IMPLEMENTING APPRECIATIVE INQUIRY INTO
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
Amanda Caroline Irtz
B.A. Chapman University, 2002
This thesis for the Master of Arts
Amanda Caroline Irtz
has been approved
Irtz, Amanda Caroline (M.A. in English, Teaching of Writing)
Implementing Appreciative Inquiry into Writing Classrooms
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Richard VanDeWeghe
Appreciative Inquiry is a process of inquiry leading to the eventual
realization of the ideal. It brings out the best in people, promoting joy and
applying best practices. Individuals who engage in Appreciative Inquiry (AI)
often discover more about themselves and what they want for the future. Also
used as a collaborative process for discovery, AI is a process in which people
leam with each other rather than from one person.
Appreciative Inquiry (AI) can also transform writing classrooms into a
vibrant and alive environment, where students are empowered to investigate all
positive aspects of writing, and the teacher is partner in learning with the students.
Implementing Appreciative Inquiry Into Writing Classrooms examines
behaviorist, humanistic and whole language approaches to the teaching of writing
as compared to Appreciative Inquiry. Classroom strategies are recommended,
personal stories are shared, and inquiries are brought forward.
The core focus of AI is on what is working well instead of what isnt
working. Humans tend to have a positive outlook in life when they constantly
look at the positive. Conversely, when humans focus on deficits their world fills
up with problems. This is precisely the reason to implement AI into the writing
classroom. It brings people together. It even changes the way people think. If AI
can transform the everyday world, then it can also transform the way our young
writers think about writing and do writing.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
For Gran: In admiration of your inquiring mind
your appreciation for everything that is.
I am grateful for the insightful knowledge of Amanda Trosten-Bloom, who
brought depth and perspective to this thesis. Im also grateful for the advice of
Richard VanDeWeghe, who read several earlier versions of this manuscript. I
owe debt and gratitude to my family, who supported me during the compilation of
my thesis. Id also like to convey my appreciation to Wayne you inspired me
to bring laughter into this text.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
How My Proclamation Came Into Being......................1
How Will This Idea Unfold................................5
2. WHAT I KNOW................................................6
Practice of Humanistic Education Works...................6
Behaviorist Learning Is an Approach That Doesnt Work....8
Whole Language Learning.................................10
3. DEFINITON AND HISTORY OF APRRECIATIVE INQUIRY...........12
Link Between Appreciative Inquiry and Effective Writing.17
Why AI Is Not Just Happy Talk...........................21
Effects of Appreciative Inquiry.........................24
4. THE 4-D CYCLE.............................................25
Affirmative Topic Choice................................25
The Discovery Stage.....................................27
The Dream Stage.........................................29
The Design Stage........................................31
The Destiny Stage.......................................32
5. ORIGINS OF WRITING AND THE EMERGENCE OF
Foundations of Appreciative Inquiry.....................39
Adopted and Supported Theories..........................43
Recognizing Patterns.................................. 45
6. APPRECIATIVE INQUIRY PRINCIPLES..........................49
Principle #1: The Constructionist Principle.............49
Principle #2: The Simultaneity Principle................51
Principle #3: The Poetic Principle......................53
Principle #4: The Anticipatory Principle................55
Principle #5: The Positive Principle....................56
7. THE AI WRITING CLASSROOM.................................60
Learn and Teach as a Writer
Process for Student-Teacher Conference....................65
AI Writing Groups.........................................68
8. CLASSROOM CLIMATE...........................................74
Communities of Learning...................................75
Ideal Learning Environments...............................78
Connection to Something Bigger..........................85
Reading Model Writing...................................88
Focusing on the Positive................................90
Affirmative Topic Choice...........................92
Strength-Based Strategies to Bring Out the Best in Young Writers 95
Get Class Sessions Off to a Good Start.............96
Coach for High Performance.........................96
Demonstrate Positive Intent and Trust..............97
9. CONCLUDING THOUGHTS..................................104
What Will Happen?...................................105
A.l INTERVIEW PROTOCOL....................................106
LIST OF FIGURES
4.1 Appreciative Inquirys 4-D Cycle......................................33
LIST OF TABLES
3.1 Differences Between Deficit and Asset-Based Messages..................23
8.1 Relationships Between Change Agenda and Affirmative Topics............94
A. 1 Interview Protocol....................................................106
Appreciative Inquiry transforms writing classrooms into vibrant and lively
environments, where students are empowered to investigate all positive aspects of
writing, and the teacher is partner in learning with the students. This is my
proclamation for teaching writing. I fully believe in the power of strength-based
thinking and caring environments. I believe students and teachers thrive when they
build relationships and nurture each others best practices. For me, this proclamation
is my mantra, my daily prayer and my conviction.
How My Proclamation Came Into Being
Freshman year of English at Overland High School in Aurora, Colorado was
especially daunting for me. Every freshman in the school was required to take Mr.
Chases grammar course. His class was like a form of initiation into high school
English. He was known for his green pen, which was his mark. The felt tip caught
every comma splice, incomplete thought, and all other errors. While I never knew
him as a person outside of the classroom, I did know a few things about his teaching
style: The teacher is always right; a good student equates to a good person; and the
ability to use grammar created a form of hierarchy among peers and colleagues.
My goal in Mr. Chases freshman grammar class was survival. I didnt care about
actually learning grammar; instead, I cared about the art of false pretenses. My goal
as a freshman at Overland High School was to prove to my family and friends that I
The first day of class is when it all started. Everyone was instructed to find
his/her seat according to the seating chart sitting on Mr. Chases desk. In a single file
line, we each found our names on the chart and then located our seat in the room.
Students sitting in the first seat of each row served as the unofficial buffer between
him and the rest of the class. Anyone sitting in the front had to be brave. Of course, I
was selected to sit in the front row. Even worse, I sat in the 3rd seat of six my row
right in the middle of the room. This seat, of all the seats in the sterile classroom, was
the single seat that would be called upon the most. And for me, that meant I had to
prepare for a battle.
Miz-zz Amanda, he would cough, Can you identify the noun in this
Well sure, Mr. Chase, I would say with every bit of hesitation.
And then squinting my eyes, trying to see the writing on the board, I would
ask Mr. Chase to read the sentence.
Uh-oh, I muttered to myself. I see three norms. How do I know which
noun is the right one?
Now clenching my fists, eyes watering, I suddenly felt a spell of coughing
attack my throat. Instead of answering the question, I asked Mr. Chase if I could be
excused for a sip of water.
I felt particularly stupid (to be blunt). Using stupid as an adjective to describe
my learning style soon became my reality. I always had an excuse when I couldnt
answer a question on the board. However, my teacher became weary of my usual I
cant read your handwriting and I need a sip of water excuses.
In another light, Mr. Chase was a great teacher in the truest forms of the
definition. He mastered the English language and was passionate about poetry and
Shakespeare. There was nothing he couldnt answer, didnt know, or wouldnt learn.
He truly set the example for future teachers because he knew his content.
My experience in Mr. Chases class prompted me to start thinking about my
Writing Proclamation. I began to wonder what would happen to my learning when
my teacher praised my best practices. I wondered about the learning environment and
how the look and feel of the classroom impacted my learning. More importantly, I
wondered what it would be like to feel valued, listened to, and appreciated.
How Will This Idea Unfold?
My wonderings about the learning environment, teacher-student relationship,
and the feeling of appreciation begin to take shape in this thesis. My idea for the
perfect slice of American pie comes partnered with a healthy dose of Appreciative
Inquiry. Appreciative Inquiry, as you will continue to read and learn about, is a
search or investigation to what brings life to human beings. The concept of
Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is new and raw; however, the core message of building on
strengths and focusing on the positive is an old reminder about working with human
I like to think of AI as my fine-point paintbrush. I use it to attend to the small
details that are sometimes missed with a glance, but always noticed by the practiced
eye. I use it while assessing a piece of writing or conferencing with a student writer.
AI is an integral part of my teaching style and my pedagogy. It is a belief system that
has been acquired through practice and inquiry. Just like me, Im sure youll learn to
play with the meaning of AI and how it can transform not only your writing
classroom, but also your life.
It is important to remember that AI is just one reliable tool. There are many
other tools, or lets call them teaching practices, that are proven to be effective. But
AI is an approach that can be tinkered with, integrated to full capacity, or used even
once. It is the greatest tool for knowing your students and human beings. It is the
greatest tool for recognizing the best and the beautiful in every piece of writing.
WHAT I KNOW
After pursuing my undergraduate degree and diving into my masters course
work, my wonderings become a concrete reality. It wasnt until my students cried in
class because my green-ink marks covered crafted pages, that I realized my
wonderings were right. I thought circling every error, not just the patterns, would
teach my students the finer points of English grammar. The obvious piece is that I
didnt know all of the rules in English grammar.
Obviously I was wrong. Like Mr. Chase, I just didnt know the importance of
appreciation. The term appreciation is used in the sense that teachers, students and
even parents are devoted to discovering best practices in one another. In fact, I didnt
even know it belonged inside the classroom. Teaching for me was about never
making the same mistake twice. However, my new approach to teaching and learning
is about appreciating what is and what will be.
Practice of Humanistic Education Works
Like many current and past students, I know how to differentiate between a positive
and negative learning experience. For me, there are certain indicators
connected to positive experiences. I look for a teacher who welcomes student-
teacher discussions. Class sessions that utilize student-student learning help me think
about not just the what of learning, but the how. There are of course the basics:
respect for all learners and teachers; openness to multiple forms of learning; and a
willingness to grow and think in different ways.
The previous description fits into a Humanistic practice of education.
Humanistic practice places importance on the individual rather than the perceived
outcome or learning goal. Learning only occurs when the teacher and student build a
respectful and meaningful relationship. Author Jerome Allender of Teacher Self: The
Practice of Humanistic Education, writes:
Along with pressure to do their work, students should feel a teachers caring
and trust. This does not mean that students are peers. Someplace between
friendship and constructive authority is a classroom leader who facilitates the
development of commitment and community (5).
Humanistic practice shifts awareness away from sterile impediments of a teachers
knowledge, to the collective embodiment of students and teachers learning. It draws
on Gestalt Theory, which views knowledge as a continuous organization and
rearrangement of information according to needs, purposes, and meanings (Polito
par. 9). As a challenge to behaviorist thinking, Mario Polito asserts, "learning is not
accumulation, but remodeling and insight" (Polito par. 9). Joining intellectual,
emotional, and body awareness, reminds Allender, assures the development of a
teacher self that supports interactive relationships in the classroom (57). Humanistic
educators understand the very nature of human beingsto strive for feelings of
comfort. And comfort, is exactly what humanistic educators tend to integrate into
learning environments. Comfort is used in the sense that young writers have the
ability to be the best writer they can. They are allowed to explore writing ideas.
Writers are encouraged to become masters of their manuscripts.
Many of the previously described humanistic characteristics complement
Appreciative Inquiry (AI). AI is the co-evolutionary search for the best in people,
practices, and organizations (Rethinking Human Organizations 5). AI investigates
and discovers what brings life to human systems (Rethinking Human Organizations
5). Like the humanistic approach, AI heavily builds on interactive relationships and
collective embodiment of both teacher and student learning. To say the least, the
humanistic approach is just one of several that AI draws upon.
Behaviorist Learning Is an Approach That Doesnt Work
The converse of Humanistic practice in education is the Behaviorist approach.
B.F. Skinner, father and researcher of the approach, suggests] that many types of
learning can be improved by the systematic application of good shaping procedures.
... (Nye 34). He emphasized the radical belief that by controlling the environment,
teachers can also control behavior. A far stretch from humanistic practices, the
behaviorist approach looks at people as machines that have an on and off switch.
Skinner introduced programmed materials, textbooks, and the idea of the teaching
machine to educational institutions. Key elements of behaviorist approach, reports
author Robert D. Nye, include the following:
1. Keep the learner busy;
2. Learner moves along at his/her own pace;
3. Permit complete mastery of each unit before the next one is presented; and
4. Provide immediate reinforcement of correct responses by letting the
learner know he or she is correct (35).
Major problems stand out in this practice. First, learners should never be kept busy
with worksheets, textbook assignments, or meaningless chapters in a textbook.
