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'Writing Helps Grow Readers'

(This is the last post in a two-part series. You can see Part One here.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

In what ways can writing support reading instruction?


In Part One, Tony Zani, Mary Tedrow, Mary Beth Nicklaus, Colleen Cruz,  and Pam Allyn shared their responses. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Tony, Mary, and Mary Beth on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

Today,  Rita Platt, Laverne Bowers,  Rhonda Precourt, Gen Arcovio, Alycia Owen, Kathy Glass, and Keisha Rembert contribute their thoughts.

You'll also see the next question-of-the-week at the bottom of this column.

Three Real-Life Examples of How Writing Supports Reading

Rita Platt (@ritaplatt) is a national-board-certified teacher and a proud #EduDork! Her experience includes teaching learners of all levels from kindergartner to graduate student. She is currently the principal of St. Croix Falls and Dresser Elementary Schools in Wisconsin, teaches graduate courses for the Professional Development Institute, and writes for MiddleWeb:

Writing and reading are reciprocal processes. Reading helps grow writers, and writing helps grow readers; whether or not we plan it that way, it happens. That said, teachers can and should be intentional about using reading to support writing and visa versa.

One great way to do that with emergent readers and English-language learners who are beginning to learn to read in English is through the Language Experience Approach (LEA). I first used the strategy as a beginning teacher working with 1st and 2nd grade Yupik students in small schools on the Bering Sea coast of Alaska and found it to be as fun as it was effective. Since that time, I've used it over the last 20 or so years with students of all ages in communities all over the nation but have rarely seen it used by others. I hope that you will try using LEA with your learners because it is fun, it builds class culture, strengthens student ownership and investment in reading and writing, and it can help combine content, literacy, and English-language development and learning.

In a nutshell, the strategy starts with a shared experience, leads to a writing session that calls on students to write about (or talk about as the teacher models writing) it, and ends with students reading and rereading the text they helped to create. Read the examples below to get a sense of LEA in action.

Example 1:

Kindergarten students visited a local state park where where they learned to snowshoe on a cold but lovely wintry day. Their teacher took many pictures of the kids as they tramped across snowy fields and wove their way among the snow-covered trees. When the students returned to school, the teacher showed the pictures on the interactive white board and asked students to think about their favorite part of the experience. She then used chart paper to scribe their favorite moments. Martin said, "I liked how quiet it was in the woods," and the teacher wrote it down. Annalisa said, "I liked that I got warm as I walked," and the teacher wrote that, too. When all students had a chance to share, the teacher typed up the responses and added the pictures to the document. She printed copies for each child, and they used the homegrown text as reading practice for the week.

Example 2:

Jorge is a 3rd grader in a response to intervention reading group. He is new to not only the school but also to the U.S.A. and is an emergent English-language speaker. His teacher works with him to learn the names of commonly used "school tools." She and Jorge go through his desk and organize his pencils, erasers, highlighters, reading books, textbooks, notebooks, scissors, glue, etc. As Jorge touches each tool, his teacher prompts him to use the following sentence frame: This is a _________________. I use it to ___________________. Jorge writes each sentence and creates a School Tools book. He reads the book with his teacher and takes it home for further practice.

Example 3: 

A teacher in a 2nd grade class is beginning an integrated science and literacy unit on magnets. She wants to get students excited and to help them build the vocabulary they will need to have academic conversations. She begins by allowing the students 20 minutes of free exploration with magnets in four learning centers. Small groups of students rotate through the stations every five minutes. She then shares the following vocabulary words and definitions with her class: magnet, magnetism, force, attract, repel, pole. The words are added to a word wall, and students are asked to work in their small groups to write a sentence about their experiences in the centers using each of the new words. The students read their sentences to other groups, bring them home to read to their caregivers, and return them to school to be read as morning work.

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Writing About Reading

Laverne Bowers is a 4th grade teacher at Gadsden Elementary School in Georgia's Savannah Chatham County school district, where she was 2018-19 Teacher of the Year. Bowers has created a cooperative, caring community of learners in the classroom and models the importance of mutual respect and cooperation among all community members. Her educational philosophy is that each child can learn with sufficient support, interest, and path of opportunity:

Writing supports reading instruction by allowing the reader to share his or her thoughts about what he or she has read. Writing requires the reader to think critically about the text and utilize the text to draw conclusions, make inferences, or make predictions. Writing is where reading strategies and skills acquired in class are applied. It also provides the reader with an opportunity to utilize newly learned vocabulary in an authentic manner.

