Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Knowledge never stands alone.  It builds upon and plays against the knowledge of previous knowers and reporters, whom scholars call sources. 

Thus begins Writing with Sources: A Guide for Students by Gordon Harvey of  Harvard University. ( This booklet is also available in PDF format.)

This slim  handbook for Harvard students became my initial source, my introduction and entrance to an 18- month journey, accompanied by other Columbus Area Writing Project teacher consultants,  into the world of teacher inquiry and research.

I very soon after also discovered what seemed to be the most popular and comprehensive text on the matter, Writing from Sources by Brenda Spatt, now in its eighth edition.

Our teacher inquiry group originally set out to discover, study and define writing with or from sources, examine related writings-- both theory and research, practice and apply new learning in our own writing, as well as explore  both teacher and student inquiry-- how it looks and how it best happens-- in our classrooms, and then, finally, present our work and findings to a larger group or in a larger setting.

(This larger setting in  which we presented ended up being a session at NCTE 2012, but that jumps ahead of the place in the story where we now stand.)


 What is writing with sources?

This was the focus of our first exploratory writing  in the second of our twice-monthly sessions.

(We wrote in every session- at the beginning and at the end. We wrote before we came to each session. And we wrote after each session. Writing was the foundation of our thinking, and sharing,  our processing and learning.)

What is writing with sources?
My own response at that time ( see below)  included lots of wonderings and questions:

As I currently understand writing with sources, it means writing that involves using multiple texts, media, people and artifacts as sources of information and ideas to help frame my own  thinking and writing.
These sources help me know facts, information, and knowledge bases that are available, what others have thought and said and discovered about my topic in the past, and what they are currently thinking, saying and doing related to my topic.   Information sources will also help me learn what has changed and what is disputed involving my area of interest, as well as what is not known—gaps in understandings or available knowledge in both the community of practice and myself, as well.
I see using sources as a process of thinking about what I already know, and making connections to what others know and have learned before me.  How do I fit in with what I am finding? Where do I stand on past and current ideas?  I see this as a process of understanding what I think about what they think.
Discovering which sources will address my personal wonderings, my burning desires for knowledge or reasons, principles or theory is crucial to research.  Who has wondered this before me?  Who else agreed?  Who moved the ideas in a new direction, for a new purpose, a new population?  And most importantly, where and how can I enter the conversation?
Being able to not just articulate the literal information I find in and through various sources, but to interact with it,  implement and apply it, transform it, and make it my own, while realizing where the initial ideas originated and giving credit where credit is due is an important part of writing with sources.  What can I contribute to the larger conversation?  How does it affect what I do from this point ? Where do I go next?
 I expect that in this process I will be led recursively to more wonderings, further research  and discovery, and to more sources--- and ultimately, reenter old conversations with new sources,   and perhaps, even begin, new conversations.


What is writing with sources?

Members of our group shared their responses addressing this question and as we listened we pulled out several words or phrases from each piece that we thought  important for or added to our understand of writing with sources.

Each new piece shared sparked new words and ideas---and inspired the following poem:

As we search for and sort through
thinking critically, taking notes, synthesizing so
we can share
wondering how to present
our new understandings
we evaluate sources
credible or not
similar or different
looking  beyond our own personal
and experiences
creating something new
formal and informal.

As we use other people's work to answer
our own
refined and refined again
taking risks
and living with the questions
with no answers in sight
we lean into the search.

As we think
what they think
as we think about
what they think
as we seek a position within
as we sit positioned within
these ideas
we find ourselves a/part
of the conversation.


Each piece read also raised  new questions :

How do we balance creativity with what students have to be able to do?

What is writing without sources?                      
Is a mentor text considered a source?           
Is the age and times in which we live a source? 
Could books that present many perspectives be a way to introduce students to the notion of a variety of sources that may or may not agree? 
How do students make the knowledge their own?
What is writing with sources?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibility

Write your own response to the question What is writing with sources?.

Write an additional response in another genre or form--- a poem,  a narrative, a list of keywords or questions or understandings.

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