Learning is about engaging in new patterns of thought. It is about questioning and
challenging paradigms. Learning is discovery, not a task that assists busyness. While
the second approach in behaviorist learning seems harmless, it really limits the
multiple modalities of learning. In this approach, students learn from a book or a
piece of information. There is no collaboration with other students and little
interaction with the teacher. Once the student has mastered a piece of material, then
he or she is permitted to move forward. However, this approach defines the next step.
Students are not leaders in the learning; there are no choices involved. In fact,
students are herded from one part of curricula to the next. The last piece, providing
immediate reinforcement, gives learners the belief that there is only one right
answer. A learner isnt encouraged to think about different possibilities.
Whole Language Learning
One last practice, which I will draw upon, is whole language practice. Whole
language is rooted in this belief: Language is kept whole [through the] integration of
reading, writing, listening and speaking across the curriculum (Robb 12). Whole
language incorporates an evaluation process and a teacher who is a coach, or a co-
learner. Much of the practice relies on the incorporation of literature, multiple texts,
drama and plays, room arrangement, and student and teacher reflections. Laura
Robb, author of Whole Language. Whole Learner, sharply contrasts the behaviorist
approach to the whole language approach. Robb concludes that a behaviorist
classroom is solely autocraticmeaning the teacher makes all the decisions. She
writes, Teacher[s] transmit a body of knowledge to students who passively receive
it; learning is competitive (12). Unlike whole language, and of course Appreciative
Inquiry, the behaviorist approach demands one form of learning, which inevitably
reaches only a few students.
The whole language, behaviorist, and humanistic approaches will all be
referred to throughout the remaining sections. However, it needs to be noted that
Appreciative Inquiry cannot and would not exist without the previous educational
approaches, pedagogies, and practices. Many educational theories exist and are
practiced every day in the classroom. Appreciative Inquiry is just one of these
theories being implemented.
DEFINITION AND HISTORY OF APPRECIATIVE INQUIRY
Ap-preci-ate, v., 1. valuing; the act of recognizing the best in people or the
world around us; affirming past and present strengths, successes, and
potentials; to perceive those things that give life (health, vitality, excellence)
to living systems 2. to increase in value, e.g. the economy has appreciated in
value. Synonyms: VALUING, PRIZING, ESTEEMING, and HONORING.
In-quire (kwir), v., 1. the act of exploration and discovery. 2. To ask
questions; to be open to seeing new potentials and possibilities. Synonyms:
DISCOVERY, SEARCH, and SYSTEMATIC EXPLORATION, STUDY (What
Is Appreciative Inquiry? par. 1-2).
In the quote above, David L. Cooperrider and Diana Whitney deconstruct the
idea of Appreciative Inquiry into the simple terms appreciate and inquire. The
two words individually hold meaning and powerfully evoke a harmonious union. The
word appreciate affirms the strengths and potentials of individuals. When people
learn to appreciate each other, they learn to understand and recognize differences and
eventually celebrate those differences. By appreciating, individuals are tapping into
the human side (or the humanistic side) of each other. They are beginning to
recognize the qualities that make humans human.
To inquire means to ask questions and explore a myriad of conclusions.
Inquiry is an important component of all learning processes because it allows the
student to make decisions about how and when to learn. Like a detective who
searches for all of the clues to find the right answer or solve the mystery, an inquiry is
uniquely similar. Students and teachers must research, ask questions, and then ask
more questions. It is about collecting all that is needed in order to come to a final
Inquiry, in terms of Appreciative Inquiry, means to search for all the
possibilities! Rather than search for the areas of weakness, the areas of possibility
create a positive transformation in the way in which individuals think and do. The
powerful combination solicits gratitude for an individual's strengths and seeks to
build on those strengths. It is a process of inquiry leading to the eventual realization
of the ideal. It brings out the best in people, promoting joy and applying best
practices. Individuals who engage in Appreciative Inquiry (AI) often discover more
about themselves and what they want for the future. Also used as a collaborative
process for discovery, AI is a process in which people learn with each other rather
than from one person.
The idea of co-evolutionary search was part of the original term devised by
David Cooperrider and Dr. Suresh Srivasta in 1985 at the Weatherhead School of
Management, at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, in search of a
fresh approach to positive organizational change. Together they began inquiring into
contributing factors of organizations success and effectiveness. Instead of focusing
on the problems and then creating a solution, Cooperrider and Srivasta focused on
strengths and assets. They concluded that AI
Is about the co-evolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations,
and the relevant world around them. In its broadest focus, it involves
systematic discovery of what give life to a living system when it is most
alive, most effective and most constructively capable in economic, ecological
and human terms (Rethinking Human Organizations 5).
The Washington State Board of Education, for example, identified a major
problem in public education: The class of 2008 did not know enough about the new
state graduation requirements, or how to make them relevant to their lives
(Student2Student). Soon thereafter, the Board of Education launched a program
named Student2Student. Empowering students to make positive choices in their daily
lives, Student2Student is thought of as a catalyst for change. As students, they
thought of an ambitious and innovative program that could make a difference. The
program today has evolved into a new approach of classroom learning, guidance
activities, and assembly all rooted in Appreciative Inquiry. School committees,
consisting of both young people and adults, meet to discuss ways to make graduation
requirements more relevant to a young persons life. Students on these committees
began to look at the things that already worked: teacher-student conferences,
alternative course work, student-student-led learning. Instead of bringing new ideas
and strategies into the school, these students used Appreciative Inquirys pedagogy of
building on current success.
A closer look at Washingtons success is evident at Black Hills High School.
Students at this school were asked to assist the Office of the Superintendent of Public
Instruction (OSPI) in the creation of a statewide strategic plan for student engagement
and involvement. From this initial charge, students created a vision for what they
wanted to experience inside Black Hills High. Their ability to make a difference is
evident as these students have worked to do the following: Make school a more
accepting and positive place; Create a better learning environment; Establish better
student/adult relationships and communication; Raise the desire for student to attend
school; and...Give students an opportunity to have their voices and ideas heard.
(Student2Student 2). These visionary goals are based on minuscule strategies and
ideas that already worked. They are strength-based and reflect the needs and wants
of the students at Black Hills High.
The Washington State Board of Education, OSPI and the students at Black
Hills High began implementing Cooperriders initial theory of AI, which has been
morphed into its definition by numerous organizations and companies around the
world. New, but similar definitions emerged during the past 21 years in an effort to
build strength-based communities and companies and organizations. One such
definition, used by Amanda Trosten-Bloom, author of The Power of Appreciative
Inquiry, states, By providing presumptions of logic, by transmitting subtle values, by
creating new language, and by extending compelling images and constraints, perhaps
in these ways [...] cultural practices may be altered (83). In a similar stream of
thought, Leodones Yaballe and Dennis OConnor, also pioneers in the research of AI,
define AI like this: [Teachers] acknowledge the usefulness of students experience
as a wellspring of insight into organizational life, an interesting focus of reflection,
and a credible source of guidance for action and experimentation (Appreciative
Pedagogy: Constructing Positive Models for Learning 474).
Appreciative Inquiry gained a popular reputation during Cooperriders work
with Global Excellence in Management (GEM), an international non-governmental
organization (NGO). In 1990 the GEM Initiative gathered groups of leaders from
across the world for an international AI meeting. More than 100 NGOs benefited
because they learned how to use and incorporate Appreciative Inquiry into their
individual organizations (Trosten-Bloom 84).
Movements have evolved from AI. One such movement, Positive
Psychology, tapped into AI and developed a constructive and strength-based
approach to mental health. Techniques such as finding a patients strengths, like
compassion and humor, are tools that can be used on a daily basis (Therapy That
Keeps). The message is clear, says Martin E.P. Seligman: to remind our field [of
psychology] that psychology is not just the study of pathology, weakness, and
damage; it is also the study of strength and virtue (Positive Psychology: An
Introduction). Seligman continues: The aim of Positive Psychology is to begin to
catalyze a change in the focus of psychology from preoccupation only with repairing
the worst things in life to also building positive qualities (Positive Psychology: An
Introduction). Some such positive qualities include hope, wisdom, intellect,
creativity, and spirit. It is about tapping into the qualities of an individual and
making them bigger and stronger.
Appreciative Inquiry also has been used in a network of global organizations,
bridging the divide between religion and education, politics and environment. One
such experiment occurred in 1995 when 55 people from different religions gathered
in California to create a shared vision of global interfaith organization (Trosten-
Bloom 88). This first AI Summit sparked many more global conferences because the
concept of building on strengths harvested the energies and passions of the
individuals involved. These individuals wanted to capture the positive thinking of
their organizations, and thus, Appreciative Inquiry began its journey into the core of
the corporate world.
Link Between Appreciative Inquiry and Effective Writing
Appreciative Inquiry is a theory praised by many organizations and companies
internationally. AI is responsible for revitalizing and transforming organizations. It
challenges thinking and brings all, and otherwise silent, voices together. While AIs
history is grounded in collaboration with companies and large organizations, I believe
it also can thrive inside the writing classroom. The ideal of writing is this: a human
system that enriches our lives, igniting energy and passion to capture our stories with
However, some realities make writing a chore or a mundane task. Our
young writers dont experience the personal connection to words as many published
authors do. Why? We can speculate on many causes, such as the recent emergence
of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the application of state standards to learning
curricula, and demands put on teachers to meet the needs of these standards. Todays
learning is stepping back into the behaviorist approach, as students must learn from a
set of textbooks in order to master the 5-paragraph essay. This approach degrades
authentic teaching and erases creative learning.
While current and past legislative measures were created to improve the lives
and education of Americas children, there is still something missing. Kristine Cohn,
Secretarys Regional Assistant in Chicago, IL, reminds the general public of the
missing piece in her 2007 response article to the editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer:
In 1965, President Johnson signed into law the first federal aid program for
high-poverty school districts. It lacked one core ingredient, however:
accountability. A year later, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy asked, "What happened
to the children? Do you mean you spent a billion dollars and you don't know
whether they can read or not?"
The No Child Left Behind Act is America's answer to that question. In five
years, it has committed unprecedented new resources to public education in
exchange for true accountability for results. It has given schools a reliable
yardstick to measure students' progress in learning fundamental reading and
math skills so that they can succeed in school and in life (par. 1-2).
However, this yardstick is dehumanizing our children. I dont think
presidents Johnson, Kennedy, Clinton and Bush wanted public education to rely
heavily on the textbook and less on resources and knowledge of the teacher and her
students. Today we have teachers graphing our students. Measuring their growth
like a rat is tested and measured in a science lab. Our form of education borrows
from the behaviorist approach in that it controls learning behaviors and demands
everyone progress at the same pace. Neither approach focuses on the human being.
Tests categorize our children based on the same standards rather than
harvesting the collective strengths of the individual. When children fail, it is not
because they are ignorant. Rather, it is because they dont hold strengths in the areas
in which they are being tested. Standardized testing, per the requirements of the
federal government and as initiated by both presidents Clinton and Bush, was created
to help schools improve by focusing on accountability for results, freedom for states
and communities, proven education methods, and choices for parents (United States
Department of Education). Yet these tests only stunt the creative growth of
Americas children by forcing them to learn a prescribed script of curricula. The
antithesis to Appreciative Inquiry, NCLB prescribes the outcomes, which drive the
curricula and inevitably steer the learning of children. AI, on the other hand, focuses
on the human being and the strengths he/she holds. AI is about discovering the best
and celebrating those best practices in every individual.
If practiced, Appreciative Inquiry approach to learning invites students to
explore personal strengths and demonstrate holistic knowledge. Writers engaging in
AI can collaboratively learn with peers and teachers. In fact, AI nurtures the human
side of learningmeaning students create learning agendas through appreciating
what is and inquiring more into what will be. Thus, we can continue to build a
stronger nation of writers with support, dreams, and strength-based thinking. AI
gives life to human systems. In this case, writing and learning are the human systems
at stake. Trosten-Bloom defines AI in the following way:
It is the study and exploration of what gives life to human systems when they
function at their best. This approach to personal change [...] is based on the
assumption that questions and dialogue about strengths, successes, values,
hopes, and dreams are themselves transformational (1).
In essence our words create our surroundings and what we know as reality. When we
focus on the assets or strengths we are in turn building on what already works. In
learning about the application and craft of writing, the same logic applies. Trosten-
Bloom adds, Words create worlds. Our beliefs and thinking are our reality.
