Acts of Teaching: How to Teach Writing: A Text, A Reader, A Narrative

Exploring the Writing Process and the Role of the Library

Here's how it so often goes: a teacher gives out a research paper assignment. The student receives it, sees the word "research," and knows that eventually, he may have to visit his school library. The student does some perfunctory brainstorming, writes a respectable draft of his paper, and upon review, sees two paragraphs where he could insert outside quotes—all he has to do is find sources that provide him with the exact quotes he needs in the exact spot he needs them.

And as we know, that's the opposite of inquiry-based learning.

In their book Acts of Teaching: How to Teach Writing, Joyce Armstrong Carroll and Edward E. Wilson provide fresh insights into each stage of the writing process, from early pre-writing to final proofreading. In particular, Carroll and Wilson emphasize the role inquiry can play in each stage, which provides a great opportunity for librarians and teachers to collaborate on student projects. The Carroll/Wilson Inquiry Schemata weaves the writing and inquiry processes together and provides a helpful model to share with teachers when planning collaboratively. Additionally, the story of a student, Jerry, exemplifies how applying this schemata can help students move to produce "deeper, more sophisticated, more rigorous, more detailed, more precise college-ready papers" (183).

Jerry, an eleventh-grade student, wrote one of his reflexive pieces about hitting a dog while driving down the street. To move Jerry into the extensive mode, it was easy to suggest he write a letter to the editor about the necessity of leash laws and the value of dog tags. Once he completed that inquiry and writing, we helped Jerry identify clearly factual points as opposed to points based on conjecture or opinion.

At this point, Jerry began his investigation in earnest. He examined what others had discovered and recorded about his topic. He interviewed people working with animal control, veterinarians, breeders, and pet owners. He read statutes and opinions on the subject. During this process, we taught him research skills—everything from how to use a periodical index to how to ascertain and access reliable sources on the Internet, from how to paraphrase to how to record findings. When he shared with his group in class, Jerry was able to articulate his findings and, together with the group, evaluate them.

As Jerry moved his writing from the letter genre to the essay genre, he remained intensely interested and focused upon his topic.

Requirements of 50 note cards became superfluous for this type of inquiry; Jerry had much more: audio and videotapes, photocopies of articles, pictures of animals. For emotional appeal, he had a letter from an elderly lady who had lost her dog to a drunk driver. She begged drivers to be more careful. The kids sat riveted as Jerry read the letter—most thought of their own pets.

Jerry used the tools of a good researcher—everything out there. Vygotsky would say he "heaped." When he wrote his documented essay, he constructed his data into complexes—what connected in like ways and what differed. He grouped items by function and linguistically made dynamic links that explained his position. Jerry did not suffer from the pseudo-concepts carefully copied note cards sometimes yield. He learned that research is messy work and that everything does not fall neatly into preordained cognitive slots.

Then Jerry was left to draw conclusions based on the evidence and the connections. He had to use his higher-level thinking to decide how he would present his views and the views of others. He had to consider his purpose. Did he want to persuade or inform? Did he want to inject some narrative anecdotes into his essay? Did he want to set up his paper as one of argumentation? We couldn't advise him at this point until he explored more, wrote more, and thought more about the impact of his research.

After Jerry completed his essay, he reconsidered his hypothesis. He had data; now he had to use the data (evidence) and his hypothesis to write his thesis statement. If Jerry were in a traditional classroom, he would have been asked before he had done any type of inquiry "to write a thesis statement." Too often teachers bypass the hypothesis and have students jump directly to writing a thesis statement. (And teachers wonder why students do poorly on research.) In doctoral research it is common for the researcher to develop a hypothesis, write a proposal, conduct tests, do preliminary research, and finally write a thesis that proves or disproves the hypothesis. In the research loop of the traditional classroom, students and the teacher skip this process and "jump to the chase." Students not quite certain about the importance of the thesis statement often end up with a weak one.

With all his reading and study, Jerry was ready to document his sources and present a piece of writing that convincingly and coherently dealt with his topic. Jerry moved from what he knew into what others helped him to know better, more deeply, or differently. He never had to completely leave the arena of his own knowledge. He never had to report on those things about which he knew nothing.

Jerry's story illustrates where a librarian can be invaluable during the inquiry process: research. Support and instruction from the librarian can help students like Jerry identify where they need to learn more about their subject, what types of sources can be most helpful, and later, how to present that integrated information into their own discourse. In an inquiry-based writing project, research is an important tool every step of the way.

Book cover
Teachers of writing at all levels will applaud this edition for its new features designed to help teachers to understand and teach to today's new paradigms in writing. New to this edition are two chapters on cognition and technology, respectively; a chapter on early literacy, with student samples; and, for the first time, an online connection that links readers to important articles, visuals, and resources.

Essay writing is explored through discussion of the thesis and its criteria; five organizational patterns for the expository essay; and distinctions among the opinion, persuasive, and argumentative essay. Several new prewriting strategies are also provided: A Sense Notebook, Looking, Contouring, an expanded explanation of Blueprinting, and a discussion of a hierarchical approach to organization.
Author(s): Joyce Armstrong Carroll, EdD, HLD, and Edward E. Wilson with Nicole Klimow and Kristy Hill
Pages: 233 • Volumes: 1 • Size: 7x10
Paperback Price: $60.00
ISBN/ISSN: 9781440857805

Inclusive of the scope and authoritative references from earlier editions, this edition additionally embraces the digital world and provides practical suggestions for performing the "act of teaching."

• Offers practical suggestions for teaching writing to students of all ages
• Focuses on the inquiry process as it parallels the writing process
• Offers many new tips and strategies for teachers to implement in all stages of the writing process
• Discusses the impact of technology on student writing
• Features appendices with important readings in the field of writing instruction

Author Info

Joyce Armstrong Carroll, EdD, HLD, has taught at every level through graduate school in her sixty-year career. A nationally known consultant, she has served as president of TCTE and on NCTE's Commission on Composition and its Standing Committee Against Censorship. Recipient of the Edmund J. Farrell Lifetime Achievement Award in Education and the Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Dr. Carroll has written numerous articles and more than twenty books. She and her husband authored a national writing and grammar series as well as AbydosPRO: An Integrated Writing and Grammar Curriculum. She codirects Abydos Literacy Learning.

Edward E. Wilson is codirector with his wife, Joyce Armstrong Carroll, of Abydos Literacy Learning. He has taught at the elementary, secondary, and junior college levels and is a member of NCTE, TCTELA, and ASCD. A poet, he coedited Poetry After Lunch and coauthored Writing and Grammar. Wilson owns Absey & Company and is a publisher committed to promoting educational excellence and creative works of literary merit.

Nicole Klimow earned her PhD from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in Educational Psychology Foundations. Her dissertation focused on the impact of educational standards on high school English teachers' writing praxis. She works for the Clark County School District as a program administrator for the English Language Learner Division. Klimow has twenty years as an educator, professional developer, and researcher, and is an Abydos trainer.

Kristy Hill, MLS, is a library media technology specialist, educator, writing trainer, and author. She has worked in education for seventeen years and is author of professional books for librarians and teachers.

MLA Citation Carroll, Joyce Armstrong, and Edward E. Wilson. "Acts of Teaching: How to Teach Writing: A Text, A Reader, A Narrative." School Library Connection, March 2019,

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Entry ID: 2195083

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