Marinating myself in the work of Donald Graves

For some reason, I escaped my PhD program without studying the work of Donald Graves. Well, it makes sense. I’m focused on secondary literacy and his work was largely with elementary writers. And my dissertation focused on teaching literature, not on teaching writing. So it makes sense that I didn’t turn to his work then to make sense of my classroom research study.

But it’s never too late to read Graves. I picked up Children Want to Write: Donald Graves and the Revolution in Children’s Writing, edited by Thomas Newkirk and Penny Kittle, and I’m reading it bit by bit over my oatmeal every morning before I head out the door for school (one of this semester’s mini habits). That means that my school days for the last few weeks have started with Graves, and that’s a great way to get my mind in the right place for the work I hope to do each day.

Why Graves? Well, I’m working on a book. I have one chapter in complete (rough) draft form and two more in the works. It’s about the challenges on doing a reading/writing workshop in a high school classroom. I’m finding myself going back to read the people who started us on this trajectory to begin with, and it has been fascinating. And inspirational. Next up: Don Murray and Linda Rief.

(This book project is also why I’ve written little in the blog of late.)

I’ll use the rest of this post to simply share with you some Graves tidbits that I have found particularly meaningful. Enjoy!

From “Balance the Basics: Let Them Write” (1978):

“People want to write. The desire to express is relentless. People want others to know what they hold to be truthful. They need the sense of authority that goes with authorship. They need to detach themselves from experience and examine it by writing. Then they need to share what they have discovered through writing.” (20)

“The imbalance between sending and receiving should be anathema in a democracy. A democracy relies heavily on each individual’s sense of voice, authority, and ability to communicate desires and information.” (20)

“Another reason that there will be less writing is that too often our schools show little concern for the individual development of the learners themselves or the important ideas they may have to share. Our distrust of children is most evident when we insist that they always be receivers rather than senders. If our approach to writing is to change, that change must be born of a confidence that what students have to say is worth saying. Writing is a matter of personal initiative. Teachers and parents must have confidence in that initiative or there will be little real writing.” (24)
“Research data now show, however, that scrupulous accounting for all errors in a student paper is actually harmful to good writing development.” (26)
“Indeed, the main task of the teacher is to help students know what they know.” (32)
“When children are able to see their own writing used by others, their concepts of themselves as writers are heightened. When writing is not just a context between the child and the teacher but serves a broader audience, the teacher does not have to attend continually to correcting technical errors, but can concentrate on other matters essential to good writing.” (32)

From “A New Look at Writing Research” (1981):

“We complained that teachers would not pay attention to research. But so far the teachers have been right… most of the research wasn’t worth reading. It couldn’t help them in the classroom. They could not see their schools, classrooms, or children in the data. Context had been ignored.” (179)
“It wasn’t until much later in my teaching career that I was able to focus on what children were doing, in order to adjust my own teaching style. I found that I could not afford to be without the information that told me where they were. As a result, I began to participate in the ‘middle’ of the process of their learning. For example, I asked questions while they were in the middle of observing the travel patterns of turtles. I responded to their initial observation notes, asking more question. And back they went to add, delete, revise their earlier observations.” (182)
“Writing is an organic process that defies fragmentary approaches to explain its meaning” (183).
“Professors of education need to spend more time in the only true laboratories, public school classrooms, to understand the role of teacher, the processes of learning. Perhaps the reason we researchers have neglected issues of context of learning in research for son long is that we have spent so little time on the sites where experimental data have been gathered. We have gathered research in absentia, whether we were doctoral students, psychologists, or professors of education” (200)

From “The Enemy is Orthodoxy” (1984):

“The Writing Process Movement has been responsible for a new vitality in both writing and education. But orthodoxies are creeping in that may lead to premature old age. They are a natural part of any aging process. Some are the result of early problems in research (my own included); others come from people who try to take shortcuts with very complex processes. These orthodoxies are substitutes for thinking. They clog our ears. We cease to listen to each other, clouding the issues with jargon in place of simple, direct prose about actual children.” (204)

“All of us have orthodoxies in our teaching that prevent us from being sensitive to writers. Some of these orthodoxies, or maxims for teaching, are necessary for temporary sanity as coping mechanisms for our teaching situations, or our personal need to overuse something in order to understand it. Often, something like publishing meets our own needs as teachers at the expense of what is best for children. Publishing is visible evidence that ‘I am a productive teacher.'” (214)
“The second check against orthodoxy is to keep writing ourselves, to learn more and more how we write, to discover firsthand the nature of our own writing in order to understand what children are doing when they compose. The process must always be fresh to us and to the children. The exciting thing about having the children teach us, and having us teach ourselves in our own writing, is that teaching becomes a process of discovery in its own right. Orthodoxies continually make us use old data, without today’s fresh evidence. Orthodoxies make us tell old stories about children at the expense of the new stories children are telling us today.” (215)

Many thanks to Tom Newkirk and Penny Kittle for this book. Having the most important pieces of Graves’ work in one place is absolutely invaluable.



This entry was posted in gratitude, making change, reflections, research, teaching writing, things made of awesome, workshop teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply