Tuning in to author studies

We are about to start author studies here in my Kindergarten class, but first, we took some time to tune in.

The notion of tuning in is often misunderstood. Some teachers regard tuning in as initial explorations of a unit’s content or concepts, which is not altogether incorrect- provoking student interest and identifying personal connections is a necessary component of the start of a unit of inquiry in order to help students begin their journey to deep conceptual understandings. However, teachers must also tune in to their students– What do they already know? What do they think they know? What do they want to know? How is this relevant to their lives? This valuable information will expose misconceptions, reveal student interests, uncover students’ own life experiences, and encourage questions, all of which should, in turn, guide the direction of future inquiries.

Kath Murdoch (the well-known inquiry rock star) suggests the teacher’s primary role during the tuning in phase of inquiry is to “… stimulate, question, record, mediate and, above all, to listen.” (p.12).

With this in mind, I started the process of tuning my students into the concept of authorship via a simple thinking routine, whilst I tuned into them, their prior knowledge, and what may interest them as we learn about various authors and their work.

Part one

First, we defined what an author is. The general consensus was that an author is someone who writes a book.

Next, the students brainstormed what authors do. It was a slow start for the students (“It’s their work….. it’s a job”), but once the first student mentioned that authors write to tell us a message, “….like something they want to tell you…”, then the ball really got rolling!

– To help us learn to read.

– Because they want to tell a story.

– So they can tell us something.

– So we can listen to an author’s story.

– Other people might enjoy their stories.

The students noticed that a lot of them had the same idea, that authors write to tell us something. This is when we made our first generalisation, a ‘big idea’- authors write to tell us things.

It was at this point that one student called out, “Authors write books and poems and posters, too!”. After lots of excited “Yeah!” comments were made, we all agreed that this should be our new definition of ‘author’.

Part two

We started to think about the different things authors write about. It was another slow start, but after I asked the students to think of their favourite books and what they were about, then the ideas flowed!

I especially like the comment that authors write about “….what they are thinking about.” When I asked this student to elaborate, he replied that they write about what they like, which another student connected to the students’ own published books that are displayed around the room. This led the students to the realisation that they are authors! Whoa!

As we had been thinking about authors some more and we had uncovered new information, I revisited our first ‘big idea’- the generalisation that authors write to tell us things- and asked if the students wanted to change it. It was a 50/50 split as to who wanted to change it, and who wanted to keep it the same. A bit of persuasive discussion ensued:

– It’s OK already.

– But we can put the things that authors write about.

– Everything?

– Yes! It tells us more information.

– Yeah!

It was at this point that I jumped in and asked if we could say all the things authors can write about in one or two words. Silence. I suggested the word anything, then another student suggested everything. One student called out, “Authors can write to tell us about anything!”. We had our new ‘big idea’.

Part three

I changed today’s question from ‘How do authors write?’ (waaaay too abstract) to ‘How do authors share what they write?’ (much more focused on what I wanted the students to think about, which were the different ways we can access and read authors’ work).

One student had mentioned recipes yesterday, and I explained at the time that recipes were also a way authors could share what they were thinking about and what they liked, so it was added to today’s section of the poster, too.  When we started today, the word ‘recipe’ seemed to prompt the students’ thoughts immediately. Students got into the flow of this idea straight away, which surprised me as the relatively straightforward questions from the past two days seemed to stump them at first. Sometimes they just need a little nudge!

Once we had thought of different ways authors can share their writing, we made connections between them- can you read a recipe in a newspaper? On an iPad? How about via an audiobook? The students realised that there are many different ways authors can share their writing, and many different ways we can read about things, not just via books.

One student suggested we change the definition of author again to include all the different ways authors can share their writing……..

Which brought us back to our ‘big idea’. Did it need to change again? The students all agreed that they wanted to change it to include today’s new information, so we ended up with……..

We wrapped up by stepping back and marveling at how our understanding had changed over the past few days as a result of thinking about new ideas and making connections between these ideas.

No student questions came up throughout this entire process- are they interested in author studies? I’m not entirely sure, but my next step is to actually ask them! Once the ball gets rolling, I anticipate my students will start to ask lots of why and how questions. In the meantime, we’re going to start with Dr. Seuss as he is a class favourite. They seemed to enjoy the process of creating generalisations, what we are calling ‘big ideas’- I wonder if we can make generalisations about authors and their work?

But for now, we are tuned in and ready to start finding out about authors through author studies!

Murdoch, K. (1998). Classroom Connections: strategies for integrated learning. Eleanor Curtain Publishing: South Yarra, Australia.
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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. mrscordoba
    Mar 10, 2013 @ 01:01:01

    Bren thanks for sharing the exciting developments happening in your classroom. We often forget exactly what pre-learning looks like and its’ purpose in our eagerness to get right into the during-learning.

    Reply

  2. jeffmwoodcock
    Mar 10, 2013 @ 18:52:09

    Several things really stood out for me. The explanation of the tuning process is made so clear. You often hear so many teachers ask how an inquiry model can be connected to language/texts but I think this is a perfect example of what it could look like early on. I also really liked how the understanding continued to change and be documented. The images could really be helpful for your students’ parents and teachers alike to understand the process you’ve engaged in.
    I’m excited to hear where you go from here.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

  3. Brady Cline
    Mar 14, 2013 @ 04:39:28

    Approximately how long did each part take? Over a few days or?

    What’s great about this description of inquiry is that it doesn’t sugar-coat it to make it seem like it’s a quicker process than it is. This stuff takes time if we really want to let the students do the unpacking. Unfortunately, this can be really difficult for teachers for two reasons: personal patience and the pressure of delivering content. Despite these challenges, this post illustrates how rewarding it can be.

    Reply

  4. brenchan
    Nov 14, 2013 @ 02:55:01

    An epilogue…..
    I’ve re-read my post on author studies, and have thought about ways this could have been done more effectively.
    One idea I have is to delve straight into author studies, leaving the construction of generalisations until mid-way through, or whenever the students start making them themselves, to give students a chance to develop and connect their ideas as they inquire, rather than ‘force’ it at the start of the unit.
    I also think this would allow for more natural inquiry, bouncing back and forth between the various phases of inquiry as we read, compare and contrast, as opposed to going around the cycle ‘in order’.
    I always enjoy reflecting on my practice in order to do it better next time! 🙂
    Brenna
    PS: in response to Brady’s question- this process took three consecutive days, with each part of the process identified above being done on a different day.

    Reply

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