I read so you don’t have to: Katie Wood Ray’s ‘Study Driven’ – Part 2, The Inquiry Based Approach to Writing

*The IRSYDHT series is a place for me to give detailed summaries of professional books I’ve read.*

Check out part 1 here.

So, here’s a chart that summarizes Katie Wood Ray’s Inquiry approach:

five steps

This post will run through KWR’s comments on each step.

1. Gathering Texts:
-Always be on the lookout for possible mentor texts. Always read like a writer on the lookout for something class-worthy. KWR recommends keeping hard copies of everything in a large binder.
-Length is part of the inquiry. Once you’ve gathered a good stack of a certain kind of writing, one of the questions you’ll ask is ‘How long are these?’ That way you and your students can discuss length in an authentic manner.
-Look through magazines (KWR recommends (USA Today), magazines (Muse, U.S. Kids, American Girl, Boy’s Life, Cobblestone, Click), picture books, the Internet (Rotten Tomatoes, East of the Web), and more.
-Make sure that children examine the graphical layout of a text along with its content.
-Go for breadth (enough examples so students can see a good range of writing in the world) and depth (a few texts that anchor the study, select these with care).
-Use authentic texts, not writing created for schools (textbooks).
-Go for high interest. Invite students to help you find them. Keep an editable Google Doc, perhaps.
-The text must be at least semi-readable.
-Each text must be a wonderful representative of the genre and pregnant with opportunities to study content and craft and process.

2. Setting the Stage
-The goal here is to establish predictable routines. Each study starts with a short stack of texts that show writers doing whatever it is you want to study.
-Make sure the students understand that you will expect them to finish a piece of writing that shows influence of the study.
-Students need to have routines down pat. Think about beginning of the year mini-lessons that help students know how to research, get in and out of groups, collaborate, confer with teacher, and use independent time wisely.
-Preview texts, read a mentor aloud, talk with students, chart things.
-Create a handout with requirements and expectations. A sample is below:

-From their first encounter with the text, you want students thinking, ‘I’m going to write something like this.’ This is key.

3. Immersion
-First off, students should read what they want to read during independent reading time. Immersion in a genre is for specific times when you expect students to partake in intentional reading.
-Plan ahead of time how long the immersion phase will last. Typical immersion time goes from a few concentrated days to a week(s).
-Create guiding questions! As students read, you want them to begin making notes of things they are noticing in response to the text. If you’re in a craft/process unit, your questions will be narrow: how do writers use punctuation in powerful ways to craft their texts?, for instance.

If you’re in a larger genre study, then go with the same three questionsWhat kinds of topics do writers address with this genre and what kinds of things do they do with these topics?, What kind of work (research, reflecting, etc.) does it seem like writers of this genre must do in order to produce this kind of writing?, and How do writers craft this genre so that it is compelling for readers?
-Remember, you are teaching students to go through this line of questioning for everything they read.
-Students can write down their noticings on the text, on charts, on sticky notes, in their writer’s notebook, etc. Consider charting the whole-class discussion yourself.

4. Close Study
-After reading deeply and widely in immersion, it’s time to dig in with your students and become articulate about how writers craft this genre so that it is compelling for readers.
-Just like with the Immersion phase above, have a plan in mind for how long you want the Close Study phase to last. If you don’t set a limit, it’s easy to get lost in this phase. KWR recommends at least a few days.
-Remember, the point is to get students Writing under the Influence (see below).
-Consider moving between three different ways of working:

1. Working from a whole-class list of student noticings across texts: Make a giant list together and select an issue or two from the list. You won’t know exactly what it is until you’ve done it with students, so take the leap of faith.
2. Returning to individual texts for close study: Spend a few days as a class on a single text. This means the text must be “teaching full” and able to carry the weight of lengthy discourse.
3. Working with a specific question in mind. (i.e. What particular language is striking? What can we learn about language from studying this?)

5. Writing under the Influence
-Set a date when you want students to begin their Writing under the Influence draft.
-Writing workshops include significant stretches of time when children work independently as writers. They shouldn’t be spending all of the time on their “main” draft.
-Balance “main” drafting with independent writing.
-Students need to do as much talking and visioning as possible before they begin writing under the influence.
-Make sure students have what KWR calls “back-up work,” other pieces of student-generated writing that they can return to whenever they’re stuck, bored, etc. BUW is anything a student wants to write. The bigger the better. You don’t do much with BUW.
-Make sure students show a record of their process. Have students reflect on what it is they’ve done, how they’ve done it, what craft and process growth they’ve made, etc. This is essential!
-Revision and editing should only take a few days at the end. Focus on the issues you’re seeing during your conferring.
-Today’s draft can become next unit’s BUW.

That concludes the summary of KWR’s five-step Inquiry process. I’m going to include additional pertinent information below.

Evaluation: Remember, teach the writer, not the writing.
-Think about asking students to show evidence of: working through the process (evidence of work spent wisely, attention paid to dates), choosing and growing an idea (evidence of deliberate topic selection, using the writer’s notebook to grow an idea, etc.), drafting and revising (evidence of thoughtful planning for drafting, being engaged in purposeful revision, etc.), and finishing (evidence the writer paid careful and strategic attention to spelling, etc.).

Learn the Process by Living the Process
-Students need to live through the writing process (planning, drafting, revising, editing, publishing) many times throughout the school year. They should be talking about their process and writing about their stories of writing like a writer.
-Consider units of study on the process: using talk as a tool to improve writing, where writers get idea, using a notebook as a tool to improve your writing, what writers think about and do during revision.
-When planning for a process study, use a similar format of immersion, close study, and writing under the influence. Students can work on any genre as long as they’re immersed and under the influence of a particular process question or aspect.
-The Internet is a great place to find interesting quotes and anecdotes from writers about their own craft and process.
-Just like in a product study, give students an assignment sheet up front with the expectations and dates.

Turning Talk into Text:
-This method requires the teacher to create a new order of experience, a new curriculum that comes from the students.
-Use their talk to find your content. For instance a student observation about illustrations turns into a piece of curriculum on how writers should think a lot about the placement of text with illustrations.
-What you study comes from what they notice. This is essential (and perhaps the hardest part).

This book is amazing. It’s one of the most effective professional books I’ve ever read. KWR weaves in theory, philosophy, activism, and pragmatism into a single book. I cannot recommend this enough! 

In addition to housing mentor texts, this website is also regularly updated with new material. In fact, KWR Tweeted that many people will be adding to the mentor text list starting in the end of August.


One comment

  1. Pingback: X -> Y: Peter Elbow’s (Still) Revolutionary Developmental Approach to Writing | Mr. Anderson Reads & Writes

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