Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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Crystal Shutt
English 225
Think Piece 2
June 2011

Children’s Authors: Kinesthetic Thinkers?

In the space of time today that I've been organizing my thoughts for this paper I have: put 3 coats of varnish on a wooden box I built, warped my loom and woven 3 yards of trim, and done an hour of pilates. This may seem like avoidance tactics to another person but to me it's how I think and learn. Kinesthetic and tactile learners are considered do-ers. They have a hands-on approach to thinking and creating. I myself am a very tactile, movement-oriented learner.

Recently for my children’s literature class I have completed a project on the idea of movement and its connection with learning in children’s literature. In the course of this class I was required to watch interviews with children’s authors from  A Child's Bookshelf: Inside Children's Literature. While watching interviews with children’s picture book authors I recognized methods within their drafting and revising processes that struck a note with my own movement-oriented research. This got me wondering at the link between tactile learning and the drafting of children's books.

When I am drafting or thinking about a project or writing, I am moving. Patricia Dunn, author of Talking Sketching Moving: Multiple Literacies in the Teaching of Writing, analyzes different ways in which learners may draft or revise their writing. She talks about how moving is a way to conceptualize ideas and their organization to increase opportunities for insight. This is a way that kinesthetic learners have adapted to in order to do writing. In an interview that I watched with children's author John Lithgow, he mentions that he walks his dogs for a few hours in order to draft in his head. He says it helps him to work out the "meter of his words" and allows him to organize his thoughts better.

Dunn calls this "walking the draft"; it's a way for kinesthetic thinkers to use motion to lay out their thought paths. The motion of walking can symbolize the draft itself, such as in Lithgow's case, where the gait of his steps marks out the meter of his words.  Walking can also be helpful to kinesthetic thinkers in other ways. The brain uses the synapses that are active while moving to create other thought pathways that help them within their thought processes.

Drawing idea out is another way to work through drafting ideas. Two children's authors both discussed how starting with artwork and constantly toying with it helps them conceptualize the story. Chris Raschka always starts with a book dummy. He says it helps me to draw, to manipulate a physical object that will evolve with his thoughts. Raschka may end up making many dummys as he is working through an idea. Each mock up represents a change in his thought process or a new idea. By drafting this way, Raschka can see the pattern of his thoughts, and where they are going, more clearly. These dummys make it easier to conceptualize and think through an idea thoroughly.

Mo Willems also operates along these lines. He talks about how he has to spend time with a character before he can make a book. Willems does this by drawing the character over and over, becoming familiar with it until the personality is fully developed. This is another representation of how manipulating something helps conceptualize the thought process. He also likes to make book dummys because he likes the physicality of the book. Willems takes into account the shape of the book as well as the timing when turning a page and how that affects the story. Like Lithgow, Willems works through the meter of his writing physically. The manipulation and reviewing of their work manually is their recursive drafting method. Going over their work to make sure their ideas are represented in a logical manner.

Many conventional drafting methods just don't work with kinesthetic thinkers. Kirby Larson has her story ideas down on 3x5 note cards in a pile. "I'm a terrible outliner," Larson says. "Outlining is not for me." Outlining is a very easy way for kinesthetic learners to encounter writer's block. When Larson gets stuck, she shuffles through her stack of cards to get a new idea. This may cause her to write out of order, but that doesn't always matter to a kinesthetic writer. Dunn points out that cutting paragraphs out and re-arranging them in different orders is a great way for kinesthetic thinkers to revise their writing.  Not only does this kinesthetic work with ideas help all learners experiment with organizational patters, it also clearly exemplifies the role of transitions (113).  For kinesthetic thinkers this is much more effective than pasting things in different orders in a word document. The physical factor allows the idea to settle more firmly in the brain and makes it easier to see what isn't working.

Walking, drawing, and manipulating are key things these four authors touched on when talking about their writing processes. These are also major methods kinesthetic thinkers use. They aren't your run of the mill outline, rough draft, revision, final draft, writing solutions.  That's why the idea of children's authors being kinesthetic learners struck me while watching the videos. These children's authors weren't using typical methods of drafting which are displayed my most other genres of authors. They were using methods I had researched earlier.

Kinesthetic thinkers tend to go into the more creative career fields. I hypothesize that this is why I am finding this connection within the field of children's authors. It is a highly creative field of writing that requires creative individuals. While not every author is a kinesthetic learner, I believe that this may be a field that calls to those who have learned to draft creatively.

Crystal's commentary (a screencast for her portfolio):


Works Cited

Dunn, Patricia. Talking Sketching Moving Multiple Literacies in the Teaching of Writing. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook Publishers Inc., 2001. Print.

Child's Bookshelf: Inside Children's Literature. Perf. Lithgow, John. PBS: DVD.

Child's Bookshelf: Inside Children's Literature. Perf. Raschka, Chris. PBS: DVD.

Child's Bookshelf: Inside Children's Literature. Perf. Willems, Mo. PBS: DVD.

"Kirby Larson Interview." YouTube. Web. 10 May 2011.


Copyright 2011
Crystal Shutt


Funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education, Title III Grant PO31A980143
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA