One of the challenges of being a Reading Teacher is the multiplicity of grade levels I must plan for and teach everyday. I have to familiarize myself with the standards and curriculum for the elementary, middle, and upper grades in both reading and writing in order to meet the varied needs of my students. Planning and differentiating instruction for all those grades is a daunting task. To add to the challenge, this year I’m also teaching three groups of Kindergarten students. Now I’m not only helping struggling readers and writers, I’m also teaching these youngsters how to hold a pencil properly and how to identify letters and write them correctly.
This experience has inspired me to think deeply about how children acquire reading and writing skills; how young minds start to put these letters and sounds together to create understanding through reading and writing; and how the process of reading and writing is natural and automatic for some and a teeth-pulling struggle for others. I started to realize that writing is an important way of solidifying learning while thinking and reflecting about the knowledge attained through reading.
Why is writing important?
Working with students with a range of learning abilities, I realized that writing plays a critical role in embedding learning of complex content. Writing provides students the opportunity to analyze and synthesize the new learning. By writing about what they’re learning students can strengthen understanding, especially of challenging concepts in content areas. Through writing they can explore their own thinking and perspectives in response to what they are reading or discussing with others.
Whether students are writing by hand or on the computer, they have to be able to write clearly and cohesively to show how much they know or how much they’ve learned. The new State tests require students to explain and support their thinking by referring to evidence from the text. As students get older, they are expected to show more sophisticated writing skills, and to complete more rigorous tasks through their writing. On standardized tests, it’s no longer sufficient to fill in the lines with nonsensical words that do not respond to the questions. The writing responses must correctly and comprehensively answer the questions in a clear, coherent manner. In essence, children must understand that proper, clear writing is a vehicle of communicating their thoughts and being recognized for what they can contribute.
We must guide students through the writing process.
Many students have trouble writing with clarity, coherence, and organization, and they become frustrated. This frustration may discourage them from writing altogether. But I’ve found that when I use tools like graphic organizers and outlines to help students organize their thoughts they are able to create some kind of plan and develop a vision for their final destination. I also share with them exemplars written by other students. But I’ve found that although it’s important to get a sense of what the final product should look like, students need to see the actual process of how that final finished piece was achieved. They need to see the struggles and many revisions it went through before reaching the final publishing stage.
Writing gives every student a voice; and our instruction nurtures and empowers that voice.
I model for my students what good writers go through by writing samples with them. I demonstrate how writers revise as I change my mind about word choice, eliminate whole sentences, or strengthen the writing by including figurative language. It’s simply not enough to tell students to write without showing them how to achieve the effective writing we expect them to produce. Until we’ve taught the “how” we cannot accurately and fairly assess children’ writing. And the fact is great writing skills do not happen overnight. It takes time and much guided practice. By encouraging strong writing skills at a young age, we can empower our students with the tools they need to successfully articulate their ideas and perceive writing as a more enjoyable process.
photo credit: goo.gl/cEm4rf