Close reading is what lets students see how to find evidence from the text rather than from common sense or general knowledge.
The process work we’re advocating here is multistaged, iterative, messy work.
The student may move from the text to questions to freewriting or brainstorming to drafting, then go back to the text and so on, deepening her analysis by asking questions.
She may use a range of visually rich, active-learning methods to generate ideas, get her thoughts in order and fill gaps.
If we do, they’ll go back to the old game of trying to figure out “what the professor wants.” If we want students to really learn through writing, what we actually want, of course, is nothing more (and nothing less) than student inquiry and convincing, evidence-based thinking and writing.
There is risk in the classroom, too: query-based learning requires us to focus on helping students learn to ask questions.(By “text” we mean a literary work, artwork, event, engineering problem -- any document or piece of art, nature or science subject to careful scrutiny and analysis.) After looking closely at that first moment and figuring out what she thinks is going on there, and why it matters -- that is, after analyzing the phenomenon -- the student may apply what she’s learned to a second moment and ask a new question.Eventually, she extrapolates, showing how what she’s learned adds up to a new way to look at a character or issue in the text as a whole.To get there, we tell our students, they’ll need a meaningful, effective, multistep writing .We ask students to begin by exploring something specific in the text, rather than a big idea or generalization.That process is inquiry based and student directed -- it requires a student to look for a tension in the text, something strange or interesting that she doesn’t yet comprehend, and to ask questions about it.That means she must begin by admitting, “I don’t understand” -- a daunting and difficult prospect.We think the essay form is still the best way for students to think hard on the page -- but we are not fans of formulae.Instead, we’re in favor of inquiry-based learning, evidence-rich analysis and process work.In other words, we believe in asking students to write the kinds of essays we write ourselves -- and in giving students the tools to do that. In fact, to do it on a large scale may require wholesale rethinking of academic structures.But since virtually everyone agrees that there is a crisis in how we teach writing, it’s clear such rethinking is desperately needed.