Tom Romano, Multigenre Man, Meets with San Jose Area Writing Project

Advanced Institute 2017 Reunion

Tom Romano's book title on a cookie.
Tom Romano’s book presented in the genre of cookies.

Jonathan and Ellen Lovell welcome Tom Romano and his wife, Kathy, and teachers.


And, in traditional institute fashion, introductions with realia begin the session.

With much alliterative protest, a round of the name game begins with Nancy — Name Game No Bueno!

Marty loves music and Jen is all about justice.

And Eric low on energy realizes he has his mnemonic, then Andy claims to like the accordion.

The institute doubts Andy’s claim which eggs him on to further accordion affections, and Jerry is jeu jeune, so now he will be referred to as Je’rry.  Kate owns quietly creating chaos.


Tom Romano introduces himself as Tom-who-likes-tumultuous-turtles and likens his writing process to them.

On to Erika who enjoys air, Laura who leans to the left (taking photos) then Ryan who finds this game ridiculous.

DSCN6156Aeriale likes alcohol and is Actively Anti-Racist.

Jay echoed Ryan’s sentiments about the Name Game, Roohi declared her love for royal rubies, and Laurie loves liberals.


Katie loves to croon.  Margarite likes massive mind movements and Susan is simply spectacular at this game.  Lorena loves to lounge with liberals…and our fearless director, Jonathan intensely dislikes gerrymandering.  The Name Game ends with his exhortation to change things at the polls.  And, of course, giving ourselves a round of applause.


Jonathan opens discussion Fearless Writing with Tom Romano by invoking the sections each teacher responded to during the summer AI

During this section, Jonathan will also employ this visual time management technique:


Screen Shot 2018-01-22 at 7.11.56 PM.pngAndy: This part re-emphasized the importance of students writing on a subject that is vital to them.


“Indelible moments,” nodded Tom.

head shot

(excerpt from Andy’s response to Section 1)

Romano: The students choose their subjects.

Tick: That’s true, I’ll give you that. And I’ll admit I like the fact that choosing which genres will work best forces students to examine what a genre really is.

Romano: Yes

Tick: And I could see my students enjoying the freedom of the assignment.

Romano: Yes!

Tick: And I see how it can be effective in getting across an emotion or creating a memorable effect.

Romano: Yes!

Tick: That’s what fiction writers (and poets) do, which is great of course, but most of my students are not going to do that in life. You mention Einstein and Kant in your dialog, but your examples of multigenre writing — Ondaatje and Melville — were writing fiction.

Romano: True
Tick: But non-fiction writing, the research report or the argument, is more likely what my students will be likely to do.

Romano: Maybe.

Tick: And I guess it’s harder for most kids to write “academically” so that’s why we spend more time on it.

Romano: I’m not sure I agree.


In the ensuing discussion about student choice, Kate credited the book, Project-based Writing, by Liz Prather who has students give an elevator pitch to the class for their idea.

head shotTom Romano “It’s worth the time to take 3-5 ideas…subjects, and write a paragraph about why they matter…students really know what they want to write. Try it. Give yourself topics and take risks…they see you do it and it gives kids a green light.”

Jonathan shared framing the topic as a question.  “Give them plenty of opportunities to talk about questions they want answers to…take a class gallery walk to view them…then write.”


Laurie, concurring with Jonathan’s remark, shared that her students read Fahrenheit 451 and wrote a Dear Reader letter to come up with a question.  One of her students asked, “Which is more dangerous:  A wise enemy or an ignorant friend?

DSCN5967 (1).jpgRyan said multigenre is an inspiration as they are developing pd for writing teachers at SJSU, moving the writing program from nuts and bolts to something to help students develop global writing tasks.  “Multigenre helps us focus on larger things…smaller stuff can be in there.”  (excerpt from Ryan’s response follows)

Assume that Romano wrote this passage instead of something very different that was really on his mind. Fantasize about what you think was really on his mind….