Similar to Whorf s Hypothesis, which argues that language defines a persons
behavior and thinking, AI is not a new pattern of thought (Stafford, The Whorf
Hypothesis Examined, par. 1). Amy Stafford, author of The Whorf Hypothesis
Explained, says that Edward Sapir initially identified the hypothesis in the early
1900s, and continued research about the interconnectedness of human thoughts and
language (par. 1). AI uses this idea and applies to every possibility and outcome in
life. For instance, if our reality is focused on what is working well, then we tend to
have a positive outlook. Conversely, if we focus on deficits, our world fills up with
problems. This is precisely the reason to implement AI into the writing classroom.
AI is a step out of the behaviorist approach. It brings people together. It even
changes the way people think. If AI can transform the everyday world, then it can
also transform the way our young writers think about writing and engage in the act of
Why AI Is Not Just Happy Talk
AI reframes the way humans think about their lives and the patterns that
create life. Reframing an outlook, explains Paul Chaffee, author of the article
Claiming the Light, turns from understanding whats wrong to moving toward best
practices (5). He continues to write, Reframing instantly changes the tone and
attitude around any subject, great or small. And the door opens on the most under-
examined set of issues in our cultureswhat we most value and yearn for in life,
whatever the context (5).
But, Isnt it unrealistic to deny the problems? asked Trosten-Bloom of her
readers (18). No. Problems will always be problems, and there will always be
negativity associated with problems. And to be honest, there are some problems
human beings need to address. However, AI asserts that problems can be viewed as
possibilities. Shelia McNamee says,
Appreciative Inquiry is commonly critiqued because it is believed to ignore
problems. [...] Yet, the fact is, problems and weaknesses are much easier to
address when evaluation takes an appreciative stance. Since Appreciative
Inquiry begins by taking stock of resources, values, and strengths, those
participating in the evaluation feel better equipped to address difficulties and
McNamee encourages feedback and evaluation because it is critical to the
learning process. But she states that evaluation is more effective when it takes a
critical stance. Lets go back to my experience with Mr. Chase when he asked me to
identify the noun in the sentence. It was more than obvious that I didnt know the
answer. And as my sweat glands permeated, my voice weakened, and throat began to
itch, I eventually got out of answering the question. Now, Mr. Chase never said
anything to make me feel stupid, I just felt that way because I couldnt engage in the
learning process with him.
Further, Mr. Chase only knew how to evaluate me based on my ability to
answer questions in class and on tests. His form of evaluation successfully located all
the errors and then tallied up those errors to give me a score. Rather than engage in
problem-based, or deficit-based, evaluation, Mr. Chase would have benefited from
asset-based evaluation. Problem solving always uses deficit-based language, which
explains what is wrong. This language can easily be replaced with asset-based
language, which identifies the strengths and positive outcomes (Chaffee 5). Asset-
based language is not to be confused with happy talk or gibberish. As noted in
Table 2.1, asset-based language asks writers to identify areas that can be improved.
AI invites all people into a journey of inquirywhere everyone can grow into who
they want to become. Asset-based language, says Cooperrider, uses a full voice,
convivial community, rigorous inquiry, shared speculation and dreams, articulation of
things that matter, improvisation these are ingredients that ensure that AI praxis
does not devolve into sterile happy talk (qtd. in Claiming the Light 5). An
example of asset-based language looks like this: Mizzzz-zz Amanda, how can we
make learning about grammar better? In this case, the language is suggestive of Mr.
Chases appreciation for my learning style. His question opens up a variety of
possibilities. In this scenario, Mr. Chase isnt ignoring the problems. Instead, he is
inviting judgment into what is happening within the framework of how can we make
it better? (McNamee 14).
Table 3.1: Differences Between Deficit and Asset-Based Messages
1. Ill never understand how to
2. What does this matter to me?
3. My writing just isn t good
4. Oh no! We have to use
5. This is a task.
6. I cant.
1. I know Ill learn how to use
adjectives if Ijust take my time.
2. What am I learning?
3. Forget perfection.
4. At least I know a little bit
about metaphors. This will give
me a chance to practice.
5. Writing is a journey.
6. I will
Source: Cramer, Kathryn D., and Hank Wasiak. Change the Way You See
Everything through Asset-Based Thinking. Philadelphia: The Running
Effects of Appreciative Inquiry
Implementing AI into the writing classroom can transform not only the way
young writers look at and think about writing, but it can bring a positive image to the
process of writing. By using the Appreciative Eye, young writers can transform
their worlds. The idea of the Appreciative Eye, explains researcher Sue Annis
Hammond, is that
[It] assumes that in every piece of art there is beauty. Art is a beautiful idea
translated into a concrete form. Cooperrider applied this notion to businesses:
to the appreciative eye, organizations are expressions of beauty and spirit
[Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry 6).
By looking at writing as a piece of art, young writers can envision and focus on what
is working. Artists want to create the best, or the beautiful, or the unique. Just like
artists, young writers can begin to use AI to uncover their already existing strengths.
THE 4-D CYCLE
The application of AI is conducted through the 4-D Cycle. Defined as the
typical and ideal flow of a conversation or even an organizational planning process,
the 4-D Cycle consists of four stages: Discovery, Dream, Design, and Destiny. In the
middle of these four stages, or namely at the core, is the Affirmative Topic Choice.
This cycle is used in both large and small-scale situations. It is the essence and the
how-to of Appreciative Inquiry.
Affirmative Topic Choice
The topics, according to Cooperidder, are anything that an individual or group
feels is humanly important (6). Just as a plant grows toward sunlight, the topic grows
in the direction of a humans thinking. Conversely speaking, plants and flowers dont
grow in darkness, pollution, or with human neglect. The same applies to the
Affirmative Topic Choice. The topic must be rooted in positive and strength-based
thinking, and be meaningful to the writer. For example, an organizational topic
focusing on sexual harassment can be transformed into an AI topic by using the
name diversity training or positive cross-gender. Minor changes in wording
ultimately change a humans thought patterns. Changes in wording do not dismiss
accounts of conflict or problems. Instead, says Trosten-Bloom, words like positive
cross-gender training are used to focus on strategies of action (18). Rather than focus
on sexual harassment prevention, which is rooted in a deficit-based thought, focus on
the benefits of positive cross-gender training.
Now, envision a young writer working with AI. If the young writer focuses
on the errors in her essay, then she will neglect to see those things that are working.
But, if she views her paper with an Appreciative Eye, she begins to see her
strengthslike her use of imagery, voice and correct subject-verb agreement. She
begins to see the 95% of her writing that is working rather than the 5% that isnt.
When a young writer, or any person, focuses on the small percentage of whats not
working, then this becomes reality. Humans naturally tend to build on their
thoughtsand these thoughts turn into our reality. More simply stated: Always
build on what is working.
Inside a writing classroom, the Affirmative Topic Choice could ideally be
used in a situation like this one:
Young writers are beginning to brainstorm ideas and areas of inquiry for
their next writing piece. This may consist of writers working together in
groups and compiling a list of ideas on a piece of butcher paper. Perhaps
drawing pictures will assist young writers in their search for the best idea or
inquiry. Other writers may choose to interview local community members,
school staff, and others who harvest a wealth of information. The idea is that
the young writers are empowered to choose their own writing agenda.
Keep in mind that topics must be positive, grounded in strength-based
language, and meaningful to the writer. For instance, if a writer chooses to
write a memoir based on the struggles on the soccer field, guide the writer to
highlight the few good things that happened. Focusing on strengths builds
meaning in a piece of writing.
The Discovery Stage
The Affirmative Topic Choice is the first step in the 4-D Cycle. The next step,
the Discovery Stage focuses on Appreciating What Is. Instead of focusing on what
a student isnt, a teacher needs to look at what a student is. This includes one-on-one
interviews between the teacher and students individually. This is a time for both the
student and teacher to ask questions about each other, which will build a stronger
relationship. A teacher may discover that the student works well in groups, or is
afraid of writing, or doesnt like chocolate. While these characteristics seem trite and
time-consuming, they will assist in the classroom learning.
Another area of focus in the Discovery Stage is the focus group. These focus
groups can tackle a problem or discuss an idea. The focus groups look at only one
area of a problem or issue, rather than the entire issue. This gives students a voice in
what is being discussed in the classroom.
The Discovery Stage results in
A rich description or mapping of the [classrooms] positive core; [Classroom]
sharing of stories of best practices and exemplary action; Enhances [students
individual] knowledge and collective wisdom; and the emergence of
unplanned changes well before the implementation of the remaining phases
Discovery involves purposeful conversations among all students and cooperative
inquiries into what is. An example of a purposeful conversation is sharing stories.
As applied to the teaching of writing, stories capture the memories of an individuals
craft and practice.
Now imagine the young writer who decided to write a memoir about her
soccer triumphs (notice the change in language). Given her Appreciative Topic
Choice, and the choices of other writers in the classroom, it takes time to celebrate
those choices. Invite young writers to talk about their writing choices/topics in small
groups. All groups should sit in a circle and listen to the ideas being presented by
each wrier. Give writers the chance to engage in conversation about each Affirmative
Topic. This may require some coaching, but just in case, here are some sparklers to
ask fellow writers:
1. I wonder if you can share the best memory related to your soccer
experience (i. e. Appreciative Topic Choice).
2. What can you compare your soccer game to ?
3. What about soccer do you want your reader to know?
The point is to engage young writers in meaningful rhetoric about their topics.
The key to motivating young writers is to draw upon the good writing
memories of our (a teachers) practice. Our perceptions of writing are directly
translated to our student perceptions about and learning of the art of writing. Our
stories (i.e. writing pieces) create our reality and transform our thinking. Stories give
humans opportunities to reflect on what was and begin to envision what will be.
Stories are an oral and written form of history. Further, the way in which we share
our stories, reflects on the way our readers and listeners understand these stories.
This gives young writers a chance to communicate with teacher and peers regarding
how they are writing.
Remember, our young writers already have writing resources. They are
bodies of knowledge. Our role as teachers is to converse with, learn about, and
support our learners. In doing this, we can nourish the ideas and inspirations of
The Dream Stage
The next stage, the Dream Stage, focuses on the following thought: Imagine
What Might Be. This energizes students and teachers to explore their hopes and
dreams for their education, their relationships at school, their school, and the world
(Trosten-Bloom 8). It is a time for students and teachers to envision the possibilities
that are big, bold and beyond the boundaries of traditional learning. Once the
possibilities have been envisioned, the students begin to recognize a purpose for
learning about writing. It is this purpose, and not the teacher, that will carry young
writers through their exploration of and playfulness with words and multiple genres
Once again, apply this stage to the young writers soccer memoir. If young
writers are to make their writing meaningful, they need to envision what the final
product will look likeor read like. At this point, young writers need to create a
vision or guide for their final piece of writing. Teachers and young writers are
encouraged to use a guided imagery strategy such the one provided by Steve
Zemelman and Harvey Daniels in A Community of Writers:
1. Specifying, listing, and choosing a topic; 2. Selecting a particular moment
or scene within the larger subject; 3. Relaxing; 4. Working through the actual
guided imagery, including data [...] from visual, auditory, kinesthetic; 5.
Contemplating the significance of memories; and 6. Returning to the present,
making notes on data retrieved, and receiving the actual assignment (157).
The above script provides a structure that can be used to implement guided
imagery into the writing classroom. The goal of guided imagery, and of the Dream
Stage, is to envision what will be in the final piece of writing.
The Design Stage
The Design Stage looks at What Should Be. The third step in the AI Chart,
this stage takes what has been imagined and puts in into a realistic perspective.
Design activities, says Trosten-Bloom, are conducted in large group forums or
within a small team. [Students] draw on discoveries and dreams to select [...]
qualities and [provocative statements] that they most desire (Trosten-Bloom 9).
Students and teachers work together to present clear, compelling pictures of how the
classroom will function when the positive core is boldly alive (Trosten-Bloom 9).
The Design Stage captures ideas regarding classroom strategies, processes, systems,
grading, and other important logistics.
Once the idea has been generated, young writers and the teacher need to
determine the scoring rubric, deadlines, and other logistics. The young writer
creating her soccer memoir needs to consider the amount of time it will take to
investigate her personal soccer experience, interview coaches, and write her memoir.
The Design Stage empowers the young writer to create an individualized timeline.
However, to keep the timeline and design within reason, the young writers and
teacher should create a set ofparameters at the beginning of the class semester.
The Destiny Stage
Better known as the What Will Be stage, the Destiny Stage provides an
open forum for students and teachers to focus on the possibilities of the [learning
taking place in the classroom] (Trosten-Bloom 9). It also focuses on personal and
classroom commitments to move the collective whole forward. Activities are usually
launched in large group discussion and continue into small focus groups. The result:
young writers become leaders in their learning of and exploration through writing.
The last stage is perhaps the most critical of the 4-D Cycle. In this stage, the
soccer memoir has reached completion, as least for the moment. Once again, the
writer reflects on her personal commitment to the soccer memoir. She may do this by
conversing in a small group, with the teacher, or in written response.
This stage allows young writers to harness personal achievement and to be
proud of their own writing.
Source: Cooperrider, David, et al. Appreciative Inquiry: Rethinking Human
Organization Toward a Positive Theory of Change. Champaign, IL: Stipes
The 4-D Cycle says yes to new ideas and ignites the action for that idea. It
shows us that what gives life to our writing can also give life to our readers.
Cooperrider says, AI further asserts the time is overdue to recognize that symbols
and conversations, emerging from our analytic modes, are among the worlds
paramount resources (Appreciative Inquiry: Rethinking Human Organization 7).
This paramount resource has been corked for too long. AIs 4-D Cycle is the tool
we can use to smudge the black lines and roam amidst the possibilities of the human
ORIGINS OF WRITING AND
THE EMERGENCE OF EDUCATIONAL THEORIES
Ripples of time and thought created our current education system. We are
entrenched in an empire of systems with right and wrong answers. Yet when we truly
look at the essence and meaning of education, and more specifically how we teach
writing, we understand that writing is a human endeavor rather than a system.
However, this wasnt always the case. The beginning of learning and teaching how to
write occurred at about 3000 B.C. in Mesopotamia, which is now Iraq (Saggs 72).
H.F.W. Saggs, author of the Greatness That Was Babylon, explains that the original
use for writing was to carve short inscriptions above the heads of figures obviously
representing kings, and this suggested that such inscriptions might contain a royal
name and titles (23). As writing continued to evolve in the Sumerian culture, it
became useful in means for recording economic data, taking notes for doctors and
Babylonian officials. However, education, specifically writing, was restricted to the
prestigious class, namely boys. The boys learned the trade of writing to later become
scribes, masters of knowledge within Mesopotamia. To be a scribe meant a person
was named Headmaster, which literally means expert or the Father of the Tablet
House (Saggs 78).
To be a scribe, a young Mesopotamian would have to work hard at school,
and meet the approval of both the Headmaster and their father. A typical day of
learning looked something this:
I went to the tablet house [...]/1 read out my tablet, ate my lunch [...]/
Prepared my (fresh) tablet, inscribed it, (and finished it) [...]/ When the tablet
house was dismissed, I went home [...]/1 entered my house. My father was
sitting there. [...] I read over my tablet to him and he was pleased [...] (Saggs
The last line, I read over my tablet.. .he was pleased, demonstrates the
Mesopotamians need to be or feel accepted. A young mans worth was defined by his
knowledge of mathematics, reading, and most importantly, writing.
The Mesopotamian philosophy of learning the skill of writing found its way
into the year 1586 when William Bullokar reinvented the importance of proper
grammar (and good writing) (Schuster 7). Edgar Schuster writes about the early days
of learning about writing in Breaking the Rules. He explains that similar to the
Mesopotamian culture, writing was taught to the elites childrenexclusively boys.
These young schoolboys learned the following motto: Either Learn, or Leave, or Be
Beaten (Schuster 9). This motto pushed students to spend sometimes sixteen hours a
day studying Latin and Greek grammar. There was no vacation from the studies.
These students were not allowed to think outside set boundaries of the curricula. It
was believed that knowledge of Greek and Latin created a hierarchy in society.
Writing was judged on a students ability to write letters and syllables;
identify parts of speech; and use correct syntax and punctuation. Writing was viewed
as using language correctly. Evidently this school of thought gained popularity and
momentum, as it still exists in many writing classrooms today. A lot of writers, for
instance, may recognize the following scenario presented by author and teachers Dan
Kirby, Dawn Latta Kirby and Tom Liner:
Teaching writing was primarily correcting writing. The teachers owned
assignments. Student work seldom measured up. The teaching of
composition was largely a plantation-like enterprise with students at the
bottom of the pecking order (3).
Even more, writing was and is still considered a-hurry-up and finish to meet your
deadline or grading period. Writing is about being proficient and meeting state
standards. It requires constant practice and drills. A good and talented student can
write to any subject, regardless of their knowledge base or interest level. Likewise,
grammar is a system of rules used to perfect the written word. A typical class
includes grammar quizzes, spelling checks, vocabulary drills, syntax rules and more.
And most important of all, writing is about following a prescribed set of rules and
listening to wisdom of the teacher presenting those rules.
Schools did not evolve into these structured practices; instead, says John
Taylor Gatto, educational activist and author of A Different Kind of Teacher,
Schools were designed by Horace Mann, E.L. Thorndike, and others to be
instruments of the scientific management of a mass population. Schools
[today] are intended to produce, through the application of formulas,
formulaic human beings whose behavior can be predicted and controlled (1).
Schools really teach how to listen to orders and how to conform the standards of
society. Yet, there remains a mystery. Gatto ponders how it is that caring human
beings work in these schools as teachers and administrators. It is not that todays
educators are not caring; it is that theyre trapped in the behaviorist and Banking of
Education approaches to learning and teaching. While Horace Mann
Felt that a common school would be the great equalizer ...and [that] poverty
would assuredly disappear as a broadened popular intelligence tapped new
treasures of natural and material wealth, it is an outdated thought process that
condemns creativity and locks the human spirit (Horace Mann 1).
Similarly, Patrick Finn, educational researcher and author of Literacy with an
Attitude, explains that todays behaviorist learning approach does not allow for
teachers and students to engage in meaningful discussion. Take, for example, the
exchange between a teacher and student in an English class.
Teacher: Okay, take out your notebooks. In your notes, just skip a line from
where you were. Number 1. High and Outside. Author is Linda A. Dove,
Setting: A town near San Francisco.
He proceeds to give them notes from the entire book, including
character, plot and so forth, even though they read the book. [The form of
reading the book was orally in class.]
(...) Skip another line and we get into Carl Etchen, Nikis father who
has treated her like an adult from the age of fourteen by including her in his
wine tasting and afternoon cocktail hours. He was trying to protect her from
the wild party drinking other teenager. But he unwittingly caused [my
emphasis] her alcoholism.
Holly: How did he cause her alcoholism? [with skepticism; indicating that
she understood that alcoholism is a disease and that one person cannot cause it
to occur to another].
Teacher: I know what youre trying to say. What were trying to do here is
get some notes for the end of the year [state exams]. Maybe I should change
the word cause.
Holly: No, no.
Teacher: No, youre making a good point (Finn 70-1).
The learning involved in the previous scenario demonstrates the need to know
the right answer. In fact, the teacher explicitly states that his purpose is to get ready
for the end of the year, rather than stimulate thought about the hows and whys of the
text. It is evident that this exchange avoids meaningful discussion, which may lead to
critical thinking, self-reflection, and a deeper connection to the published piece of
The teaching of how to write has, fortunately, changed since the
Mesopotamian era, which supported class, gender and race separation. Further
change has occurred since Horace Mann created common schools because he
believed that school could save younger generations. He believed that crime would
be reduced and other vices would be eliminated. It is clear that our teachers do not
need new training; rather, it is our schools that need to transform into a more human-
based learning approach. This approach is Appreciative Inquiry.
Foundations of Appreciative Inquiry
As mentioned throughout this thesis, AIs versatility gives teachers and
student writers many options. AI is a tool and not a set of rules or scripted curricula.
In fact, Appreciative Inquiry is derived from three unique theories: social
constructionism, image theory and grounded research. The influence of these
theories brings richness and texture to AI. Each theory is a key component to AIs
pedagogical framework. Trosten-Bloom refers to these theories as streams of thought
As stated by Paul Boghossian, One of the mainstream thoughts of social
constructionism is to say of something that is socially constructed is to emphasize its
dependence on contingent aspects of social selves (What Is Social Construction?
par. 2). It is to say that something cannot exist had humans not built it, thought it,
etc. In the same sense, AI believes that strengths and asset-based thinking exist
because of the way humans build perceived realities. Another definition is that
social constructionism is a process of discovery where individuals create their
perceived reality (Social Constructionism par. 1). Trosten-Bloom adds to this
definition the following:
[Social constructionism] posits that meaning is made in conversation, reality
is created in communication, and knowledge is generated through social
interaction. In essence, it states that knowledge is a subjective realitya
social artifact resulting from communication among groups of people (53).
Key to the definition is the word created, which highlights the importance of
putting ideas together and building a better future. This theory serves purpose in
many AI small-group activities and in collaborative thinking and learning. It is a way
of looking at the phenomena of the current reality, as well as asking questions about
and discovering interpretations of perceived reality. Trosten-Bloom also indicates,
knowledge is a subjective reality, which means that our words create our world.
What we do and think and feel create the product in which we live. ...
Young writers need to recognize the gems of wisdom they already possess.
This is the foundation in which their thinking will be built. All of our practices and
thinking will grow from what already works. For instance, how can we build on what
already works, if we dont know what we have? Peter L. Berger and Luckmann
originally introduced this thought process into the field of psychology in 1966 in their
book The Social Construction of Reality (qtd. in Social Constructionism, par. 1).
Trudy Knowles, author of What Every Middle School Teacher Must Know,
acknowledges that a constructivist teacher supports learning by providing materials
and ideas for students to manipulate and by facilitating personal group reflections as
students interact with material (111).
A constructive teacher, says Constance Weaver in Teaching Grammar in Context,
knows that it is important for the options they offer to be genuine learning
experiences that at least resemble the kinds of experiences from which students learn
outside of school, in the natural give-and-take of growing and playing and
investigating things of interest (159). Clearly part of the learning and writing
process involves socializing with others. Writing and learning involve genuine
experiences that spark curiosity; further, it provides opportunities to construct
knowledge in new and meaningful ways.
The second theory used in AI is image theory, which helps people identify
their images of the future. For instance, image theory gives people the opportunity to
see their hopes and dreams, their fears and setbacks, their strengths and passions. The
purpose of image theory is to look at our perceived notion of the future so we can
make decisions that impact our future. If we want to see peace in the future, then we
work toward and make decisions that directly impact peace making. It implies that
our actions dictate the reality of our future. This theory, passionately introduced by
Kenneth and Elise Boulding in The Future: Images and Processes renews the message
of AI (Kayfitz, par. 14). Appreciative Inquiry taps into this theory but only in the
sense of the positive. AI uses image theory in the visioning process as it focuses on
what will be. This thought keeps individuals spiraling upward toward their goal,
rather than downward and spiraling out of control.
The final component, grounded research, is a methodology that both reflects
on and inquires about different cultures and beliefs, people and organizations, schools
and governments. It can be thought of as research from everyday experience (Byrne
1). The theory uses a collection of observations, perceptions and different
perspectives from various individuals (Byrne 1). The key is that the data collection
occurs in the current reality from the perspective of an individual who experiences
Trosten-Bloom, on the other hand, describes grounded research as an
openness to understand a culture, society, or organization through the eyes of its
inhabitants (52). She suggests the best means for gathering data is through
participant observation (52). Appreciative Inquiry builds on grounded research when
individuals inquire into the humanness of many organizations. This is a way of
understanding and realizing the assets that ground organizations in their work.
Adopted and Supportive Theories
In addition to the previously noted theories used in conjunction with
Appreciative Inquiry, there are other theories supporting the creative discovery
process. One example is critical pedagogy, which is rooted in the observations of
current realities and the search for self-affirmation and critical consciousness (Freire
35). Paulo Freire, political activist and educator, empowered people in Brazil to
examine and critically look at the world in which they lived. Freire believed that
those who are oppressed would continue to oppress others. Trosten-Bloom adds,
Paulo Freires work suggests that the oppressed are submerged in reality. They
are, in a sense social realists who believe the world is the way it is and there is
nothing they can do about it (237). This type of organizational lament is heard
frequently: I never taught any other way! and This school has been like this for 20
years. Why change now? These thought-patterns are believed to continue,
according to critical pedagogy, and impact the next generation of learners. (Trosten-
Bloom 237). Critical pedagogy acknowledges the current situation and the potential
for social change. Similarly, when people recognize they can make a difference in
their own lives and to others, they experience true liberation from oppression
(Trosten-Bloom 238). AI is also a form of true liberationin the sense that our
young writers are being liberated from thought patterns such as This is the only way
I know how.
In a similar stream of thought to critical pedagogy, Vygotsky believed that
learning was directly connected to a childs development. His theory drew upon a
childs readiness to learn and their stage of development. More simply stated, a child
will learn when ready. The teacher is not responsible for instilling knowledge into a
childs mind. In fact, the teacher plays a small role in the learning process. The
lesson taken from Vygotsky, as stated by Lois Holzman in Schools for Growth, is
They relate to a total environment in which very young children and others
communicative social beings is how they get to be so. They do thingsthey
babble, make sounds, use words, and make meaning as an inseparable part
of participating in social life (63).
AI draws from Vygotskys theory of learning; however, AI extends the theory over
the course of a lifetime rather than just in early childhood. AI takes from Vygotskys
theory that children are communicative and social beings. They are a part of the
social life, regardless of their stage in development. Similarly, AI views all people
and learners as catalysts for learning. People are considered assets to their own
knowledge and learning, rather than recipients. They already possess the knowledge
and know-howit is just a waiting-period until the person is ready to act.
Helen Rothschild Ewald writes in her article A Tangled Web of Discourse,"
about the different forms of teaching and learning. She says, [Critical] exchanges
depend on having starting points (a text, for example).. .that are a significant source
of entanglement for those interested in post-process pedagogies (118). This type of
entanglement exists in a place where educators discuss educational reform with the
students. If the students are not a part of the discussion, then they are a part of the
oppression. If educators are not partnering with students, then they are merely
transmitting knowledge. Needless to say, Appreciative Inquiry taps into Freire and
Ewalds ideas of dialoguing, envisioning the future, and looking at the current reality.
Another dominant pattern for classroom discourse, explains Hugh Mehan,
is IREteachers initiate, students Eeply, teachers Evaluate (A Tangled Web of
Discourses 126). This pattern, also known as the default pattern, is the easy way to
teach. IRE allows for a systematic approach to learningwhere the student sits,
listens, and gathers knowledge from the teacher. A more distinct view of this type of
learning is seen from David Wallaces Mutuality: Alternative Pedagogies in Rhetoric
and Composition Classrooms:
The modes of discourse that currently serve as default speech genres in our
classrooms defy the subject positions of teachers as providers of knowledge
and students as recipients of that knowledge. Students, irrespective of cultural
affiliation, are target of exclusion as classroom speech genres exclude them as
a group from being knowers (qtd. in A Tangled Web of Discourses 126).
This group of knowers is the foundation of education, using Appreciative
Inquiry lenses. As professionalswhether educational, psychological,
administrative, or any other kind in a school settingwe expect to be the best, to be
masters of knowledge. Shelia McNamee looks at this expectation and invites
professionals to view themselves as continuous learners. When educators, for
example, begin to view their teaching practice as a learning practice, they begin to
focus their attention from learning that to learning how (4). When writers have a
that focus toward learning, they are concerned with memorization, definitions, and
correct answers. The that focus is a form of tunnel-vision thinking. An example of
that is, for instance, the definition of a norm. The how asks the student to use the
nounto apply its function into their own writing.
McNamee continues to look at the dominant paradigm of learning and
teaching by demonstrating the benefits of using and integrating Appreciative Inquiry.
For instance, an AI approach to education honors all forms of knowledge to create a
learning environment where all voices are heard, to learn and teach as a collaborative
practice, and to promote a process that keeps all voices in motion (1-14).
Despite McNamees research and theory about integrating AI into educational
classrooms, there is little scholarly research on integrating Appreciative Inquiry into
writing classrooms and curricula. The evidence that does exist, originates at Case
Western Reserve, from student Monica Dumitri. She writes
[AI] helps to create and sustain a positive high-performance climate where
students feel more creative, supported and innovative, thus enabling them to
become more effective writers. The study of strategies to apply AI in the
composition classroom can lead to important breakthrough and discoveries in
collaborative learning and the bridging of academic disciplines. ... (9).
Becoming more effective writers through innovation, creativity and support are
ingredients in implementing AI into a writing environment.
Writing has not evolved; instead, the teaching of writings application has
transformed. The numerous theories discussed are, indeed, just theories. But each
theory is a collective piece of AIs whole. Our young writers cannot understand the
importance of Freires liberation if they dont know about Mesopotamia. Further
young writers and teachers need to understand the uniqueness of each educational
theory to appreciate the powerful tool called Appreciative Inquiry.
APPRECIATIVE INQUIRY PRINCIPLES
Appreciative Inquiry is created from three ideas: social constructionism,
image theory, and grounded research. These ideas (or streams of thought) are the
lifelines for the AI process. However, the foundation of AI is rooted in eight,
sometimes overlapping principles, such as Social Constructionism. These principles
can be viewed as the golden pillars, which support the structure of grand palace.
The eight principles of AI, writes Trosten-Bloom, are as unique and distinctive as
the practices to which they have given birth (51). These principles give the
application processes a definition and a design.
Principle #1: The Social Constructionist Principle
The Constructionist Principle places human communication at the center of
change. It states that knowledge is only a false reality; and words, languages and
metaphors are descriptors of reality (Trosten-Bloom 53). This principle suggests that
our words are the catalysts for the creation of our reality. The principle is similar to
the beliefs and teachings of the Toltec, an empire that appeared in central Mexico in
10th century AD. According to Toltec teacher and author, Don Miguel Ruiz, The
Toltec were scientists and artists who formed a society to explore and conserve the
spiritual knowledge and practices of the ancient ones (The Toltec Teachings, par.
1). Don Miguel Ruiz continues to say,
Your word is the power that you have to create. Through the word you
express your creative power. It is through the word that you manifest
everything. Regardless of what language you speak, your intent manifests
through the word (qtd. in The Power of Appreciative Inquiry 53).
The power of language gives the mind the ability to explore, create, and understand
our worlds. This principle focuses on the social aspect of all human beings.
The Constructionist Principle came into creation with a paradigm shift. The
original principle originated from cogito ergo sum, more famously known as Rene
Descartes, I think, therefore I am (Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in
Change 50). Then a shift occurred, explains David Cooperrider, when Western
intellectual tradition began to recognize communicamus ergo sum, meaning, We
communicate, therefore I am. This principle simply means that we (human beings)
communicate with others, and as a result we understand who we are. The we in
communication would not exist without the existence of other people. Dr. Kenneth
Gergen of Swarthmore College, for example, expresses that language is a result of
social interaction. Without interactions, there would be no mutual agreements about
the meaning of the words (qtd. in Prologue to a Paper 2).
Thus, when young writers think together, dialogue together, and question
together, they are creating individual definitions of writing. The Constructionist
Principle is an approach that brings knowledge and relationships onto the same
hemisphere. The locus of knowledge is built around a writers ability to
communicate ideas. While this principle is equally important to the other seven, it is
critical because it empowers young writers to recognize language as a vehicle of
power. Our language manifests the world in which we liveand ultimately the world
in which we write.
Principle #2: The Simultaneity Principle
Amanda Trosten-Bloom documents a story shared by Viktor Frankl, noted
psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor from World War II. He attributes his
survival of the Holocaust to the questions he asked. Rather than focusing on whether
he would survive or perish, Frankl asked the question: Has all the suffering and
dying around us, a meaning? (qtd. in The Power of Appreciative Inquiry 59). His
inquiry ignited a new perspective of his grim surroundings. Even in a concentration
camp, tells Trosten-Bloom; his was a world of meaning and possibility, while theirs
was one of life or death (59). Remember the young writers soccer memoir?
Originally she wanted to write about her struggles, but when she changed her inquiry
to the triumphs of soccer her thinking also changed.
The way we think contributes to who we are. Who we are contributes to how
we write. The Simultaneity Principle suggests that perceptions of our reality change
in the instant we begin to inquire. Inquiry is intervention, says David Cooperrider.
The seeds of changethat is, the things people think and talk about, the things
people discover and learn, and the things that inform dialogue and inspire images of
the futureare implicit in the very first questions we ask (Rethinking Human
Organization 18). One of the most important aspects of Appreciative Inquiry is not
so much the question, but the impact the question has on the individual (18). We can
ask many questions in a minute, and thousands of questions a day. But the questions
that directly impact our lives are the questions that guide our futures.
Take, for example, an asset-based thinking approach, which provides
individuals with a view of the self that is creative, skillful, and virtuous. Hank
Wasiak, Co-Founder of the Concept Farm and author of numerous Asset-Based
This Asset-Based point of view does not deny your weaknesses, faults or
shortcomings. It merely shifts your attention away from the negative energy
they produce. It puts them into an Asset-Based context so you become less
critical and more curious about how to counteract and compensate for
personal deficits (Change the Wav You See Everything 44).
By transmitting our inquiries and thinking into an Asset-Based context, a young
writer can begin to recognize that he or she is a work in progress. Their writing is not
a descriptor of who they are; rather, it is a descriptor of who they want to be, what
they dream, and where they want to go. Like the soccer memoir, the girl envisioned
and wrote about the soccer game she wanted to play. Her writing, and the writing of
any other writer, powerfully captures the vision for the future.
Humans are a work in progress. Thus, everything we do is in relationship to
our place in life. When young writers begin to put words on paper, it is important for
them to know that their writing is a reflection of themselves. And because they are a
work in progress, then their writing is also a work in progress. This doesnt mean a
writer (or any person for that matter) can never be the best or reach their highest
potential; rather, it simply means that a writer learns to discover and value the things
that he or she does well. It means they understand the power of their minds. They
hold the ability to create identities and mold stories. Instinctively, intuitively, and
tacitly, [young writers] all know that research of any kind can, in a flash, profoundly
alter the way we see ourselves, view reality, and conduct our lives (Rethinking
Human Organization 18).
Principle #3: The Poetic Principle
Our thoughts and inquiries are endless stories that can be told and retold.
They are like folktales being passed from one generation to the present. The Poetic
Principle explains Parker Palmer, a Quaker activist and teacher, is one of imagination.
Metaphors do much more than describe reality, as we know it. Animated by
imagination, one of the most vital powers we possess, our metaphors often
become reality, transmitting themselves from language into the living of lives
(qtd. in The Power of Appreciative Inquiry 63).
Transmitting themselves from language into the living of lives, elicits the
importance of story sharing. This principle relies on endless sources of learning and
inspiration. For example, a young writer can review a peers writing and look for the
limitless possibilities rather than the multiple errors. A metaphor used in this
situation may be writing is a journey. This metaphor shifts a writers thinking from
this is a task to this is a journey.
Our metaphors describe the way we choose to critique another writing, to
transmit our stories onto paper, and to talk about our ideas with other writers. Cleary
stated by Trosten-Bloom:
The Poetic Principle suggests that organizations are like open booksendless
sources of learning, inspiration and interpretation. Like great works of
literature, poetry or sacred texts, organization are stories that can be told and
retold, interpreted and reinterpreted through any frame of reference of topic of
When we encourage young writers to view their individual writing as sources of
inspiration and knowledge, then we are truly engaging the human spirit in the writing
Principle #4: The Anticipatory Principle
Our thinking styles are much like old films projected on a big screen.
According to Cooperrider, human systems are forever projecting ahead of
themselves a horizon (in their talk in the hallways, in the metaphors and language
they use) that brings the future powerfully into the present as a mobilizing agent
(Rethinking Human Organizations 19). The more we project hopeful and powerful
images of writing into the future, the more positive our actions will be for our future.
More simply stated, the Anticipatory Principle suggests Human systems move in the
direction of their images of the future (Trosten-Bloom 54).
