The Teacher Tip

Don Graves Monday: How I Began to Study Writing

March 20, 2017

From Teaching Day by Day: 180 Stories to Help You Along the Way 

by Donald Graves


I was one of four doctoral students at the State University of New York at Buffalo who drove the short distance to the home of Marion Cross, in St. Catherine’s, Ontario, had a picnic together, and discussed our thoughts about dissertations.


As we went around our little circle, each stating his or her notions about research, I was relieved to be the last to respond. Most were seriously considering research in reading. The university had a very strong reading department. But I was made uneasy by its focus on what children couldn’t do, what ailed them, or what was needed to correct their “deficiency.” We bandied about such terms as minimal cerebral dysfunction and investigated problems with eyes and the fovea. I was also studying the work of Piaget and had taken a few courses in anthropology. When Piaget and Alfred Binet were studying children’s intelligence, Piaget became fascinated with children’s “wrong” answers. He thought they were merely giving answers to other questions. But what were these other questions?


By the time the group came to me, I was sure I didn’t want to investigate reading. Suddenly I blurted out, “I think I will study writing.” My friends asked me how I’d made my decision. I said, “I don’t want it to be reading, and I want to explore new ground in writing. No one is doing writing.” That summer I did an independent study in which I reviewed the research on writing up to that point. Influenced by Piaget’s studies, I realized that no one had sat down and observed children while in the midst of writing. What was their process? What kinds of decisions were the children making? I did pilot studies while seated next to children and discovered that what children did was not what textbooks said they did or needed to do. Children were smart little decision makers, and we needed to understand much more than we did. Make a list of three things today that you wish you knew more about.

 To learn more about Teaching Day by Day, by Don Graves, please click here.

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