Friday, August 11, 2006

Writing in the content areas increase comprehension

Here are some ideas on integrating writing across the curriculum on p. 127.

Use shared writing to create informational texts based on content material your kids have studied or other knowledge they have.
Have students keep journals in content areas to explain their thinking, problem-solve, and document their observations.
In the primary grades, use current content area information to compose sentences to use with word work.
Help other students be more strategic, reflective readers: have them keep a notebook or journal ihn which they write predictions or summaries, copy quotations, make notes, and create charts.

I'm sure we can come up with even more to add to the list.

Writing improves Comprehension

Ok, I just have to quote this whole section from p. 126 because it hits the nail right on the head.

Composing text and comprehending text are closely related processes. Students who write better get better reading comprehension and vocabulary scores. Students who receive good writing instruction also become better readers. And when students have opportunities to do a lot of writing in the content areas (learning logs, summaries, essays, writing for specific audiences), they learn the subject matter more thoroughly than student who do not do much writing.

Children develop meaning as they write. It's what we all do, especially when we're writing about something we don't fully understand or haven't figured out yet. It's what I do when I write a book. Writing makes us think harder.

Write on Regie!

Higher Level Thinking

Many of our staff indicated they would like to see us work on higher level thinking next year. I was thinking of this when I got to Routman's comments (p. 125) on examining written responses to reading. She noted the following:

For example, research shows that when students answer teacher-originated short-answer questions, they quickly look for the needed information and copy it, with little thought or reflection. Basically, such exercises (which we have to read and assess) are not a good use of our time or the children's.

She goes on to advocate writing that enhances the reading. Here's how she puts it:

What we're after is a written response that deepens comprehension, causes the writer to reflect on the content, and/or fosters appreciation for the text. When children have to think about their response, meaning is likely to be extended . And be sure that before you ask students to explain, summarize, compare, evaluate, draw conclusions - all valuable activities- you first demonstrate and give adequate guided practice.

Well, there it is in a nutshell. We just need to clearly model that higher level thinking, provide guided practice, then actually give assignments that require students to do more than regurgitate information. Who needs staff development? Follow these three easy steps and your students will be out-thinking Stephen Hawking. :)

Reading widely supports writing

Read alouds are an integral part of the balanced literacy program. Routman encourages teachers to read aloud often, especially on topics that interest the students:

Teachers need to read aloud stories, poems, short books, long books, fiction, nonfiction, about topics and ideas that kids can connect to.

Quality Reading = Quality Writing

"Garbage in - Garbage out" goes the old refrain. This is Routman's basic premise when it comes to the type of literature students read and its effect on their writing. We need to surround our students with quality literature experiences to serve as models for their writing. She also makes a big push for non-fiction:

Children who read nonfiction have more information with which to write, have writing models at hand, and are more aware of nonfiction features such as visual aids.

English Learners benefit from Reading-Writing connection

Routman hails the benefit of the reading writing connection for English Learners:

When I cannot find texts students can easily read, we write our own. Students can read familiar stories that they tell and write far more easily than they can read commercial texts. Because it is easier to learn to read and write words that you already understand orally, creating original texts with familiar language Andy concepts makes good sense.

How are we doing on creating texts that are then used for shared, guided, and independent reading?

Routman on reading and writing

In preparation for our staff development I've been reviewing the notes from our staff meeting last spring to select work that both honors the wishes of staff for next steps and connects what we are to learn with our previous study on writing with Routman. Here's a good quote from Writing Essentials on the Reading-Writing connection:

Efffective teachers who have high-achieving students (including on high-stakes tests) do more writing and reading of whole texts and spend little time on "stuff" - activities about writing and reading.

So, consider your work during the school day. How much of your work with students is on whole texts as opposed to artificially created worksheets using language without context? For students to become more proficient writers they need to read lots of good pieces and not just isolated skills on worksheets.