Sunday, March 25, 2012

Looking at a Writing and Reading Process Connected to Research

Lately I am thinking about the amount of reading I am doing as I write two articles & wondering about how that process compares to research methods that middle and high school students are required to do at school. A few observations:
  1. My reading list emerges alongside the writing.
  2. My reading list is fueled by what I read. I read a lot of  the works referenced in a text. Like Frost knew: way leads on to way.  For example, I am anxiously awaiting Full House (Gould, 1996) as I need to read it in order to better understand a point that Brian Sutton-Smith makes concerning evolution and play. I could never have predicted this would be a text of importance as I began this work.
  3. Sometimes an unrelated article I have read will later inform the work I am composing in surprising ways.
  4. Sometimes I stop the writing and create a work visually. Not sure how this matters but it seems to help me write.
  5. I know very little and am aware of this as I read and write. 
  6. I could never list the resources I will read/view/listen to for any single article I write until I have the work ready for publication. Even then, my experience has been that editors and peer reviewers will raise questions that send me back to rewrite, reread, and select works to read I had not considered. If I was required to make a list of the resources I planned to use before I actually started, it would make me not want to write.
  7. I never know what will emerge even when I think I have a good idea.  
  8. Talking with key people as I have drafts completed helps me enormously. 
  9. I have a handful of people (and now since Twitter some of that is changing) that I share initial drafts with and these confidants actually read and respond to the work. I am selective with whom I share drafts.
  10. My husband is the best editor (not only in the narrow sense of surface text, but also in the deeper structure and thinking of the text) I know and thankfully he loves me enough to suffer through those early drafts and push me to think in ways that stretches my thinking and often my intentions.
  11. I meticulously list the works cited as I write.  I don't leave this to some end time. 
  12. Making the works cited page somehow makes me feel productive even when I am not producing pages.
  13. What I am wondering about alters as I read and listen to taped interviews and classroom sessions. 
  14. I could never write a thesis statement or chose one from a list of four choices (A, B, C, or D). Meaning emerges.
  15. Just because I am writing it, doesn't mean I understand. Often I don't.
  16. I listen to the interviews and classrooms sessions a lot, often.  
  17. Vacuuming, driving, walking in the woods are all ways that help me to think about the work while not directly thinking about it.
  18. As ideas flow, I visualize cognitive bifurcation happening inside my brain. It's a lot like tree lights blinking On. Off. Growing stronger.
  19. I locate what will become *the article* in several different documents and later join some of these initial writings. Collage seems to be a method I employ.
  20. I like to join dissimilar things and see what pops.
  21. I write far more that I will ever use in any one article.
  22. I reread a lot.
  23. I do a lot of things not directly related to reading or writing, and yet so much informs the work.  Even when I am not consciously thinking about the work, my mind seems to be busy seeking patterns, etc.  For example, on a trip to have lunch with a friend one day I listened to Brian Lehrer show and had the opportunity to hear Jonah Lehrer discuss his new book. I though I heard him say something about reinvention of self.  And yet when I listened to the show again (thank you Stitcher) I couldn't find what I though I had heard. The insight nonetheless was important and will likely be a critical understanding in one of the articles: in a classroom I am studying, reinventing one's self is the curriculum. It is what play looks like inside of school.  The play is not the Minecraft. The play is the many ways reinvention occurs.
  24. I rely on story in most of my 'non-fiction' works. Narrative informs everything. (Sorry Common Core people who think these things are unrelated. Not so for me.) 
  25. I appreciate deadlines.
  26. I detest deadlines.
  27. I often doubt I will finish the work at hand.
  28. I abandon writing and return it at time.
  29. I am continuously amazed by how much I don't know which helps me to understand.
  30. I read obsessively. It's like a hunger. 
  31. I reread my work on screen as I am composing.  
  32. I reread my work on paper when I need to do a deeper revision or edit. 
  33. I need to hear the work aloud and find a pen in hand matters in that physically writing with a pen  helps me to find the 'right' word, phrase.  
  34. I abandon most processes related to revision and editing and return to writing on screen as soon as these initial ways of delving catches some fire I need to follow.
  35. I see in pictures, wholes. There is a logic to this that is critical for me as I revise.
  36. I never use a rubric, checklist to guide my work.  I don't want an ending imposed. Impose an ending and I probably will find I have nothing to say.