Writing is an excellent time for students to be reflective about their learning and demonstrate understanding of what they've read. It is not until reading comprehension exists that good writing can take place. 

Successful writers are equipped with a talent for word usage, spelling, syntax, conventions, and expressive writing of ideas. There are five components of reading instruction, each of which is reinforced in an authentic way through writing:

  1. Phonics (written letters and spoken sound)
  2. Phonemic awareness (understanding that sounds of a spoken language are put together to make words.)
  3. Vocabulary development
  4. Reading fluency
  5. Reading comprehension

To make writing practice successful, students deserve the respect of knowing that they are writing in a "risk-free" environment. After reading the text, some students may still feel intimidated by what they are expected to write. "Writer's block" is real. Teachers must take the time, patience, and thought to build trust and respect for the written ideas of others. 

Some of the resources we use at Gadsden Elementary School are the Ready Reading and Ready Writing textbooks. In the textbooks, there are both reading and writing activities that support the reading passages, including close-reading strategies, quick write, extended response, and more. 

As an educator, I enjoy using resources that help to differentiate my writing instruction. For example, in small groups, I use graphic organizers, anchor charts, word banks, and sentence starters to assist students at all learning levels along the path of success.  As the students execute the writing assignments, I am able to formally and informally assess, diagnose, and determine their deficit, interest, and mastery of learning each standard. 

For teachers looking to enhance the way they use writing to support reading instruction, I encourage you to think outside of the box!  Create a visible writing center that supports both reading and writing as an essential part of the classroom environment.  Use "Writing Lures" in the writing center to attract the reluctant reader and/or writer. Writing lures may include gel pens, sheet protectors, highlighters, fragrant pens, colored pencils, colored paper, sticky notes, music, and art. Create an interactive bulletin board to showcase updated student work, include a student's thought for the week in parent newsletters, post student commentary about current events, or try an editorial cartoon as a writing assignment. Incorporate oratorical presentations as an additional way for students to practice oral reading fluency. Set the expectation that "when we read, we write."

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The Power of Using Writing to Enhance Reading

Rhonda Precourt and Gen Arcovio are literacy specialists in western New York.  They are co-owners of the Literacy Pages blog :

Throughout the years, educators have wondered whether students should be taught to read first or to write first.  In the past, some educators have viewed writing as something that is taught to students after they learn letter sounds and after they learn words.  Currently, many educators take the stance that the biggest impact on literacy can be made by teaching reading and writing simultaneously.  

Literacy researcher Marie Clay defines reading as a "message-getting, problem-solving activity," and writing as a "message-sending, problem-solving activity (p. 5)." Essentially, reading and writing are two different avenues to help students learn the same items and processes. When working with struggling readers, taking advantage of the reciprocity of reading and writing can drastically speed up their progress (Clay, p. 23). Teachers can use the strength in one of these areas to help build up the other.  

Since reading and writing share much of the same "mental processes" and "cognitive knowledge," students who partake in copious amounts of reading experiences have shown increased gains in writing achievement and students who write extensively demonstrate improved reading comprehension (Lee & Schallert, p. 145).  When researching the impact of reading on writing achievement and writing on reading achievement, Graham and Herbert found that, "the evidence is clear: Writing can be a vehicle for improving reading. In particular, having students write about a text they are reading enhances how well they comprehend it. The same result occurs when students write about a text from different content areas, such as science and social studies (p. 6)." 

There is a strong connection between early-reading and -writing behaviors. Writing requires students to slow down and attend to items in detail, such as attending to particular letters and sounds and the sequence of phonemes, and it provides a link to what the child is saying orally to the written message. Knowing an item in detail when writing is a step closer to knowing an item with automaticity in reading. Writing can help students to become more flexible and automatic with what they know. Students learn that they can recognize in text words what they have learned in writing. 

Not all students make connections between writing and reading automatically.  Teachers need to intentionally demonstrate and bring to the students' attention the reciprocal nature of reading and writing.  It is not always clear to students that what they are able to do effectively in one area can help them with the other area.

The following are some examples of how to use explicit language to help students bridge their knowledge of reading and writing.  

During a shared reading activity, a teacher can say, "We start reading our words here (point to the top left) just like when we write (point to the starting place in a familiar shared writing piece)"  to strengthen students' understanding of how print works.

