Katie Wood Ray is a teacher’s teacher. She taught at both the elementary and middle school levels, she moved to the university level, and then spent two years at the Reading and Writer’s Project, Teachers College, Columbia University. “I first learned about genre study from Lucy Caulkins and my colleagues at The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, and everything I am writing now stands on the shoulders of what I learned while working at the project.” (p. ix, Ray) Currently she works for the publisher Heinemann as an author and Professional Developer.
She is passionate about the craft of writing and how to support and guide students, primarily K-8. She cringes at the thought of a curriculum that follows a formulaic delivery; her practice is called “Study Driven”. There are five defined steps to her framework. They include:
- Gathering Texts – the teacher gathers mentor texts that represent the type of writing students will be working on.
- Setting the Stage – the topic of the study is introduced to students. They come to know their responsibility will be to complete a piece of writing that represents the genre of study.
- Immersion – many different texts are read by the students alongside their teacher. Observations are documented about the writing and they discuss the process the author may have used.
- Close Study – Comparisons across texts are made. It’s through those noticings that the curriculum (or teaching) for the particular unit is developed. What do students need direct instruction about to support their growth and learning is decided by the teacher.
- Writing Under the Influence – Students complete their writing and are able to discuss how they incorporated the features of the genre.
As a teacher of writing I cannot stress how valuable using mentor texts can be. When students are given the opportunity to read many examples of a specific genre of writing, they discover the features of that writing. Ms. Ray raises an interesting point. No one goes into a bookstore and asks to be directed to the expository, narrative, or persuasive sections. She names these as “modes” of writing (p. 54, Ray). When students are learning to write it’s in the study of examples of the kind of writing they will themselves do that allows them notice what’s unique and try new things, with intention.
In this “Study Driven” model reading is as important as writing. Students are close reading, analyzing first how the mentor texts made them feel and what their thoughts and reactions were. After they respond to the texts they are able to notice the author’s craft. This is similar to what we did last week when we read Sandra Cisneros’ “Eleven”. Imagine doing that with between 5-7 memoirs. Students would begin to notice the reflective nature of the genre, the small moment that’s its focus, the use of first-person structure, the deep emotions, a balance between internal thoughts and external action, how dialog brings the story to life, and descriptive language, to name a few features.
Now imagine trying to teach each of these feature as mini lessons without common texts to refer back to. Providing the opportunity to delve deeply into texts provides differentiation our students deserve. Students self-select what they will incorporate into their own writing. Conferencing is often times led by the students when an adult simply asks, “So tell me what you’re working to include today?” Or says, “Show me where you…”
Katie Wood Ray in her 2006 book, Study Driven: A Framework for Planning Units of Study in the Writing Workshop includes “Study Possibilities” (genres of writing) partnered with magazines, picture books, chapter books, collections, excerpts, and newspapers. These resources can help you tailor what you select as mentor texts to meet your students’ interests and reading levels.
There’s nothing like sitting at student led conferences and listening to your fifth graders as they draw the adults in their lives attention to the way their writing is just like a published author’s. Although there is a lot of planning that goes into this delivery of writing instruction, it’s constructivist at its heart. Students experience high quality writing, they investigate its features, and they try their hand at it.
Ray, K. W. (2006). Study driven: A framework for planning units of study in the writing workshop. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.