The irony, of course, is that this skeptic, when he or she materializes in real life, cannot be convinced by any amount of evidence that there are ways to convince other than direct evidence. In other words, skeptics so rarely play by their own rules. And that is maddening.

…And I can’t help but imagine that it started—at least in conception—as a Lincoln “hot letter.” Famously, Lincoln used to write what he called hot letters, which were angry unsent letters. He would write angry, bitter, brutally direct letters to people, then stick them in the drawer of his desk and never sign or send them. They were cathartic, but as Lincoln well knew, not likely to be productive or beneficial to a working relationship. I fantasize that Fearless Writing began as a hot letter, and the process or revision that Romano describes in Write What Matters involved changing that thing into a book that treated the subject with a somewhat more gentle method.


Tom Romano: I was trying to get at some of those things people have objected to about multigenre — the “breaking the rules” stuff. I was half an hour into my presentation when a guy stands up and says “This is preposterous!” IMG_2104Tom (continues): A hot letter: the honors program let me teach multigenre due to this evidence.  This is about something.  This is about teaching the craft of writing.


Jon Wu:  My Q is from the section 1 scenario:  What if all my students are skeptics this year?  People like to talk about themselves:  How can I put together a project?  Your neighborhood.  Tell me what I don’t see.  Write about it.  I care. I want to know… So, I tell them about my neighborhood:  I model it.  They take ownership as the experts.




Jonathan: Q  from section 1:  How much attention do we pay to the disconnect between the writing we ask our students to do and the way writers in the world are doing now?  Have we noticed the change in the way current writers effectively get their ideas across?  What models have teachers have brought in?


Jen: I bring in a book on Tupac’s life   Websites are multigenre projects.  So is documenting someone’s life.  DSCN5902I show visual albums Beyonce’ made.  Students share theirs with each other.  There’s an outward facing element:  What do you want to say to other people?

You want to raise awareness. Questions lead into authentic multigenre projects.  Connect to Education for Liberation website Apr 28 – SJSU students teach each other.

Multigenre is how we write in the 21st C.”  Jen Johnson

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 1.14.10 PM

Susan commented, “We’re writing ourselves.”

Susan (taking out index cards): MG narrows the process I go through when I do any DSCN6197project.  It’s natural, like planning a trip.  We can be very explicit and intentional about combining the elements we use in self-expression, so — thematic units not only a primary/elementary thing.

Tom Romano: Second graders do multigenre projects.  Think about growth and development:  what was the experience like for that kid?  Who writes something that surprises him and others?

Of my book, Blending Genres – Altering Style, some said Fearless Writing was a second edition to it.  No, I learned so much.  FW is a different book.  Some of my students wrote some really bad papers, but those was my fault.  I needed to prepare them.



Aeriale: Children are naturally MG.  They come to us with 100 languages and we narrow it down to one.  MG is a tool for empowerment, for justice. Cornelius Minor,  “Diversity says, I’m here.'”  I’m here and I have power.  We need to make changes for all kids to have voice and power in our classrooms.


Lorena: Learning English in not the main stream background.  It’s painful to think about things we do.  Like giving our topics.  Kids have to write about assigned topics.DSCN6299 I remember in second grade my class had to write a Thanksgiving story.  My family doesn’t celebrate it; I barely spoke English.  I wrote about wanting a rabbit. I was careful to spell “the” correctly every time I wrote it.  Writing that story and getting the red marks — then being kept in at recess because I wasn’t writing about the topic. It’s painful, the things we do.  After that, I didn’t want to share in school.  That is when I started to feel badly about being Mexican.

I still wonder, “Where is the thought? Why is this child responding this way?

Amidst various conversation about rubrics and grading, Kate interjects –

West Coast Reading & Writing Institute 2018

Disrupt Grading to Empower Students as Readers and Writers

Sarah Zerwin, Thursday, July 20, 2018.

