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Review: No Silent Partner: Linda Rief's "Seeking Diversity"

Author(s): Tom Romano

Review by: Tom Romano
Source: The English Journal, Vol. 81, No. 5 (Sep., 1992), pp. 100-101
Published by: National Council of Teachers of English
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/819910
Accessed: 21-02-2016 19:09 UTC

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Seeking Diversity: Language Arts with Adolescents.

Linda Rief. Heinemann,
1991, 299pp., $19.50.
ISBN 0-435-08598-0

Chapter 5, in fact, is defiantly titled "Yes!Sometimes We

All Read the Same Book." Rief believes that students
need to get at reading from all angles: aloud, silently,
individually, in small groups, and, occasionally, in large
groups, "because reading a book together lets us discover new meaning through the views and interpretations of others" (104).

The last chapter of Linda Rief's SeekingDiversityis titled

"Apprenticeships," an appropriate epilogue for both the
teaching and learning contained in this well-written
book of one teacher's journey toward excellence and
individuality in language-arts instruction. The adolescents in her eighth-grade classroom apprentice themTomRomano
selves to Rief as readers,
UtahState University
writers, and thinkers. DurLogan,Utah84321
0:M I..
ing the year, they see her in
repeated acts of reading
and writing.
In this chapter, for example, Rief describes how she
Rief, too, has been an teaches Anne Frank's Diary of a YoungGirl. To prepare
apprentice. She teaches students to encounter the Holocaust, she reads them
language arts at Oyster excerpts from books that detail the plight of European
River Middle School in Jews during World War II. She engages students in a
Durham, New Hampshire, discrimination exercise that casts them in roles of ophome of the University of pressed and oppressor. In this chapter readers won't
New Hampshire, and ac- find study guides, daily lesson plans, picky ten-point
knowledges what she has comprehension quizzes, or a massive end-of-novel objeclearned from Don Murray, tive test. What they will find is a master teacher carefully
Don Graves, Tom Newkirk, building her students' knowledge of the Holocaust so
and a number of others. their group reading will have maximum impact, so their
She also acknowledges the engagement will be deep when they discuss the book
influence of fellow New and reflect upon hate and prejudice in their own world.
Englander and former Teacher Directives and Student
middle-school teacher, Nancie Atwell.
Rief is no "silent partner," as she puts it, no timid, nonApprentice but No Clone of Atwell
directive teacher who hesitates to make the slightest
As readers might expect, the literacy workshop Rief de- pedagogical move for fear of seizing ownership of her
scribes has all the earmarks of a whole-language, pro- students' reading and writing. "I guide and direct my
cess-oriented approach, one that must make Graves and students by what I do," she writes, "and what I choose to
Atwell smile appreciatively. Students write on self-se- immerse them in for reading and writing" (178). On the
lected topics; grammar textbooks are forever shut and other hand, every Friday she joins students in silent,
dusty; students carry around real books, doing far more independent reading. Rief feels no guilt about reading
reading than they would if confined to blue-, brown-, or with her classes an entire day; she knows more literature,
chartreuse-level literature anthologies; and, of course, she says, than ever before.
teacher-student conferences are central to the classroom
So that her students begin building their own diverse
routine so that Rief can learn what her students know literacy structures, Rief establishes an external structure
and what their literate intentions are.
in the classroom, a structure demanding but not suffoApprentice though she has been, Rief is not a mere cating. She requires each student to produce three to
clone of her mentors. She thinks for herself. On the five pages of rough draft writing each week, two pieces
road to helping her students become "sensitive, empa- of which they bring to publication stage every six weeks.
thetic human beings" (104), Rief sometimes breaks with Students are never without a book and are expected to
Atwell's model of an individualized reading workshop. read at least half an hour each night, five nights a week.



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Aside from the literature they sometimes read as a class,

they choose their own books, some, though, from a
suggested list.
The reading component of Rief's language-arts class
is vast. While one boy becomes an expert on science
fiction, another reads The Outsiders(S. E. Hinton, 1968,
New York: Dell), the first book he will ever finish. A few
rows over, a quiet girl reads Abraham Maslow's Towarda
Psychologyof Being (1968, 2nd ed., New York: Reinhold).
Rief does not seek to bring all students to an inoffensive
mediocrity in which they always read the same books and
write the same five-paragraph essays. Instead, she wants
her students to develop literate passions and to pursue
them wherever they lead.
To develop students' literacy Rief bathes them in
effective language. One way she does this is by reading
aloud to them each day, introducing them to literature
they might not discover if left to their own devices. By
reading them literature of many writing styles, different
genres, and varied subject matter, Rief stretches
students' notions of what literature can be. She also
reads them literature directed to many audiences: adult,
young adult, and children (she knows that the visual,
linguistic, and thematic artistry of picture books is sometimes dazzling). Quality writing, Rief shows her students,
is diverse in many ways.

develop their reading and writing skills. Nineteen appendices are filled with Rief's handouts and procedural
plans for running a literacy workshop. Ample bibliographies of young-adult, professional, and children's books
appear at the ends of chapters. Readers will find ideas to
adapt to their own classrooms-such as Rief's "generations" unit, where students forge intellectual and emotional links to the aged. Also, the "reader's-writer's
project" shows what can happen when students become
immersed in a genre, author, or theme. And in a stunning chapter, "The Art of Literature/The Language of
the Arts," Rief shows how she honors nonverbal ways of
knowing, seeing, and communicating. In this vivid piece
of classroom research (complete with color photographs), she reveals the processes of students who collaborated to create acrylic collages of books they had
SeekingDiversityis an important new book in our profession. Rief's clear voice and sensible, humanistic ideas
about teaching reading and writing will speak to English
teachers everywhere. We need more stories like hers: a
teacher demonstrating literate behavior, showing how
she applies what she knows about literature, adolescents,
and reading and writing instruction to help students
attain a full, rich literacy.

Portfolios and Evaluation

The diversity Rief seeks in her classroom is nowhere
more evident than in Appendix A: sixty-six pages-a
quarter of the book-devoted to ten of her students'
portfolios. Although she doesn't explain how she arrives
at actual grades for portfolios, her thumbnail sketches of
the students, coupled with their collected best work and
explanations of it, effectively show the great range of
thinking that goes on in one classroom. Student portfolios are central to Rief's language-arts program because
in them students create their identities through literacy.
They read and write about issues and experiences that
are personally meaningful. By having students select
items for their portfolios and write letters that explain
the reasoning for their selections, Rief engages students
in deeply rooted cognitive activity: the process of self-examination.
Because Rief believes "that the ultimate purpose of
evaluation is to enable students to evaluate themselves"
(133), two of the nine chapters in SeekingDiversityare
about evaluation. Before she grades anything, Rief asks
her students to rate the quality of twenty pieces of writing from previous classes. In small groups students then
share their rationales and reach a consensus on criteria
for effective writing. Rief's students reflect about the
qualities of good writing and articulate some of the
concepts, ideas, and strategies they have bathed in daily.
In this way, Rief believes, students become better evaluators of their own writing in progress-the time when
clear-headed evaluation counts most.
Quest for Quality
SeekingDiversitywill be a helpful and engaging book for
English teachers interested in getting students to further

What Rief is really seeking in her small New Hampshire college town, it seems to me, is quality. And given
the great differences among students in one classroom,
that quality cannot but be diverse. In other classrooms-those in rural areas, the inner city, or on Indian reservations-the diverse quality Rief seeks will be even more
pronounced when students break with traditional language-arts curricula to pursue their interests in reading
and to become genuine creators of literary artifacts.

September 1992

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