Taking an Inquiry Stance in the Writing Workshop

by Jill Eurich – Assistant Director,  Intermediate and Middle SchoolImage

“A unit of study in writing is not unlike a unit of study in science or social studies. It is a line of inquiry – a road of curriculum a trail of teaching, an excursion of knowing something about writing. It is some big thing that you and your class are digging into over time.”  – Isoke Nia

In the previous blog on an inquiry stance in the reading workshop, we discussed how students could read in a genre and record what they noticed in the writing which might be about genre or craft. These noticings not only deepen their understandings as readers, but also develop students’ abilities to read like writer, to bring to their own writing their understandings of what they have seen other authors do that they have found powerful. For instance, students might have noticed in a study of memoir in the reading workshop that authors not only write about an experience that is important to them, but also recount why it was significant, what they learned or felt. Inquiring into characteristics of memoir as they read them provides a foundation of knowledge that they can then bring to their own writing of memoir. As readers, students have experienced the power of writers sharing their thoughts and emotions related to an incident so they carry over that knowledge to include their emotions or thinking in the writing of their own memoir.

An inquiry approach to genre study repositions curriculum as the outcome of instruction rather than as the starting point. (Ray, 2006)

Similarly, in a study of feature articles the teacher might have conducted an open inquiry in which students were asked what they were noticing as they experienced feature articles through interactive read-aloud and their independently reading. The teacher might have also conducted a guided inquiry in which she asks students to analyze the different ways feature articles are structured. The information from this inquiry becomes vital to purposeful decisions students will make in the writing workshop. They will have learned different possibilities of how writers structured their feature articles so that they can be intentional in choosing a structure that will best fit the meaning and purpose of the article they are developing. Similarly students can inquire as to how pieces they admire are crafted and use that to inform their own writing.

When I think about an inquiry stance, I always feel like this reason alone – inquiry teaches students to read and think like writers – is reason enough to teach from this stance as often as possible. (Ray, 2006)

Another aspect of inquiry in the writing workshop has to do with self-reflection. In thinking about good characteristics of writing Carl Anderson has said that meaning is the most important trait. Our writing is strong and purposeful if we have a clear understanding of what we want to communicate to our reader so that we can find effective ways to do that in our writing. Asking ourselves, “Why am I writing this piece?” or “What is it I want my reader to know?” helps us as writers clarify our purpose and what it is we want to communicate. It can even be helpful to you’re your students write down what they are really trying to have their readers understand so that it can not only guide their first drafts but also inform the revision process as well.

The inquiry stance used in the reading and writing workshop carries over in exciting ways to poetry as well. We will explore that soon!

Ray, K.W. (2006). Exploring inquiry as a teaching stance in the writing workshop. Language Arts, 83, 238-247.




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