Most schools require teachers to record a grade that becomes part of the students’ official records, so we can’t refuse to provide them. But a firmly-entrenched system dictates how we get to those grades: student compliance….Because this system makes points and grades so central, it distances students from the reading and writing work they need to read our complex world so they can write their own futures within it. We can disrupt the traditional grading system and get to semester grades in ways that empower students as readers and writers instead.

Link:   Book recommend!




Katie: It’s time to speak up!

Laurie: Students are primed for it.  They are primed for MG.  We have the deficit.

Marty: : If you listen to what kids say to each other, you’ll see all the behaviors of critical thinking. Listen to their arguments with each other on their topics.  The most harmful thing we can do is have an assumption of deficit.

Margarite: Q:What about all the people who tell teachers what to do?  How do we get out of district initiatives and prompts that don’t forward what we’re doing for kids?

Eric: AP Culture in high school is “the path” and that guides what’s “good” So then,  that’s why the class writing is to that test.  We need the equivalent of natural, moral self-expression.  Assessment drives only writing that is valued and that is academic.

I did a Tempest unit. The project at the end was as MG as possible.  When I let kids choose their project, it was shocking how many came back with the analytical essay — the easiest (for them). There’s a formula, it takes the least time, and they figured it was the pathway to an A.  In terms of critical thinking the analytical essay required the least of them.

head shotTom Romano: Teachers feel great pressure.  They’re conscientious.  This thing about academic writing…It is that.  My article in English Journal is academic in a peer-reviewed journal. We have a skewed notion of what ‘academic’ means.

Romano EJ May 18 indel mmnts

Jen: Graphic novel albums, poetry for dissertations!

Jay:  We need to make an Assumption of Quality:  I took names off papers and had students highlight really good thinking.  Where’s a good thought?

Marty: I ask, “What kind of thinking has this student committed to?”  How much does this piece make me think?”

(Excerpt) Lorena’s 1st Responder piece to chap 14’s “Memo for a Final Boost”. Pretend to be someone else – someone who would have a very different response to this passage. Write about who this person is and why she or he would respond in the way she or he would.

To: Tom Romano
Date: After Reading Chapter 14 Re: Make writing great again

I just finished a great meeting with the Republican Senators concerning writing. They really want to get it right, unlike this multigenre paper topic, thing, piece, whatever. So, we are going to really focus on writing and the first thing I am going to do is to make writing great again. This is why we are getting rid of multigenre! It is going away. It is a mess, a total disaster. Believe me, by the time I am done, multigenre will be over and we will be winning again! We are going to spend a lot of money and a lot of expertise, we’re going to have great talent when it comes to writing. Multigenre, we have to end it. We have to bring back one genre writing and with it my great friend the 5 paragraph essay!


Lorena:  We try to fit in this box.  Your writing has to fit in this box.  What we do with writing and what we do with children.  On P 52 in our anthology I make a confession:  for years as a young teacher I gave assignments…did not do idea generation, no identity with students’ passions…

And now I think about how many teachers don’t write.  They don’t ever sit down to write, but they teach writing!  How do you get them to see, “you’ve got to do this thing you’re teaching/” You try it and then you’ll know how to do the “behind the scenes work.”  How do we do this?

Kate:  Show them!


“What if,” asks Jonathan, “we sit down with some of our colleagues and experience the finding “indelible moments” in our own reading/writing life?  And stay with it until we get to it and tried to write it. What if?”




Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 3.37.30 PM

Laurie: I’ll defer my questions, but have a few notes…allowing a student to take a poem and put their own ideas into them.  My questions were about what to do for students who didn’t know what to do with poetry.  Kwame Alexander inspired me so I brought in poetry as the scaffold. Q: Where does it hit you? It’s just been a very positive thing to play with someone else’s structure with our own ideas.

Out of Wonder

Katie: I love, love this book.  We interviewed our elders.  Made a documentary video.  Asked questions about the history of their elders, did research.