When reading, if a student stops at a word they have previously written easily with independence, the teacher can prompt the student with, "You know how to write that word.  Write it with your finger on the table.  Now read it."

If the teacher wants to encourage the student to use letter-sound correspondence to problem-solve an unknown word, the teacher can tell the student, "Say the word slowly like when you are writing."

Reading comprehension can be strengthened through writing by having students write about what they are reading, teaching students the writing process, and by increasing the amount of time students write (Graham and Herbert, p.5).

There is strong evidence to suggest that writing can boost students' growth in reading.  The reciprocity between reading and writing, however, needs to be explicitly taught to students.  When teachers capitalize on the power of writing to increase reading achievement, the benefit to students is immense. 

Sources:

Briggs, C., & Anderson, N.  "Reciprocity Between Reading and Writing:  Strategic Processing as Common Ground."  The Reading Teacher Volume 64, No. 7, April (2011):  546-549.  Print

Clay, M.  Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals (2nd edition). Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2016. Print.

Graham, S., & Hebert, M. Writing to read: Evidence of how writing can improve reading. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.  2010.  Print.

Lee, J., & Schallert, D.  "Exploring the Reading-Writing Connection: A Year-Long Classroom-Based Experimental Study of Middle School Students Developing Literacy in a New Language."  Reading Research Quarterly 51(2), (2016):  143-164.  Print.

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"Teach Reading by Teaching Writing"

Alycia Owen is an international educator, instructional coach, and EAL specialist who has implemented the co-teaching model in math, science, and language arts. She has provided professional development for schools in the U.S. and abroad and has been a workshop presenter at NESA, AASSA, and EARCOS international teachers' conferences, as well as the SIOP National Conference. She currently lives in China where she serves as EAL Department chair for American International School of Guangzhou:

True or False?

  1. The four main language domains are reading, writing, listening, and speaking.
  2. To develop language, it's important to address all four domains, regardless of what subject is taught.
  3. Reading and writing have a reciprocal relationship with each other, as do listening and speaking.
  4. All teachers are teachers of language.

True. True. True. True.

It's not at all uncommon to walk into a classroom and find students participating in a 'speaking and listening activity.'  These two language domains are so inextricably linked that we rarely see them separated or taught in isolation in the classroom.  In fact, they even appear as one set of English/language arts (ELA) standards in the Common Core, labeled directly as 'Speaking and Listening.' However, reading and writing are each listed in their own subcategories under language arts and are identified as separate domains. This false division is likely done for what educators may consider pragmatic reasons, such as improving clarity. However, this may also imply that it's acceptable to teach these domains in isolation from each other. This is a mistake, due to the similarly reciprocal relationship that exists between reading and writing. Reading and writing should be so firmly attached to one another, regardless of the students' ages, that they are routinely paired during classroom activities.

Using reading as a springboard to writing is fairly common, but writing to improve reading is less evident in the classes I visit.  This is surprising, given findings such as those outlined by Graham and Hebert (2010).  In their meta-analysis of experimental and quasi-experimental studies, the effectiveness of writing lessons in promoting growth in reading were examined.  While the researchers recognize some limitations in their meta-analysis, their findings reinforce the basic understanding of the positive impact of writing practice on reading comprehension. Graham and Hebert identify three specific recommendations for teachers:

Write About Text

"Writing about a text proved to be better than just reading it, reading and rereading it, reading and studying it, reading and discussing it, and receiving reading instruction" (p. 14). Further, the researchers highlight specific practices, including:

  • taking text notes
  • responding to text by making personal connections to it
  • writing text summaries
  • analyzing and interpreting text
  • creating and/or answering questions about the text

Teach Writing Skills and Process

Graham and Hebert's results showed that writing about text had the most powerful impact on reading comprehension, particularly among low-income students, when it included explicit instruction on how to write.  For particular reading skills, teachers can support instruction with these targeted writing lessons:

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Write MORE

The call for students to write more often may raise concerns of putting undue pressure on our ELA teachers, but this won't happen if we share the load.  It's easy to increase the amount of time students spend writing by including it as an integral part of every subject area's lessons. This can even include subjects in which writing is not commonly used, such as P.E. art, or math.  When students write often and across disciplines, their reading comprehension improves.