Our thinking is acquired, not learned. Martin Seligman, author of Learned
Optimism and researcher in the field of thinking styles, explains that people can
change the characteristics of the way they think. For instance, writes V. Zabukovec,
who refers to Seligman: if optimism and pessimism are merely ways in which
people have learned to think about the world and themselves and do not reflect deep
underlying personality attributes, it should be relatively easy to change such thinking
styles (qtd. in Relationship Between Student Thinking Styles and Social Skills
While Seligmans premise also supports the Anticipatory Principle used in
Appreciative Inquiry, it elicits that our images inspire our daily actions, which then
gain a sense of purpose. Likewise, images that inspire deficit-based thinking also
gain a sense of purpose. In terms of the application of writing, young writers will
create ideas based on their thinking. Also supported by Dutch sociologist Frederick
At every level of awareness, from the macro societal, imagery is continuously
generated about the not yet. Such imagery inspires our intentions, which
then moves us purposefully forward. Through their daily choices of action,
individuals, families, enterprises, communities and nations move toward what
they imagine to be as desirable tomorrow (qtd. in Trosten-Bloom 64).
Like the families, communities, and nations, young writers also can move
toward what they imagine to be meaningful. A writers relationship to their thoughts
is directly linked to the substance of their work.
Principle #5: The Positive Principle
Positive questions unleash enthusiasm for an idea or thought. These questions
are responsible for changing the essence of human systems by magnifying the
principles and practices that give meaning to life. Trosten-Bloom believes the
positive question amplifies an organizations positive core. The question opens
opportunities for organizations to fulfill their best through remembered past, enacted
present, and imagined future (Trosten-Bloom 67). In the same light, by asking
positive questions young writers build a momentum for ideas of excitement, trust,
hope, passion and inspiration. The more writers and teachers ask positive questions,
the more sheer joy young writers and teachers will experience.
There is a saying that We are what we eat. Similarly, says David
Cooperrider, We become what we study (Rethinking Human Organizations 20).
Our words are images of our thoughts. If a young writers thoughts focus on their
deficits as writers, then that is what the writing will tell. More obviously, when
writers think about their individual strengths as a writer, then their writing transforms
those strengths into the writing. Like the Anticipatory Principle, the Positive
Principle recognizes every level of a writers ability. The Positive Principle invites
young writers to imagine outcomes of their final piece of writing or the style of
writing they want to adopt. These positive images are satellites for positive change.
Trosten-Bloom created three more principles to add to the original five. The
Wholeness Principle, the Enactment Principle, and the Free Choice Principle are
practices being implemented and practiced by Trosten-Bloom and her associates
(Power of Appreciative Inquiry). The Wholeness Principle states: The experience of
wholeness and healing emerges not in the discovery of commonalities, but rather in
understanding, accepting, and enjoying differences and distortions (70). The beauty
here is that writers can celebrate the differences among themselves and other writers.
This principle gives all ideas and experiences validity. There are no wrong answers;
rather, there are endless opportunities to create and transform writing.
Connected to the Wholeness Principle is the Enactment Principle, which
suggests that positive change comes about as images and visions of a more desired
future are enacted in the present (72). As stated by Mahatma Gandhi: Be the
change you want to see(qtd. in World Prayers, n. pag.). Young writers hold the
ability to change not only their personal writing styles, but also the world in which
they live. When words are put into action, they can move perceptions and patterns of
thought in new directions.
Trosten-Blooms last principle posits that
People and organizations thrive when people are free to choose the nature and
extent of their contribution. It suggests that treating people as volunteers
with freedom to choose to contribute as they most desireliberate both
personal and organizational power (75).
This sense of liberation gives young writers the power to imagine what it would be
like to freely choose how to write, when to write, what to write, etc. Additional
information on this principle and the Wholeness and Enactment principles may be
found in her book, The Power of Appreciative Inquiry.
Like a kaleidoscope wheel decorated with a myriad of colors and gold filigree,
the human eye creates ideas from what is present. As the wheel moves so do the
colors, making another picture. However, the colors cannot be visible without light.
Our images (the pictures seen in the kaleidoscope) cannot be seen without the light of
life. The kaleidoscope theory engages all young writers in the AI Principles. The
colors and filigree represent the changing perspectives and creativity; the moving
wheel represents the wholeness and equality within a writing environment; and the
light reminds young writers to always create based on what matters mostor what
makes them feel most alive.
AI integrates these principles into practice through the 4-D Cycle. The beauty
of these principles is they bring forward the best in every organization, school, and
individual. AI does not have a program to follow or a course to study. It is about
discovery, dreams, design, and destiny. The principles are small caveats of
sweetness. They only enhance each component of the 4-D Cycle.
THE AI WRITING CLASSROOM
At the cusp of implementing AI is the realization that
Teachers wrestle as well as writers and also much engage in this dance of
power and surrender. Peter Elbow often advises teachers to become more
passive in the classroom, letting go in order to take stock: The class finds a
new and more stable center of gravity. And I discover a mental or emotional
muscle Ive always been clenching to keep this ship from sinking.. .by feeling
all of a sudden how tired it is (Ronald, Embodied Voice, 219).
Instead of wrestling with the power dance, teachers need to allow themselves
to be more human. The previous quote advises educators to become more passive.
Passive, in this context, means holding back thoughts and ideas; listening; engaging
in conversation. Becoming more passive allows for the paradigm of power to shift,
and for the learners and the teacher to become active resources for each other. The
dance is about negotiating the curriculum. It is about the teacher having confidence
in her young writers ability to learn and make decisions about writing (Hyde, qtd. in
Negotiating the Curriculum 55). Thus, before AI seeps into the classrooms pores,
the teacher needs to be able to and willing to engage in a dance of surrender.
Without question, the way a teacher perceives a writers involvement and
commitment to learning creates either a positive or negative relationship with that
writer. Research conducted at the Innovation Center for Community and Youth
Development believe in the power of young people and schools to transform
themselves. The Innovation Center states that a feeling of community can be created
when adults begin to see young people less as stereotypes and more as contributors
(Youth in Decision-Making 2). It is easy to partner with young writers because
they bring fresh energy and perspective to the ideas being discussed. Young writers
immediately gain a sense of leadership and pride in their classroom community when
they are viewed as resources and contributors of knowledge. When this idea is put
into practice, the writers are empowered to challenge and explore their individual
Learn and Teach as a Writer
Peter Elbow reflects on his process of learning and teaching in the following:
"Ive always been drawn to the question of what really happens when we learn or
teach? What goes on inside the mind? Behind the appearances? Whats the process?
There is a mystery here (qtd. in Dear Peter 53). The answer to Elbows question
is fluid and ever changing. An AI teacher need not always question every strategy
and decision; however, there are times when a teacher needs to reflect on what is
happening in the class. Because AI focuses so much on the collaboration of learning,
the teacher needs to be aware of the two roles: teacher and learner. A good teacher
learns with her students. She asks questions. She has insights. She wants to know
There is not one process for learning; rather, there are many. As teachers and
learners using AI, our processes will always change. However, the positive core will
always remain the same. Our connections to people and experiences will be tied to
our action. Taylor Gatto says, Teachers teach who they are (161). An important
part of education is defining who we are as teachers. A teacher engaged in AI
believes Students are creative, intelligent beings, not plants or blank slates or
pegboards for teacherly hammering (Shor 13). AI teachers ask questions such as the
following: Do we believe in the spirit and creativity of a young learner, or in the
wisdom and education of ourselves? Do we seek out the best in all of our writers, or
do we look for failures? What we do in the classroom is who we are as human
beings. While the answers to these questions are fluid and constantly changing, they
are key elements in learning about how young writers learn.
AI connects our lives with our actions. Every aspect of our life is a gift and
something to be cherished. Thus, our actions also parallel this idea. As human
beingsyoung or oldwe do because we are. And we write because of who we are
and what we do. Lucy McCormick Calkins passionately believes
We write to communicate, plan, petition, remember, announce, list,
imagine.. .but above all, we write to hold our lives in our hands and to make
something of them. There is no plot line in the bewildering complexity of our
lives, but that which we make for ourselves. Writing allows us to turn the
chaos into something beautiful, to frame selected moments, to uncover and
celebrate the organizing patterns of life (8).
Calkins explains that we write in reaction to our need to communicate, to plan, to
imagine. As humans we engage in these actions because they are basic instincts. It is
a natural and human response to engage in all of these actions, especially in writing.
Writing is like a pond filled with lotus flowers. Before the flower blooms into
a vibrant colorful blossom, it must first find the light through the murky water. Their
roots are intertwined in the muddy waters, and to the human eye it would seem
something rooted in darkness couldnt bloom into something so full of life. However,
without the light, there wouldnt be lotus flowersor any living being, plant or
creature for that matter!
Like the lotus flower blooming into the light, humans are drawn to that which
brings light into life, and writing is the catalyst in which young writers live. It is no
surprise, says Calkins, [...] that as human beings, we need to write, because writing
allows us to understand our lives [...] the adolescent [writer] learns to say This is my
story and this is who I am (158).
Before asking young writers to ignite their thinking about writing, we must
first understand the human-connectedness to writing. In doing so, this will give
young writers the ability to recognize writing for what it really is. Writing is what is
alive and vital and real for [students] (Calkins 19).
This idea emerges from Diana Whitneys book Encyclopedia of Positive
Questions. Whitney uses the term Storytelling Teams, which is similar but not
quite the same as this idea of Dream Teams (59). In essence, AI uses collaborative
learning to create dreams for the future. So, why not create teams of dreamers?
These teams ideally work together and dream about the future of their writing pieces,
the process of their writing, the final product, and the publishing process. Dreaming
is a huge part of AI, as it believes that our daily thinking creates our reality. Thus, if
we dream about the potentials and possibilities of our writing, then we will build the
reality in which our writing will be created.
Storytelling is a thread of history amidst the spools of change. Stories bring
people together, and remind them of origins. Similar to Dream Teams, the
Storytelling Teams are defined as groups of employees who are available to attend
company meetings as well as outside events in order to share stories about the
organization, its people and their achievements (Whitney 59). Transforming this
idea and implementing it into the writing classroom, young writers can become
prepared to discuss their writing with parents at conferences, other teachers at
department meetings, and peers in writing groups. The goal of these teams is to share
the achievements and strengths of all people engaged in the AI writing process!
Ideally, this team will consist of young writers who enjoy dialoguing with people,
sharing stories, and demonstrating best practices. All team members need to consist
Process for Student-Teacher Conferences
Tve always been drawn to the question of what really happens when we
learn or teach. What goes on inside the mind? Behind appearances? Whats the
process? There is a mystery here (Elbow, qtd. in Dear Peter, 253). Peter Elbows
inquiry presents a fresh approach to learning and teaching. When an individual
learns, is it through the gathering of information? Likewise, how does an individual
teach? Further if learning and teaching are similar or different, then why not engage
young writers and teachers in both processes?
Elbows idea is connected to Trosten-Blooms Progressive Appreciative
Inquiry Meetings. This process intertwines learning and teaching from both the
teacher and the student. These equal hemispheres allow writers to explore new areas
of writing that may not be examined otherwise without the perception of a teaching
role. Similarly, teachers can learn from their young writers. Below is an agenda
presented by Trosten-Bloom and modified to fit the needs of young writers and
teacher. This agenda should be used during the initial stages of writing. Typically
applied over the course of several months, with 2-hour meetings, the process below
can be spread through a course or unit of study, each meeting taking no more than 5
Meeting 1: Introduce writing topic or idea at teacher-student conference;
discuss hopes and dreams for your topic.
Interim: Craft questions about the idea or topic; identify resources and/or
individuals with knowledge of the topic/idea; begin to write as much as
possible about the topic/idea.
Meeting 2: Share writing and findings with teacher; come prepared with
specific questions about writing; teacher and students begin to envision the
possibilities for the writing.
Interim: Continue to envision the possibilities.
Meeting 3: Follow-up with teacher for support.
Seem a bit unrealistic? In some 40-plus classes this may seem an impossible
task. However,, instead of conferencing with every writer, the teacher can model the
process with a group of 5-8 writers. These writers can serve as student conference-
leaders, or to something of that nature. These leaders can function on rotating
schedule, so each writer feels that he/she had the chance to conduct conferences with
These teacher-student conferences will not be successful without
incorporating strategies for positive youth-adult partnerships. The Free Child Project,
a non-profit organization connecting young people to social change, believes that
both young people and adults have the power to help our communities [i.e.
classrooms] become vibrant, enriching places to live (Freechild Project, par. 1).
