Where Has All the Real Choice Gone? Part 2–Katie

Study Driven by Katie Wood RayFrom last week–NCTE in NYC:

Katie Ray came at the idea of choice a bit differently than Ralph.  Her work, based around her recent book Study Driven, has lately been on the need to have a strong sense of genre in writing workshop to help students expand their choices as writers.  Teaching the processes of choice is crucial, and that sense of genre—what kinds of writing are there out there in the world I can use to bring out my topic/message as a writer?

I was really interested in how she distinguished between mode—narrative, expository, etc.—and genre.  Her point, in part, was that real, practicing writers do not distinguish their writing by mode, but by genre, and that genre can represent a vision for writing.  “I’m writing a feature article on going to Lansing to see the Christmas tree lighting at the Capitol.”  Compare this to “I’m crafting an expository text about the lighting ceremony at the Capitol.”  The former, expressed in genre, expresses more than the latter, a statement of mode.  As a teacher, it makes more sense that my students have some sense of mode but a greater ability to understand and communicate genre as a writer.  Genre can help gives students a vision when they have a topic but aren’t sure what is possible to do with that topic as a writer.

Katie’s comments during this panel as well as her handout made me really eager to have a look at Study Driven as the 3-5 classrooms in my district are working through a process of how writers’ workshop will evolve.  One of the teasers in her handout was the idea to give students the latitude to have totally self-selected back-up work that supplements the more directed workshop pieces.  She encourages that this back-up work also be large-scale, long-term, and totally under the control of the student without any undo teacher interference.

“Choice, such a critical factor in motivating writers to complete projects, is greatly expanded when students see many options for the kinds of things they could make with writing.”  -Katie Ray

Katie rounded out with the idea that she sometimes is asked to write on a topic she would not have chosen herself, and she does, but insists on deciding HOW to write.  This is a big a-ha for me as I think of providing choice, topic or genre, and sometimes both, for student writers.  I don’t want to confuse this with the MEAP prompt, full of “choices” for how students can address a topic.  False topics, false choices, IMHO.

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