National Writing Project

Book Review: Writing Without Boundaries: What's Possible When Students Combine Genres

By: Rosalyn Finlayson
Date: December 17, 2009

Summary: Rosalyn Finlayson, a teacher-consultant with the Northeastern Pennsylvania Writing Project, finds Writing Without Boundaries a well-ordered and expansive introduction to strategies that lead students toward multigenre writing.


As a reading specialist I find my biggest challenge is getting reluctant students to value reading and writing. So I look for different ways for students to express their level of comprehension and master the power of writing.

For this reason, I was eager to read Writing Without Boundaries by Diane Barone and Suzette Youngs, because the authors apply real-life, everyday writing activities to classroom assignments in the context of multigenre writing.

In seven chapters, the authors explain how to introduce genre and multigenre writing, establish writing workshops, teach and manage multigenre writing through units of study, and assess the multigenre process and project. Classroom stories and examples of student work accompany each section of the book.

Although this book focuses on the elementary classroom, I found the clear explanations of how to approach multigenre writing useful for higher grade levels and the organization particularly useful for a teacher who has not previously utilized multigenre writing.

Endless Possibilities of Multigenre Writing

From the beginning, the authors make clear that multigenre writing is not only a complex writing effort but one that also requires students to engage in research, tap into prior experience, and use their imagination. In multigenre writing students have the opportunity to combine many types of writing, from traditional school writing genres to everyday writing such as print advertising, obituaries, and greeting cards.

Students combine many types of writing from traditional school writing genres to advertising, obituaries, and greeting cards.

The possibilities for multigenre writing projects are endless once the students engage their imagination and personal style.

Early on, the writers discuss the importance of establishing and structuring a writing workshop and show how to extend the workshop into independent writing. They recommend focusing on a single genre study first. Students are encouraged to select one text from that genre and use it as their mentor text for learning about that genre as they read and write.

After reading and discussing several books from one genre, students begin to generate their own ideas by writing within that particular genre.

As one way to encourage students to try their own multigenre writing, the authors introduce The Jolly Postman by Ahlberg and Ahlberg (2001) as a prime example of a multigenre text. It's a book filled with letters to fairy tale characters.

For example, the witch from Hansel and Gretel receives an advertisement for witch paraphernalia, the three bears receive a letter of apology from Goldilocks, and a legal letter is delivered to the big bad wolf from Little Red Riding Hood. After students study a multigenre book they enter into the proposal phase for their own multigenre project. The writers describe scaffolding strategies for every step in the process.

The Multigenre Project in Action

The writers make clear that organization on the part of the teacher and the student is key to the success of the multigenre project. With this in mind they suggest ways to make use of a writer's notebook, a draft book, a portfolio box, computer files, and student-created artwork. A form for a project completion timeline is included along with the details of how to manage the time of the actual daily writing workshop.

The writers include sample forms to use as students explore genre study and analyze individual genres. They provide guidelines for individual conferences at which students report on how their projects are progressing. They suggest ways to ensure that the project as a whole is unified in theme, purpose, and target audience. And they conclude with a section on sharing the final product and celebrating.

Youngs and Barone go on to suggest other uses for the multigenre project. One chapter includes the story of a teacher who decided to apply the multigenre project to units of study that already existed in the curriculum for language arts and content area subjects. The authors also outline four units in which multigenre writing is utilized for in-depth research of historical events and people, and for persuasive writing.

The authors do not overlook questions of assessment and grading of multigenre work. They provide examples of ways multigenre writing meshes with national, state, and local assessments. They discuss the usefulness of portfolios for assessing the final product as well as evaluating the writing process. I especially liked the way the authors approach assessment of the multigenre project by looking at each segment of the process in addition to the final product.

The book concludes with a discussion of the many possibilities for expanding the boundaries of writing beyond writing workshops to establish connections between home and school, and an exploration of the possibilities of this kind of writing for struggling writers.

My prime focus as a reading specialist is struggling readers and writers. As I read this book I was able to envision using its strategies with the students with whom I work. Writing Without Boundaries is a useful book containing step-by-step details for successfully incorporating multigenre writing into an existing curriculum.

About the Author Rosalyn Finlayson is a teacher-consultant and member of the leadership team of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Writing Project. She is a Pennsylvania Certified Teacher in English, a reading specialist, and a program specialist for English as a second language and communications.

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