Tips on facilitating these partnerships include the following:
1. Know Thyself: Adults and young people must be willing to honestly
address their stereotypes and preconceptions to together.
2. Speak by Listening: All people, regardless of age, have the potential to be
both teachers and students. Young people must take a stand for positive
change and demand that their voices be heard. Adults [or teachers]
should step back and listenreally listento the concerns of young
3. Spread the Wealth: Adults and youth who recognize the benefits of
working together are great ambassadors to their own peer groups
(Freechild Project, par. 1-4).
This writing agenda doesnt end here. There are still opportunities for writers
to work with their AI writing groups and propose new questions about their writing
ideas/topics. Yet, it is important to recognize that these teacher-student conferences
create opportunities for both the teacher and writer to engage inquiry and change,
says Trosten-Bloom. The goals for these meetings are to discuss the current stage of
writing and then design and dream about where the writing will go from here.
AI Writing Groups
Listening to student voices isnt enough. Students must partner with adults
[and peers] throughout education to create authentic, effective, and sustainable
cultures and structures to support student voice and school improvement
(Meaningful Student Involvement 1). The first sentence, Listening to student
voices isnt enough, is a key component in a writing classroom. When we listen to
ideas from young writers, we are passively agreeing with those thoughts. However,
when we listen and then act on these ideas, we are supporting and uplifting the
thoughts of our writers. AI writing groups, an invented practice, do just this. The
writing groups ideally collaborate with peer writers so student writers are involved in
and supported in their writing explorations.
Remember Peter Elbows inquiry into the minds of teachers and learners? His
questions are answered in recent studies supporting peer-to-peer learning and
teaching. For instance, promoting student voice in the writing classroom is a way for
young writers to gain fresh perspective and new confidence in learning. Students
acting as teachers can be explained as
To teach is to learn twice is an adage at work in a growing number of
classrooms across the nation. Professional teachers are finding allies among
their students as the effectiveness and possibilities of students teaching their
peers, young students, and adults are becoming increasingly evident in
research (Students as Teachers 1).
The key to learning about and applying techniques to writing is found in many
roles. AI supports building relationships so students and teachers can engage in
meaningful writing. The invented practice of AI writing groups empowers young
writers to collaborate and learn from other peer writers. For example, the Denver
Writing Project, an affiliate of the National Writing Project, uses peer-writing groups
as a catalyst for discovery and personal growth. The process encourages writers to
follow a writing workshop protocol, which is agreed upon by all writers. One such
example is the PRAISE, ADDRESS, or SHRED. This protocol gives writers the
power to make decisions about how their writing will be reviewed by peers. When a
writer asks a peer to PRAISE the writing, then that peer only recognizes the good
pieces of the writing. All errorsgrammar, mechanics, syntax, etc.are ignored so
the writer doesnt feel threatened in an early stage of writing. This stage is typically
used in the first peer review session. The second stage, ADDRESS, is an honest
approach to critiquing writing. The peer seeks both the beautiful and the bad. There
is a good balance between what is working and what needs more attention. This stage
can be used in either the first, second or final stages of peer review. The last stage,
SHRED, clearly depicts the peers action. Usually used in the final stages of editing,
this stage gives the peer permission to tear apart a piece of writing in effort to prepare
it for publishing.
Another protocol for writing groups is described by Calkins:
Response groups meet almost daily for at least twenty minutes. Frequently,
the response group begins with the status of the group reports in which each
member of the group says, in a single sentence, what he or she needs that day.
Out of these summaries and requests, the child who is acting as the facilitator
of the response groups sets up an agenda [...] the group acts mostly as a
sounding board. Often response groups end with each member saying in one
sentence what he or she will do before the group meets again. As writers, we
need to be able to see what is almost there in a draft; we need to be able to see
possibilities. We need to be able to imagine a draft written differently (190).
Notice that the group functions as a sounding board for the writer. The component
that parallels with AI is that young writers can begin to envision the possibilities in
their writing. The writing group doesnt need to tell the writer these possibilities;
rather, the soundboard effect gives the writer new ideas and perspectives. AI writing
(or response) groups give writers the ability to dream. To imagine. To create their
writing in a new way.
Imagine a learning environment where teachers and writers learn together.
Minds are buzzing with ideas. Discussions are dripping with depth and detail.
Questions are darting from one writer to the next. This type of approach, developed
by Nancie Atwell, encourages the emergence of student voice student writers
expression of ideas that matter to them, and their use of language and style that
convey their engagement. Writing process classroom are likely to feature a degree of
decentralized control, as student writers make a range ofownership decisions (qtd.
in Kordalewski 3).
When young writers take control, they begin to see their individual potentials
and best practices. Ron Nelson, a teacher at Windsor Elementary School in
Washington, [believes] that if students helped create the curriculum, the classroom
dialogue about this process would shed light on how to make learning experiences
more cohesive and purposeful (Nelson, n. pag.). A sense of purpose is ownership for
a young writer. When young writers own their learning and writing processes, they
choose to be the best writer they can. This means having ample opportunity to
practice the roles of learner and inquirer, the namer of significance, rather than only
receiver of knowledge (qtd. in Kordalewski 3). Examples of how to bring student
ideas into curriculum design include certain kinds of strategies: dramatic
reenactments, projects, group work, examination of primary source documents and
works of artprovide such opportunities (Kordalewski 3).
Nelson facilitates three steps: selecting the target theme (the focus for
developing the curriculum); establishing guiding questions to serve as the scope and
sequence of the thematic unit; and designing classroom instructional activities (n.
pag.). The first step, selecting the target theme, gives both writers and teachers the
power to create and define learning. The target theme is likewise known as the main
idea, writing topic, or area of study. Brainstorming, cluster charts, and discussion
groups are some ways engage young writers in this initial step. Frederick adds,
students [have] distinct characteristics of each theme. Thus, listening to and
honoring all perspectives demonstrates to the writer that there is no one correct idea.
Bringing young writers into the curriculum design process invites them to sit in the
The second step, says Lin, is for the young writers to design the questions that
will guide their primary areas of focus. These questions serve as inquiriesalso a
practice of Appreciative Inquiry. This ensures that young writers understand the
multiple dimensions needed to craft a piece of writing. Examples of questions
include: What other themes relate to my writing idea? What resources are available?
What style of writing best supports my writing idea? Is there anyone or place that can
provide more history about my writing idea? The aim is to build a holistic vision for
the final writing piece. When we think about the possibilities.. .the resources.. .the
styles of writing.. .we are writing with a sense of purpose.
The last step is to decide the instructional strategies to be used. Will the
young writers work with their peers to investigate and practice using metaphors? Or
will young writers build on their individual best practices? There are many options
for instructional activities; however, the way young writers create masterpieces is
based on the characteristics of that writer. If some writers work better in groups, then
that needs to be honored. Independent writers, who occasionally need peer-feedback,
need a more integrated strategy. The uniqueness of individuals is that they are all
individuals. They brainstorm in different ways and write in way that supports their
individual best practices.
But why? Teachers need to capitalize on students understanding of the
nature and point of educational activities in order to determine which instructional
practices best fit [particular] classes [and writers] (Nelson, n. pag.). Learning is no
longer about receiving knowledge from the master teacher. It is about viewing
students as resources and fostering learning that builds from students existing
strengths and knowledge (Kordalewski 2).
Anyone who has stood at a podium recognizes that all classrooms have the
same topography: Seated down front are the few students who share their
teachers enthusiasm, while the back rows are inhibited by the majority, who
virtually dare the instructor to force some culture down their throats (qtd. in
When Students Have Power 13).
For some, this may seem a familiar experience. Even though this style of
teaching and learning is an accepted practice, it is not the best one to use. Actually,
says Trudy Knowles of What Every Middle School Teacher Should Know, Many
teachers view their role of that as an authority figure, unilaterally responsible for
making the rules, enforcing them and revising them on an ad hoc basis (65). Ira
Shor names this type of learning environment the Siberian School Image.
Ira Shor coined the Siberian Syndrome based on symptoms exhibited in
typical American classrooms. Some of these symptoms include a students avoidance
of the front of the room and avoidance of the teacher, which results in students
retreating to often uncomfortable and undesirable comers of the room. Shor explains
the Siberian Syndrome
Is one form of student agency in the contact zone of mass education? It is a
defensive reaction to the unequal power relations of schooling, which include
unilateral authority for the teacher and curriculum evading critical thought
about the history, language and cultures of students. Facing unilateral
authority that disempowers them politically and disables them intellectually,
most students in my class position themselves in the Siberian comers where
they can carry out a variety of guerillas resistances... (13).
The Siberian Syndrome portrays a dim picture of our current educational
system. When students learn in fear and with defensiveness, they inadvertently lock
their creativity and exploration skills. Writing becomes stifled and eventually it turns
into a burden.
Communities of Learning
Unlike the previous Siberian school image of learning, AI environments
build ongoing communities of learning (Trosten-Bloom 43). An example of
creating this environment, explains Ira Shor, is to invite students into circle
discussions. These learning circles invite conversation and inquiry, learning and
investigating, listening and understanding. Circles allow young writers to leam in a
human environment, one in which people can talk with each other rather than to each
other. Shor also acknowledges that displaced rows have understandably lost its
freshness it had in the 1960s and 1970s when it captured the imagination of many
The creation of a rhetorical setting is also a key component in an AI learning
environment. This means that the classroom functions with
One or more rhetors or encoders (speakers, authors, presenters); one or more
receivers or decoders (audience, class of students, readers); a mediating
language (protocol for communicating); a subject matter (themes, text,
images); and a situation or setting (the reality of the communication
exchange) (Shor 65).
The rhetorical setting complements AI learning environments in a few ways.
For instance, AI nurtures many voices, ideas, and forms of communication just like
the rhetorical setting. It invites all young people to use a language that is
recognizable and negotiated. Like AI, it engages young writers and teachers in
learning with each other. Each role in the classroom is no more different or less equal
than the other. After all, our learning environments [...] must become a place in
which the information that students learning has meaning for them (Knowles 66).
The key to building an AI writing environment is to incorporate not just the
ideas, but the voices and actions of young writers into the planning of the curricula.
The old adage, Those who teach know the material best, is also true for our
students. Ira Shor suggests that teachers invite young writers to take an active role in
learning on the first day of school. On the first day and after, says Shor, students
should talk a lot and produce a variety of texts which educate the teacher about their
interests, levels of development.. .thematic preferences vis-a-vis the syllabus (30).
The co-creation of curriculum builds community and engages active thinking
and critical pedagogy. When students have a choice in what they will be learning,
they are more inclined and committed to engaging in the area of study. Likewise,
when young writers are denied this experience, they develop an insubordinate attitude
about their personal role in the classroom. John Dewey warned teachers many
There is, I think, no point in the philosophy of progressive education which is
sounder than its emphasis upon the importance of the participation of the
learned in the formation of the purposes which direct his activities in the
learning process, just as there is no defect in traditional pupil in construction
of the purposes involved in his studying (qtd. in Experience and Education.
Dewey recognized the essential collaboration between teacher and student.
However, this can only be created when the control mechanisms are shut down, and
schools and teachers begin to play an active role in the way they work with students.
Instead of the teacher creating the curriculum for all the students, teachers
need to engage students in the design of the classroom atmosphere and curriculum
(Knowles 66). The curriculum is only meaningful when the students are connected to
and interested in the learning. Part of the AI process invites all voices and ideas into
the Design Stage of the 4-D Cycle. The Design Stage engages all participants in this
case the young writers, in a process that embraces visioning, creativity and a final
destiny. This stage gives young writers the chance to create their own learning goals.
They have the ability to mold their own destinyrather than the teacher molding the
student. And when a person pioneers his or her own learning, then that learning
Ideal Learning Environments:
Suggestions from a Personal Interview with Amanda Trosten-Bloom
This paradigm shift engages writers in a new and powerful way. AI learning
environments, says Trosten-Bloom, give young people the opportunity to liberate
[their] voices; to transform [the learning process]; and to align a value chain (43).
