Seeking Understanding: When Writers Use Evidence to Guide Their Work

Data are information. We rely on data throughout every day of our lives. They guide even the simplest decisions we make. I find that sometimes, misperceptions about what data are and how we might use them best prevent us from understanding ourselves, our world, and those we serve to our fullest potential. The power of data lies not in what numbers tell us but in the questions that emerge from studying evidence. What kind of data do writers of all ages and experience levels collect? Consider these examples:

  • Elementary writers Elizabeth Luick and Michaela Fuchs use a rubric to reflect on their development of writer’s craft, taking note of those elements of writing that they are struggling with. This enables them to research new strategies that might help them enhance their work.
  • Middle school writer Laura Stockman is excited about starting a photography blog. Uncertain about what she might include in this blog, she begins exploring similar ones online, capturing what they have in common and taking note of qualities that are confusing or less purposeful. She uses this information to shape her own blog design. Then, she shares her first attempts at blogging with a wider audience on the web and asks that they share ideas for how she might improve.
  • Third grade writer William Barsottelli devotes himself to daily journaling practice and tracks his daily progress on a calendar. This enables him to pinpoint when it is easier to fit in writing practice and when it is more difficult. When he compares the content of his journal entries to stalls in his practice, he realizes that it isn’t just his busy social calendar that trips him up. It’s the fact that he runs out of ideas as well. He decides to begin researching prompts that might be more interesting.
  • High school student Read Maisano decides to write a children’s book. Before she begins drafting, she interviews local young readers to survey their interests. She allows this to guide her decision-making. When a teacher in the program encourages her to tap into a more global population, she considers how she might use the web to accomplish this.
  • Before elementary level writers begin writing stories of their own, they explore a variety of published examples together. Using sticky notes, they capture their responses to the following prompt on paper and attach them to the mentor texts that they are studying: Before this writer began writing, what did he or she need to understand first?
  • As Tish Albro drafts a novel, she stops at varied points to share her work with different peers, teachers, and family members. Eager to receive feedback on the development of plot, she asks that they use specific criteria and references to her writing to demonstrate strengths and points of potential revision.  After each reviewer composes and submits their feedback to her, she determines trends in the responses. She realizes that if multiple people have provided reinforcement around a particular portion of her text, she may not need to revise it. She makes changes to those parts of the text that multiple people have provided cool feedback around.
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