On its own, writing is an essential skill, as is reading. However, the outcomes of Graham and Hebert's study compel us to think about how we can teach reading by teaching writing and to more seamlessly integrate these language domains in all classes.  So, sharpen your pencils, it's time to read.

 

Works Cited

Graham, S., and Hebert, M. A. (2010). Writing to read: Evidence for how writing can improve reading. A Carnegie Corporation Time to Act Report. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers (2010) Common Core State Standards. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers, Washington D.C.   

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Writing Essays About Complex Text

Kathy T. Glass, a former teacher, is a national consultant for K-12 audiences and an author of several books related to curriculum and instruction. She is invested in increasing educators' capacity to hone their craft so they translate what she teaches to effective classroom practice. Check out her website:

Research supports the claim that writing serves as an impactful tool to improve reading.  Steve Graham and Michael Hebert assert in Writing to Read: "...[H]aving students write about a text they are reading enhances how well they comprehend it. The same result occurs when students write about a text from different content areas, such as science and social studies. . . . Writing about a text should enhance comprehension because it provides students with a tool for visibly and permanently recording, connecting, analyzing, personalizing, and manipulating key ideas in text" (2010, pp. 6, 11). Based on their findings of the correlative influence of writing on reading, these authors present recommendations for using writing to bolster students' reading skills and comprehension, as well as learning about subject-matter content. 

One significant action involves students writing about what they read by responding to various tasks based on the complex text at the center of instruction and the learning targets.  For example, they write longer essays that call on them to analyze, examine, and interpret the text.  After reading books by the same author or a collection of short stories, students choose the narrative they feel is strongest and write an argumentation essay asserting their position. In doing so, they highlight which story element(s) or narrative technique(s) enhanced their reading experience and use textual evidence to support it.  Or, after reading about a current or historical event, students write an informational essay comparing aspects of this event with another one and support their writing with concrete evidence.  As well, students can produce shorter written responses, such as brief summaries, organized notes, and responses to text-dependent questions.  When students are tasked with writing about a text, it deepens meaning.   

Additionally, research reveals that an increase in students' reading skills and comprehension result from acquiring writing skills and processes needed to create text.  Specifically, by teaching the stages of the writing process, text structures, and the construction of a sentence and paragraph, students' reading abilities improve. Therefore, teachers conduct lessons that ask students to plan, draft, edit, revise, and publish in an effort to produce well-developed pieces of writing.  Learning about text structures also contributes to positive advances in reading.  Students must learn to recognize the most common structures—compare-contrast, problem-solution, cause-effect, sequence, and description—and apply this knowledge to their own writing, as well.  Additionally, teaching writing skills related to formulating a complete sentence, including the ability to identify and avoid fragments and run-on sentences, helps students improve reading fluency.  Furthermore, teaching spelling skills and patterns in words correlates to an increase in word-reading skills. 

Another evidence-based writing practice that contributes to improved reading comprehension centers on providing students opportunities to write more frequently.  Therefore, teachers strive to carve out more time for students to write their own texts—such as self- or peer-selected topics, letters to online or print publications, journal entries, movie or song reviews, and so forth.  Writing Assessments A to Z includes a host of other options. 

Indeed, writing supports reading; therefore, teachers would be wise to use any of these suggestions—and certainly their own—to help produce more able writers and critical thinkers of complex text.

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Writing Reflections On Reading

Keisha Rembert is an 8th grade English and U.S. history teacher at Clifford Crone Middle School in Naperville, Ill. Keisha feeds her love of learning by continually refining her craft and has been the recipient of several grants affording her the opportunity to take courses at some of the world's most renowned universities. She was named Illinois' History Teacher of the Year for 2019:

It is hard for me to separate the two types of instruction because for me they are synchronous. I often start reading instruction with writing. I want students to flush out their knowledge or activate engagement through writing, which gives them an opportunity to think about themselves in relationship to the text. Writing is more than access; it mirrors what happens in the thinking process. Therefore, all reading leads to writing as a mode of illustrating thinking. This writing looks like reflections. It can be a response journal. It could be a note to a peer. It could be an exit slip that identifies what the student learned that day.

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Next Question!

The next question-of-the-week is:

What are practical ways to implement restorative practices?

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Thanks to Rita, Laverne, Rhonda, Gen, Alycia, Kathy, and Keisha for their contributions.

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected]. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it's selected or if you'd prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

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