However in a personal interview with Trosten-Bloom, she notes there are more
components that create powerful learning environments. The following are Trosten-
Blooms components of an ideal learning environment: Creating safety and space;
affirming the process of writing; connecting to acts of writing and thinking to
something bigger; questioning; laughing; reading and studying [model] writing; and
focusing on the positive.
Safety is comprised of three components: the teacher, the community, and the
self. AI revolves around building relationships; however, these relationships stretch
into many facets of a writers life. The emotional distress of being afraid and unsafe
can trap a writers creativity. Feelings of anxiety can boil and erupt on paper. Even
anger can create a dark vision for the writing process.
For a young writer to feel safe, not just from harm and danger, the teacher
needs to build a relationship of trust with her students. A trusting teacher-student
relationship requires the teacher to listen to the writers thoughts and continually ask
questions. When a teacher automatically says, Change this section, or This is
incorrect, then the student learns to recognize the teacher as the master of
knowledge. However, if a teacher finds sections in a students writing that work well,
then the student writer becomes a resource of knowledge rather than a recipient of
knowledge. Take for example, Ralph Fletchers strategies for creating a safe
Like a good music teacher, the writing teacher endures the bad melodies and
shaky rhythms, stays patient, and picks out moments when the writing works
well. It might be but a sentence: The roller coaster went upside down and
stopped like a bat hanging from a tree. It might be in a single phrase. Even
in a bad piece of writing, the mentor reaches into the chaos, finds a place
where the writing works, pulls it from the wreckage, names it, and makes the
writer aware of this emerging skill with words (14).
It is important for AI writing teachers to embark on the bold, quirky, funny and even
odd sentences in all young writers work. Even the worst piece of writing holds a
sparkler or a gem! By locating strengths, our young writers will continue to write
because they have been empowered to do more. However, it is also a necessity for
teachers to engage in constructive criticism during the beginning stages of a piece of
writing. Once again, AI builds on strengths, but it doesnt, and cannot exist if
weaknesses are always ignored.
Take, for example, a nursing home being reviewed by the federal government.
If the home doesnt meet all of the standards, the federal government will cite
deficiencies, which could inevitably close the home. Rather than cite the nursing
home, and ignore the problem all together, the federal government now asks private
consulting firms to intervene and create action plans for improved care. Pinon
Management is one such firm, which is nationally recognized industry leader
providing management and consulting services to owners and developers of long-
term care facilities (Pinon, par. 1). The federal government realized that citing
deficiencies only worsens the outcome of the lives of senior citizens. Rather than
demand improved results, the federal government has started to provide strategies for
improving care and avoiding deficiencies. This approach is Appreciative Inquiry.
Similar to nursing home deficiencies, errors in grammar, syntax, mechanics
and even voice can be treated in the same way. When teachers and peers only cite the
error, the problem can become even worse if the young writer doesnt know how to
fix the problem. Instead of locating the errors, the teacher can engage in the 4-D
Cycle to create a plan of action.
Lets take another look at the young writers soccer memoir. The author is
aware her subject-verb agreement is weak and that she lacks style in writing. By
engaging in the 4-D Cycle, the young writer can transform her weaknesses into
strengths. The Discovery Stage is the initial step for the young writer to take. This
may involve the young writer meeting with the teacher to discover and address areas
of weakness. The young writer maps out her ideas for improving her subject-verb
agreement and style. This is the stage where she creates her plan of action (similar to
the plans used by Pinon).
Next, the Dream Stage, the young writer needs to envision what it feels like to
use correct subject-verb agreement. She needs to feel the power of incorporating
style into her writing. Without the dream, it is virtually impossible to reach the
In the Design Stage, the young writer may work with another writer who has
already mastered subject-verb agreement, but in turn needs help with organization.
The two writers ideally can work together to generate a positive learning
The Destiny Stage is critical to the young writers ability to harness her
personal achievement. The young writer needs to recognize her commitment to
learning subject-verb agreement and style. She needs to review her steps and see her
progress. This stage, as more previously reviewed, empowers the writers to be
responsible for their learning.
Spaciousness is a necessity in every learning environment. Trosten-Bloom
agrees that space is important, because it gives young writers a chance to explore, to
roam around, to write and then throw the pages out, and to let things bubble up to the
surface (Personal interview). Writing is words, revisions, dreams, and everything
that a writer uses during the process. Further, humans engage in the writing process
because it is a natural response to our environment, our questions, and our ideas.
Natural space also includes the arrangement of classroom furniture so writers
can naturally respond. As previously stated by Ira Shor, a learning space should not
be political. When a classroom is arranged in rows with the teacher in front, then
young writers sense hierarchy, whether intentional or not. Calkins also supports
openness in the learning space:
Our teaching conveys messages of which were not even aware. We may
think our teaching is, above all, informing students about how the little things
an authors sees can ignite ideas for a story, but our most important lesson
may, in fact, be carried instead by the way we gather our students together in a
As further emphasized by Trosten-Bloom, young writers need space to be
alive. When students sit in rows facing the front, they can only interact with the
lesson being delivered by the teacher. However, encourages Trosten-Bloom, a circle
engages the human spirit and gives writing a fresh beginning.
Every learning environment is different, which is good. Ideally these spaces
are invented to meet the individual needs of young writers. The following is a cache
of ideas for creating this environment: overstuffed chairs, reading lamps, rocking
chairs, rugs, stuffed animals, pictures of nature, music, and of course, desks and
chairs. Some environments may use round tables so all writers can see and dialogue
with each other during the writing process. The purpose of space is to create a place
where young writers can thrive.. .where they can feel most alive.
Writing is a delicate process, explains Trosten-Bloom; therefore, a writer
needs to be supported and recognized during all stages of the writing process
(Personal interview). Recognition and affirmation are basic human instincts. For
instance, writes Trosten-Bloom, Around the globe, people hunger for recognition.
They want to work from their strengths on tasks they find valuable [...] They seek
ways to integrate their greatest passions into their daily work (3). The same applies
to young writers. When a writer is encouraged to continue using imagery, for
example, then that writer begins to feel ownership and pride in the writing. These
affirmative statements, also named Provocative Propositions, stretch the [individual]
beyond the familiar (Trosten-Bloom 212.)
David Cooperrider asks, What would happen to our change practices if we
began all our work with the positive presumption that [learning environments], as
centers of human relatedness, are alive with infinite constructive capacity (Positive
Revolution of Change 3)? The image of alive with infinite constructive capacity
demonstrates the humanness of not only writing, but of writing with Appreciative
Inquiry. Of all of the human systems, writing is a system that taps into the heart,
unfolds passions and ideas, questions humanity, and ultimately shares a new
perspective with readers. Writing, like Appreciative Inquiry, is all about what brings
life to our reality.
There is a certain power in the word. They can build or destroy; paint or
erase; explore or cease. Affirmative statements build bridges between a young
writers dreams and the reality of their writing. They answer the longing questions of
what might be. Or, how will my goal surface into reality? Simply stated, They
imply action (Trosten-Bloom 205).
Action occurs when a young writer is recognized and appreciated for work
done well. For instance, a young writer begins to omit passive voice in his or her
writing. Or maybe the writer brings a deeper meaning into the text of a story.
Metaphors emerge from the blank page, and similes crawl into sentences like a baby
takes her first wobble. These are just a few examples of what can happen when a
young writer receives affirmation. Diana Whitney, David Cooperrider, Amanda
Trosten-Bloom and Brian Kaplin concur that
Recognition gives us a sense of satisfaction and community. When others
care about the value of our contribution, it inspires us to strive for excellence.
Giving recognition can often be as rewarding as receiving it. When we see
excellence in another and recognize it, we see possibilities for our own
excellence (Encyclopedia of Positive Questions 43).
From this point forward, the recognition of quality seeps into the entire classroom.
Everyone recognizes affirmation when they actually experience it. Before anyone
knows it, the seed of affirmation has sprouted and grown and branched into a system
of human responses. And then, young writers discover their personal best practices
and those of their peer writers.
Connection to Something Bigger
Appreciative Inquiry encourages a person to connect with something that
makes them feel alive! Our cars dont necessarily make us feel alive, but the
movement brings exhilaration into our life. Trips to Hawaii dont bring us relaxation;
rather, the sounds of the ocean or the smell of salt water renew our spirits. Diane
Ackerman believes and practices this:
Look at your feet. You are standing in the sky. When we think of the sky, we
tend to look up, but the sky actually begins at the earth. We walk through it,
yell into it, rake leaves, wash the dog, and drive cars in it. We breathe it deep
within us. With every breath, we inhale millions of molecules of sky, heat
them briefly, and then exhale them back into the world (Fletcher 149).
Unlike the writing prompts found in standardized tests or in school textbooks,
writing is about exploring our world and constructing our images into ideas and
thoughts. Connecting to something bigger is not simply another spiritual
applicationsomething that a minister delivers to a congregation. Rather, as
expressed in an Appreciative Inquiry Weblog,
It is a lens, a view of the world that magnetizes our attention and reminds us
that we are continually constructing, interpreting and creating the world we
live inwith our words, with our thoughts, and with the meanings that we
add to what we see (Appreciative Inquiry Annotations, par. 2).
Writers not only possess the ability to construct meaning, they also have the
ability to create the world in which they live. When writers participate in the act of
creation, there is a sense of empowerment and an ever-greater sense of connection.
Writing for something bigger means questioning and examining the interpretations of
our world. These interpretations give young writers new appreciation for what is and
what will be.
In order to discover the best in a piece of writing, it is the role of the reader
(peer or teacher) to ask questions. Questions lead to discovery, whereas marked
mistakes lead to stagnation. A good question will excite and invigorate the young
writer. AI questions are open-ended and always search for the best in individuals.
The following exemplifies some questions: What do you envision for the final
product of this piece of writing? Or, you chose to write about your relationship with
your grandmother. What dimensions of this relationship spark you as meaningful?
An example of AI Questioning comes from The Art of Teaching Writing. In
this book, Lucy Calkins refers to a young writer named Dan. Dan is unique because
he asks questions simply to engage in the process of his own writing. He is an
elementary student, but his questions are honest. He writes, What happened to the
dinosaurs? What happened to the iceman? What happened to my brother? What
happened to my dads time? (Calkins 25). Rather than just assuming that the
textbooks hold the right answers, Dan chooses to explore the possibilities. He wants
to know the real answers that impact the core of his life. These explorations bring
young writers like Dan closer to the what or whom or why or how that
makes them feel most alive. These questions take on a heliotrophic attitude, says
Trosten-Bloom, which means growing toward the light (Personal interview).
Laughter unlocks a humans true personality. It creates a bond among peers
and builds stronger relationships. [Laugher] relaxes people. It gives us
opportunities for play. It is like an icebreaker, recalls Trosten-Bloom (Personal
interview). These ideas also resonate even with psychologists and medical doctors.
According to a report by Health Guide, Laughter is shortest distance between two
people. Laughter heals... [It] protects the heart.. .and helps us to see that our lives
abound with opportunities (Humor and Laughter 3). It releases our pretenses and
allows for creativity to burst! Laughter, says the adage, is the best medicine.
In a formulaic system, laughing tends to be an off-task activity. Laughing, for
some schools and classrooms, may mean that young people are not learning. But
laughing is just the contrary. In a school day filled with bells, classes, lockers, 20-
minute lunches, and a few minutes to graze outside, it is no wonder laugher serves
such a vital role. Laughing brings the humanness into learning. It allows all learners
(the teacher included) to venture into new partnerships and realms of learning.
When young writers laugh out loud, they are really doing more than just
reacting to something witty. They might be experiencing the joy of getting it or
slipping a surprise twist into a conclusion (Humor and Laughter 4). Laughter, in
the broadest of terms, connects human beings. According to AI, relationships are a
key component because they bring life to the experience. The chuckles, snickers, ha-
has, and teehees are really expressions of the bond between the writer and the reader;
the writer and her writing group; and the writer and the manuscript.
Reading Model Writing
Learning how to write from what we read is a new process. There is a belief
that all writers have a unique style, and that writing must be reinvented in order for it
to be recognized. Once writers really look at numerous texts, they will notice that
different writers are no more different than alike. In fact, says Cynthia Rylant, author
of numerous childrens books, I learned to write from writers. I dont know any
personally, but I read... (qtd. in Wood Ray 11). Gary Paulson agrees with Rylant
about the teaching of writing. He recommends this practice: Just read for about four