Showing posts with label Writing. Reading-Writing relationships. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Writing. Reading-Writing relationships. Show all posts

Thursday, February 23, 2017

How Should We Combine Reading and Writing?

Teacher question:
          So today I was conducting a workshop. I was told the teachers wanted information about reading/writing connections. Easy, right? Then I was told that they departmentalize K-6! At every grade they have a reading teacher and a different writing teacher. Any thoughts, comments, best practices, or research that would go against or support this practice? I know what I believe to be correct, but would love to have your opinions in this conversation. 

Shanahan response: 
            Wowee! For the past several years I’ve been complaining about how schools are organizing themselves with regard to reading and writing. These days, the most common elementary school organization seems to be the 90-minute reading block, with writing taught some other time of the day (if at all). And, in middle schools and high schools many schools have readers’ and writers’ workshops—managed by different teachers.

            I think both of those schemes are dopey and counterproductive.

            But you’ve found a structure that is even worse!

           These folks sound like the type of people that would separate Romeo and Juliet... Yin and Yang....Lennon and McCartney... love and marriage... Bert and Ernie...spaghetti and meatballs... You get the idea.

            Reading and writing are related in many ways. And, though teachers can take advantage of these relationships in ways that can improve achievement, doing that would be very difficult and inefficient when taught separately as in your example.

            The combination of reading and writing doesn’t just change instruction—it can affect the curriculum itself. For instance, the Common Core State Standards require teachers to teach kids how to combine reading and writing for various purposes.

            I wondered if this is a CCSS state? (your letter didn’t specify). If so, that would be one of my big questions—how are they teaching kids to write about reading? Perhaps those goals can be accomplished within this odd organizational plan, but that would require a great deal of cross-classroom planning (the kind of planning that tends to impinge on teachers’ personal time—and that rarely happens, no matter what the theory).

            Admittedly, I’m aware of no studies that directly measure the impact of such organization, and the organizational studies that do exist suggest that organizational plans usually don’t matter much in terms of learning). I guess I could praise this district at least for teaching writing—there are still too many places that haven’t figured out the need for that yet.

            However, a major purpose for teaching writing is its strong impact on reading achievement. Recently, some administrators who had been discouraging writing in their districts contacted me. Their concern was that writing took up a lot of time and their state was heavily stressing reading achievement. Time devoted to writing would “obviously” interfere with reaching their reading goals. They wanted to know why I was telling their teachers that writing was a must.

            I explained to them that there were several reasons behind my urgings.

            First, research shows that reading and writing are closely aligned. That is, reading and writing depend upon many of the same skills, strategies and knowledge—though those are deployed in different ways in reading and writing. In fact, about 70% of the variation in reading and writing abilities are shared.

            For example, to read one has to decode words. That means being able to look at the word, recognize its elements (letters and letter combinations), retrieve associated pronunciations for those letters, and to blend those into a word pronunciation. For that to work, of course, you have to do that very quickly—and eventually with little conscious attention.

            In contrast, to write one has to spell words. That means being able to listen to the pronunciation of a word, to recognize its elements (phonemes—that is language sounds), to retrieve letters that match those sounds, and to recognize whether they are combining properly to make a well-formed word. And, again, fluency is essential.

            Decoding is arguably easier than spelling, but learning to both pronounce and spell words simultaneously helps to increase decoding fluency. It provides a kind of overlearning that enhances one’s ability. The same argument can be made concerning phonological awareness, and the use of vocabulary, grammar, text structure, tone, and other text elements—and the same kinds of connections exist between the routines one uses to pull up background knowledge, to set purposes, to predict, and so on.

            Given the extensive overlaps, it should be evident that combined instruction would be a lot more efficient. When a school is trying to accomplish higher achievement that kind of efficiency and teaching power is indispensable.

            Second, reading and writing are communicative processes, and there cross-modal benefits to be derived from having students engage in each. Readers, who are writers, can end up with insights about what authors are up to and how they exert their effects, something of great value in text interpretation. Likewise, writers by being readers, can gain insights into the needs of other readers. Imagine how that can help one to write better.

