National Writing Project

Is It Something in the Water? The Persistent Influences of Donald Graves, Donald Murray, and Thomas Newkirk

By: Kathleen Dudden Rowlands
Publication: California English
Date: April 24, 2012

Summary: Kathleen Dudden Rowlands, director of the Cal State Northridge Writing Project, addresses how three University of New Hampshire professors—Don Graves, Don Murray, and Tom Nekirk—have had such a long-lasting legacy in education and profound effects on educators like herself.


Excerpt from Article

It must be something in that New England water. How else is it reasonable to explain the cluster of influential voices that emanate from New Hampshire? University of New Hampshire professors Don Graves, Don Murray, and Tom Newkirk have each made significant contributions to our thinking about writing instruction and developing student literacies. List the names of teachers they influenced who have gone on to create meaningful work in their own right—Nanci Atwell (In the Middle), Penny Kittle (Write Beside Them), Linda Reif (Adolescent Literacy and Seeking Diversity), and Maja Wilson (Rethinking Rubrics) are a few [of] the better known—and the breadth of their impact comes into even sharper focus.

The influences of this august trio began for me in 1984 during the Hawai'i Writing Project Summer Institute. We read Writing: Teachers and Children at Work (Heinemann, 1983), Don Graves's careful study of the writing elementary students produced when writing in a workshop setting. Opening the unassuming paperback, I never dreamed that those pages would transform what I understood about writing and writing instruction. And I never could have imagined that the book would cause thousands of elementary teachers nationwide to completely rethink the writing students are capable of doing as early as six and seven years old, and then dramatically change their writing instruction accordingly. Because of Graves, they (and I) began to learn to teach writing as a craft—"a process of shaping material toward an end" (6), and we learned to trust the intellectual capacities of all students—even those just learning to form letters—to chose their own topics and to make decisions about the direction they want a piece of writing to take. These were enormous conceptual changes for most—if not all—of us. Certainly they were huge changes for me.

Copyright © 2012 California Association of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission.
Dudden Rowlands, Kathleen. 2012. "Is It Something in the Water? The Persistent Influences of Donald Graves, Donald Murray, and Thomas Newkirk." California English 17 (4): 8–10.

Read more California English articles from this issue.

About the Author Kathleeen Dudden Rowlands is an Associate Professor in the Michael D. Eisner College of Education at California State University, Northridge and the Director of the Cal State Northridge Writing Project.

Download the Article

PDF Download "Is It Something in the Water?"

© 2021 National Writing Project