Choice & Genre Studies

After I attended the November 17th NCTE Workshop entitled “Where Has All The Real Choice Gone?” my mind started turning. Ruth and I went out for cupcakes and coffee at Buttercup Bake Shop hours after attending together and we couldn’t stop talking about the issue of choice in the writing classroom. Hence, after grappling with my thoughts from this workshop for the past couple of weeks, I finally sat down and tried to make some sense out of it using three prompts, which I’ve put into bold-face, below. While my thinking is a bit clearer, I realize that I need to sit down with Study Driven: A Framework for Planning Units of Study in the Writing Workshop as soon as possible so that I can figure out where to go from here.

The most useful information I received in the workshop was…
Katie Wood Ray said that sometimes it’s the topic that brings you to the work.
She suggested that students must understand the various genres of writing (Genre allows a person to have vision.) so they can figure out what they’re going to do with their topics. For instance, children can ask themselves these questions in this order:
1. Why do I want to write about this?
2. What vehicle can I use to put it out into the world?
When children have an understanding of genre, they in turn, have more choice (about how they’ll write a piece).

Plans I am making to incorporate what I have learned into my teaching practice:
I think it would be nice to infuse some genre studies into the school year, rather than just teaching units of study only. For instance, on page 165 of Wood Ray’s book Study Driven: A Framework for Planning Units of Study in the Writing Workshop she lays out what a “process study” would look like. I can envision myself teaching a process study to my students in order to strengthen the level of their writing. Additionally, Wood Ray suggests many other types of genre studies to teach in the classroom. Ones that I think I’d like to infuse into my teaching practice in the next year or two are: ABC Texts, Advice Writing, Photo Essays, and Slice-of-Life Writing.

Information that is pertinent and applicable to my colleagues:
How often do artists get told what kind of artistic medium to use on a non-commissioned piece? In our free society, we allow artists to choose the medium in which they’ll create their work. For instance, if someone told me I had to use oil paints rather than soft pastels, I would not take well to that idea seeing as I don’t paint as well as I draw with pastels.
This makes me think that if we’re going to give our students real choices in Writing Workshop, we have to provide them with a strong foundation with a variety of genres so that they come to know each genre well. Then, when they have a topic they wish to explore, they can work diligently to craft a piece within the structure of the genre they feel their topic is best suited for. This means, as Wood Ray stated, that “Kids need to find the kind of writing they want to do.”
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In Study Driven: A Framework for Planning Units of Study in the Writing Workshop, which I have NOT read cover-to-cover yet, she teaches the difference between mode and genre in chapter four. To me I think that mode and genre can be summed up as a quick phrase to describe a type of writing, as where genre takes many words to describe it well. Hence, I think we need to try to move away from the teaching the modes of writing to instructing students about the genres of writing.