Now I wonder about how we guide students to think and compose as readers and writers. How does the list above compare with the expectation of school-based authoring? How do we manage the constraints and freedoms, both needed to compose well?  How is agency realized at school?


  1. Mary Ann I enjoyed reading this post and could feel the anxiousness that emerges as you are delving into a topic. A cycle of: I want to know more, I've learned something new; I don't know anything; What am I going to write about? I'll write about this; Wait!I didn't know about this; Let me find out more; and on and on the cycle goes!
    I think the idea of keeping track of your sources right from the start is so very important. Too often the works cited page is left to the end. It should be fluid, with sources being deleted and added until the final product is done.
    Reflecting on the process is almost never done. It simply isn't part of the process in most assignments. Some students may do it instinctively but too many just want to rush through and get the final product handed in as quickly and easily as possible.
    I think too often students are given assignments to do research on a topic they have no idea about. There is little motivation or guidance to take some time to gain a little more knowledge about the topic before moving on. Research seems to be a race (funny how often competition seems to crop up in education these days) to see how fast it can be done.
    Would love to pick your brain about this more.

    1. Reflecting on the process is part of an I-Search paper (it is one of the sections). It might be something to consider as an alternative to the traditional paper. There's so many options and methods to represent research now. Quite exciting.

      Part of researching is coming to name what you want to study and know more about. Assigning a topic really gets int he way of a rather important aspect of researching.

      When we meet in April, let;s talk more about this.

      Thanks Deb.

    2. Going to keep a list of what to talk about. I really like the concept of the I-Search paper. I always tried to impress that even if you are assigned a topic (not advocating that; but sometimes that is the reality that students are faced with) to try to find something about the topic to "grab on" to. Find something about it you like and write about that.
      Having lots of trouble getting kids to focus on a topic. We get responses like, baseball, communism. Not too big a problem if we have time to work individually with student to help them see how to narrow down topic. Hard when there are lots of students. I'm looking for the topic app! An app that would help you focus your research and narrow it down!
      Going to do a plug for EasyBib here. The more we are using it the better it gets! We've been using the notecard feature more and more. You can even color code your notecards! Students are having a much easier time with citations now. And with the notecard feature keeping track of information is much easier.
      Can't wait to talk more about this.

  2. what an incredible capture Mary Ann. thank you for taking the time to pen it.

    brilliant. on so many levels..

    1. Thank you Monika. Always value your insights:)

  3. 3 years ago, I applied for a sabbatical. I was starting work on a book, Playing With Math: Stories from Math Circles, Homeschoolers, and the Internet, which I hope to finish this summer. The application required objectives and evidence that I would supply that I had met those objectives. I had been told that editing a book wasn't enough for a while year sabbatical (really?), so I added a reading list. I said I'd read 15 books and 15 articles from my list. It was so hard to do that, because I knew that what I wanted to read would change dramatically over time.

    At the end of the sabbatical year, I had to put a lot of time into writing up my 'evidence' that could have been better spent working on the book. The one good thing it made me do was to work more on my own chapters of the book - I had a serious procrastination problem with my own writing.

    1. Institutional needs can certainly trump both individual needs and common sense at times. The books sounds intriguing and I look forward to reading it when it comes out. Let me know and thanks Sue.

  4. "I know very little and am aware of this as I read and write. "

    Thank you.

    1. As you are a writer, it means a lot that that line resonated. Thank you, friend.

  5. Well, rubrics, which my son Peter says "destroy all creativity." But what about As, Bs, they destroy creativity, too?