to inspire kids, as well as instruction on how keep the focus on story so as not to let the tail of curriculum wag the dog of teaching.

Brouwer does provide a loose teaching plan that employs the metaphor of a pyramid to show how to add technical components – revision, vocabulary, spelling, punctuation – onto the foundation of story. This, of course, reverses the paradigm of most school curricula. Brouwer doesn’t provide case studies to demonstrate the long-term efficacy of his program, but since school curricula are notorious for leeching the joy out of learning, he may well be onto something worth trying.