Part 2: Connecting to the Written Word: Intentional Writing with Older Readers
A student shuffles to the next page of the book, listlessly moving to answer the questions at the end of the chapter. The student wonders, What will I do with this when I am done? As author and teacher Jeffrey Wilhelm has suggested, for some students reading is just about gaining enough knowledge to get credit for the answers at the end of the passage.
This blog post is written as a call to connect reading more with writing and composing in response on a regular basis. We know from years of research, including high-powered regression analysis, that reading and writing cannot be separated as literacy tasks. It is limiting to attempt to teach reading meaningfully without writing. On the other hand, meaningful teaching of writing means regular engagement with reading texts.
Writing is a powerful vehicle for demonstrating a student’s knowledge and experiences on the page. It is a clear assessment marker for deciding next steps forward in terms of the sounds and words a student knows, as well as how much they are understanding and taking in from the world around them. Teachers who are wondering about a student’s comprehension can engage in a fairly efficient and effective snapshot of where all students are in the class through a brief response on an index card or in a digital response box.
Writing is a literacy task that can help teachers note how students are developing awareness of English, as well as working between and among languages. The act of composing is both a concrete artifact of where a student is in their development, as well as a chance for creativity and reflection to bring life to a reading experience.
One common misunderstanding about writing instruction is there is not enough time to have students compose in response. It is important to keep in mind not all responses are essay-length; a strongly worded exit-ticket question that elicits a clear statement can be powerful, and jotted just before students leave. A few sentences or even words in response can help teachers quickly assess comprehension, vocabulary, and knowledge of conventions and structures within the English language.
When it comes to working with students who are working toward proficiency in English, writing can be a clear way of noticing the words a student already knows and uses. Teachers who have been trained in the fundamentals of reading instruction can then apply this knowledge to help students expand into the next areas of growth they need. Moreover, students can experience the beauty of beginning to see themselves as writers.
Finally, teachers can build meaningful knowledge of students based on written interactions in ways that spoken language might not allow. Sometimes students are shy. Older readers are also keenly aware of their own need for additional support, which can result in avoidance behaviors. Teachers who invite students to comfortably engage in writing and composing can gain knowledge of and build relationships with students who would otherwise stay “under the radar.”Simply put, writing provides motion and emotion for engagements with reading, and both of these integral processes are much too valuable to leave out of meaningful and intentional literacy instruction.