I read so you don’t have to: Katie Wood Ray’s ‘Study Driven’ – Part 1, Groundwork for an Inquiry Approach

Study Driven: A Framework for Planning Units of Study in the Writing Workshop
Katie Wood Ray

book cover

TL;DR:In this book, Katie Wood Ray lays out a complete vision for implementing an Inquiry-based approach to writing. The study driven framework grounds student writing in real-world examples. Student discourse becomes the curriculum. The following chart summarizes KWR’s five-step approach to an inquiry method. Students read authentic writing, determine what makes each genre tick, then write under the influence of the genre.

five steps

I will explore and summarize the book throughout two blog posts. Part 1 lays the ground work. Part 2 goes through the process. 

Chapter 1: Introduction
Framing writing instruction as ‘study’ represents an inquiry-based stance to teaching and learning. An inquiry stance repositions curriculum as the outcome of instruction rather than the starting point. In this particular set of practices, the students’ noticing and questioning around the gathered texts determine what will become important content in the study (the teacher doesn’t determine this in advance), and depth rather than coverage is the driving force in the development of this content.

Although this idea of “uncovering curriculum” isn’t new, it takes on heightened significance in an age when school districts expect teachers to map out dense scope-and-sequence plans and curriculum maps before children even enter the building after Summer Break.

Student responses to teacher questions aren’t just filler to provide a moment of engagement before the teacher tells the students what they should actually think. The teacher is obligated to do something with student responses. They are the important stuff, not the way to get to the important stuff. There is no content until the children start talking. There is no study without the students.

Chapter 2: Making a Case for Inquiry Study
This chapter explores a few popular alternatives to teaching from an inquiry stance.

-Guided practice: Use school-world examples of writing. First, teachers give a generic definition of the kind of writing they want students to be doing. Then, the teacher gives the students a graphic organizer or two to use when creating this type of writing. The teacher next models an example, writing a piece to lead her students. Lastly, students are let loose to write their own.

-Partial inquiry: Use real-world examples of writing. But instead of studying the texts with students, teachers would have previously planned out where they wanted to go with each text. This model allows teachers to plan units of study ahead of time for use in their own class or someone else’s. I’m reminded of the standardization work many counties expect from their teachers. In my county, for example, teachers use PLCs to create common end goals for a given unit.

-Lesson-Delivery: Traditional. Teachers assign writing for students to complete, turn in, and get back with a grade. There is no study or learning in this stance, simply mindless compliance. Teachers often ground this type of writing in “mythrules,” those desiccated writing rules that don’t really exist outside of a classroom setting. For instance, every paragraph in a piece of expository writing must begin with a main idea/topic sentences. This part-to-whole orientation provides teachers with a sense of comfort and control. Managing a classroom becomes much easier when you know exactly what everyone should be doing ahead of time.

-Study-Driven Inquiry: KWR posits that an inquiry stance is better than these other forms of instruction. It teaches students about the particular genre or writing issue that is the focus of the study, and also to use the same habits of mind experienced writers use all the time. They teach them how to read like writers. Instruction is grounded in how texts actually function and how authors really use words.

Big Shift – What role should modeling play?
Teacher modeling is an essential component to writing instruction. Teachers often use model more in the noun sense than in the verb sense. They want their writing to serve as a model for what the students will write. An Inquiry stance, on the other hand, uses real-world texts as the examples. This allows teachers to model the process, not just the creation. Teachers can make their thinking public about what decisions they’re making, the how and the why and the where of the writing process. Students learn to write from reading rather than teaching.

Closing thoughts on teaching from an inquiry stance:
-asks students to read like writers, developing a habit of mind that will potentially teach them how to write well throughout their lives
-ensures that the content for writing is grounded in realities of both the writing process and product
-expands the teacher’s knowledge base
-helps students develop a guiding vision for writing before they engage in revision
-asks the teacher to model the process, not the product

“When what you know about ‘people who write’ becomes what you know ‘as a person who writes,’ what you know changes.” (32)

Chapter 3: Before Revision, Vision
This chapter makes a case for helping students develop a vision for their writing.

Students should always be able to answer the question, ‘What have you read that is like what you are trying to write?’ For purposeful revision to take place, students must have a clear vision of what they want to accomplish in the first place. The content that each writer decides to pursue can be individual, but the vision for the piece comes from the larger world of writing. Students should look at a range of kinds of writing they can do inside a particular mode or genre and then decide what kind of article they want to write.

Before vision, intention:
One of the key responsibilities of the writing teacher, therefore, is to help each student develop intentions as writers. This means developing purpose, passion, and reason to write something.

This leads to a tension: whole class genre study forces the intention to come from the vision of a kind of writing, and not the other way around. This is important. KWR accepts this tension, however, for two reasons. First, the tension is grounded in the reality of some writers’ real world experiences. Many authors must meet deadlines and create different types of pieces that start from somewhere else other than within. Second, genre study exposes students to the wide variety of writing that exists in the outside world. Genre study helps students fulfill intentions they might not have known existed in the first place.

“Units of study other than genre (like one on punctuation) should therefore be carefully folded into the year.” (54)  

Chapter 4: Understanding the Difference between Mode and Genre
This chapter explains how to use ‘mode’ and ‘genre’ to help students compose meaningful pieces.

Modes describe the meaning work that a writer is doing in a text. They come from the influence of traditional studies in rhetoric. Genre is the thing people actually make with writing.

mode and genre

If there are clearly defined and professionally accepted labels for the kinds of writing teachers want from their students, use them. But this often isn’t the case. Don’t shy away from certain kinds of writing because you don’t know what to label it. As long as you can gather a stack of texts fulfilling similar intentions, then you’re good. Let the definition come from the characteristics those texts share. Clarity of vision comes when writers say as much as they can to describe the kind of writing they have in mind.

Different Modes at Work (within the same text)
Authors often use several modes in a single piece of text to accomplish their purpose. Most pieces, regardless of the genre, switch off between description, persuasion, narration, and exposition. KWR states that although this might be commonly understood, schools have a tendency to gloss over complexity of modes within a single text. KWR argues that this oversimplified notion of mode is detrimental to curriculum.

The fix is simple: use genre (instead of mode) as the point of departure for a piece of writing. So instead of teaching students to do persuasive writing and descriptive writing, have students write opinion pieces and book reviews and novels and commentary. Know what kind of thing you want students to write, then show it to them. So, start with genre.

“The thing to remember is that mode is a descriptive device, not a prescriptive one.” (61)

Part 2 coming tomorrow! Thanks for reading.



  1. Pingback: I read so you don’t have to: Katie Wood Ray’s ‘Study Driven’ – Part 2, The Inquiry Based Approach to Writing | Mr. Anderson Reads & Writes
  2. Jennifer Gonzalez

    Hey Peter! So happy to see this book being read by someone else. I absolutely love her approach and I wish more people were trying it. I would love to hear more of your thoughts on it and whether you are implementing any of her methods in your own classroom. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Peter Anderson

      Hey, Jennifer! This book came to me somewhat serendipitously during last summer. I immediately fell in love with the inquiry stance and made it my goal to use it this year. I’ve experienced adequate success with it. I’m somewhat conflicted about the way this approach requires students to produce writing into pre-existing forms. This something I’m going to write a post about (which is an excuse to say I’m still quite confused about the whole thing). Thanks for the support! More coming!


  3. Pingback: A Slice of Life in Under 1,000: Using Flash Fiction in the Classroom | Mr. Anderson Reads & Writes
  4. Pingback: Know Your Theory! – Genre Composition Pedagogy Edition | Mr. Anderson Reads & Writes

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