Fearless WritingParents say, “Yeah, heard about WWII.”   One parent was Bosnian,  and remembers the Nazis marching through their village. Then students write Where I’m From poems.

Roohi:  I’m from Pakistan..” I wrote that and then I’m just writing, writing like a biographical poem.  I didn’t even read the George Ella Lyon poem.  My (college) students really come up with beautiful poems…they have ties to their place.  There’s heart in it.

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 4.10.51 PMDSCN5925

Jerry:  Golden threads that unify a piece.   There’s Reality Hunger – smuggle more of what the artist thinks is reality into the work of art – smuggling the truth.  I want to prod students to think about confessing their stance to reality,  Repetition can come from that stance. Rendering experiences, rendering reality.


Nancy:  Maybe I live in a I know what a MG is.  I’ve been doing it with a multicultural heritage units.  My whole teaching is on the 23 years of these students examples to share with the students, my heritage portfolio.

My only rule is: Don’t tell me what you can’t do, tell me what you can do. Kids came up with very out of the box ideas.

“I can do cartoons.”


“Wait, you can do that?”DSCN6312

Erika: Don’t dis the beginning.  I always have my art students stand up.  The name game, that beginning takes a long time, but it is so valuable in my classroom.  ALSO, another rhetorical space.  We have other ways of communicating, for example my son who is 6 months old.

DSCN5932 (1)The breaking the rules part, I like.   Can we consider talking, drawing, film, as products?

I’ve been impressed to with how movement can influence art – and influence our writing.  In one class we danced, then we wrote.  Try it.


Kate: Rescuing Pleasure

In response to the following passage on page 144 of Fearless Writing:

When writers seek to create unity in their multigenre papers…the writer experiences pleasures: the pleasure of the sudden insight, the pleasure of creating order from chaos, the pleasure of spontaneity, the pleasure of thinking with the whole mind… We need to exhort students to take note of these quiet achievements, these small pleasures that occur during the process of writing, which includes time away from direct word work, when subject matter is composting in our subconscious.

DSCN6176I honor pleasure as a part of class, and don’t get hi-jacked by high-stakes testing.  This section underscored my aim, which is to teach kids to notice the beautiful things.  It’s becoming a practice.  “What were your beautiful words today?”  Making something beautiful is more important than stupid grades.  More validating.

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 4.52.51 PMEric: Trying to do MG I’m getting frustrated.  I say “Do something satirical, anything you want, except an essay!  We read The Importance of Being Ernest. You can’t blame the kids – but how do I get kids on board in a situation where they are so calculating of where they put their efforts?  How do I make MG count DSCN6131enough? How do I get more depth in their work in a school that focuses on college acceptance, where stakes are the highest.


Jay: My insight was the quote on rubrics – how they over inflate what kids are doing.  That’s because they’re not based on thinking. We also do that with reading.  We evaluate by vocabulary and short comprehension questions. That’s  taking away the big skill – how to write about what you read.  Read well, then you’ll write well.

Tom Romano: Mentor texts really work. I use “Write What Matters” as text, and read Newkirk’s Embarassment.  Try flash fiction.  Read examples with your students.  I read them a poem a day, too.


To conclude the afternoon, Tom gave a reading of his piece composed by lifting lines out of the 2018 Advance Institute Anthology.

Thank you, Tom and Kathy Romano, for spending the day with SJAWP.


Aeriale’s AI Playlist



2 thoughts on “Tom Romano, Multigenre Man, Meets with San Jose Area Writing Project”

  1. It is a masterpiece! Wow LB! Loved this multi genre piece! My favorite part: the inserted text messages! Hilarious – and how did you capture all that conversation?? Just how did you do this? It may be long like SOTU, but this is utterly brilliant and no one can disagree with that! Democrats, Republicans and of course all left leaning peeps applaud your work!!

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