Many of the classrooms I’m working in are launching into a personal narrative study. I’ve encouraged all of them to approach their study from an inquiry stance. Meaning, get lots of personal narratives and have students read, read, read them. Then choose a couple and have students study them as writers.
I’ve been reading Study Driven, by Katie Wood Ray, which (not surprisingly) has bolstered me in helping teachers implement this important, albeit bold and brave, teaching stance. As Katie writes in chapter two, this is a deliberate decision — choosing to make student responses the important part of curriculum:
Lisa and Emily [the teachers who let us peek into their study driven classrooms] both make student responses the “important stuff” from which their writing curriculum is made. To state the obvious, there is no study without the students. And this is a decision these two teachers are making, a stance they are deliberately taking.
For this to happen — for students to be immersed in text and then look at it as a writer; to discuss and decide what makes a personal narrative and what is has; to figure out how to craft — it takes time. I’ve been wrestling with evidence, with the words I need, to help others understand this is valuable, rigorous, worthwhile work.
Anytime we give students a voice, it is valuable. Anytime we value what a student thinks and concludes more than what the teacher guide says, it is rigorous. Anytime we are true to the process and work of writers, it is worthwhile.
These words from Katie’s introduction are ringing in my ears today:
We love study, and we love it for so many reasons. First, we love it in its full verb sense because it requires us — teachers and students — to be active in the pursuit of curriculum. Lock us in a room full of this poet’s book sand let us have at them. Come back in a few days and we’ll tell you more than you want to know about how to write poetry well, and, more importantly, we’ll be writing some pretty good poetry of our own by then. We love to study things, and we know how to study things, and we love that there is nothing to the teaching unless we’re there making it happen.
In contrast, lessons — even heady, interesting lessons — are already written and ask us to be sort of passive and just listen or do what they say. They would ask the same thing of the class next door, or the class across town. and though they may go by the name “study,” we realize no one’s really studying anything if the lessons are already written. We love engaging in work that asks more of us, as study does.
Yes, this is valuable, rigorous, worthwhile work and I, for one, am going to be brave and bold in my teaching by empowering students to think as writers and trusting the process of inquiry. Will you join me?
(Click here for more information about Study Driven by Katie Wood Ray, and to read a sample section.)