            This kind of insight sharing is unlikely without some teacher guidance—and making those kinds of connections across reading and writing experiences depends on sharing those experiences with the students. It would be hard for a teacher to know what came up in the various shared reading experiences that took place in the other class.

            Third, reading and writing can be used in combination to accomplish particular goals. The Common Core emphasizes two particular goals for such combining: using writing to improve learning from text, and using the reading of multiple texts to improve the writing of syntheses or reports. The first of these is the most pertinent to these queries.

            Steve Graham and Michael Hebert (201) carried out a meta-analysis of more than 100 studies in which students wrote about text. They found that writing in various ways about what one had read improved comprehension and learning, and it did so better than reading alone, reading and rereading, or reading and discussing.

            Students should not just be writing about text, they should be learning how to write about text effectively: how to write to text models, how to write summaries, how to write extended critiques and analyses, and how to write syntheses.

            So, my reading of the research says: Teach kids to write and use this instruction to improve reading achievement. Do it separately and you are leaving achievement points on the table. No question this could be accomplished by two different teachers, but what a complicated mess that makes of it. Simplify. 

          (Pass the popcorn and butter, I'm going to watch some Laurel and Hardy films. Some things just go together).

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

Shanahan, T. (2004). Overcoming the dominance of communication: Writing to think and learn. In T. L. Jetton and J. A. Dole (Eds.), Adolescent literacy research and  practice. New York: Guilford Press.

Shanahan, T. (2008). Relations among oral language, reading, and writing development. In C.A. MacArthur, S. Graham, and J. Fitzgerald (Eds.), Handbook of Writing Research (pp. 171-186). New York: Guilford Press.

Shanahan, T. (2015). Relationships between reading and writing development. In C.A. MacArthur, S. Graham, and J. Fitzgerald (Eds.), Handbook of writing research (2nd ed., pp. 194-210). New York: The Guilford Press.

Tierney, R. J., and Shanahan, T. (1991). Research on the reading-writing relationship: Interactions, transactions, and outcomes. In R. Barr, M. L. Kamil, P. Mosenthal, and P. D. Pearson (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research (pp. 246-280). New York: Longman.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Heidi or Giselle?: Writing as a Response to Reading

Teacher question:
“My students talk about the stories through collaborative conversations and class discussions, but I hardly allow time for students to write written responses.  How often should I have students write a written response and should students be taking notes on the story?"

            Writing about text or talking about text… I used to consider that to be an impossible choice (like deciding whether to ask Heidi Klum or Giselle B√ľndchen out on a date).

            Then I read the research on it. Conversation and discussion about what students read is certainly valuable, and, yet, if your goal is to raise reading achievement, writing has even greater value (not such a hard choice after all).

            Stephen Graham and Michael Hiebert analyzed data from more than 100 studies on writing about text. What they found was that writing about text had strong impacts on reading comprehension.

            In fact, writing about text was clearly better than just reading the text, than reading and rereading the text, and than reading and talking about the text.

            I suspect the reason for this is that writing forces one to think through an idea more thoroughly. There are many times when I start to write a blog entry, thinking I know what I want to say, but as I compose the limitations of my thinking are exposed—in a way that speaking does not seem to do.

            For kids, when they write about text, they tend to have to go back and reread—and that alone is a big benefit.

            Of course, Graham and Hiebert did not find all writing to be equal.

            For example, they reported that generally the better writers benefited more than the strugglers. However, that one was easily fixed with a bit of writing instruction and scaffolding. Teach kids how to do the writing that you are asking them to do, and you level the playing field.

            Also, younger kids seemed to benefit a lot from writing summaries of text. But as they got older (like middle school and high school), then summaries gave a low payoff. Presumably because by then kids could summarize thoroughly without having to think as hard about it. At those advanced ages, analyzing, critiquing, and synthesizing texts through their writing had the biggest payoff.

            That doesn’t mean that older students should never be asked to summarize, or that younger ones don’t need to write reports requiring them to combine info from multiple sources. It does mean that there should be proportionally more summary assignments—and summary instruction and scaffolding—in the elementary grades until kids become proficient. (And, vice versa).

            Another difference is in the role of note-taking. There was only one study of that with kids in grades 3-4, and it had a very low payoff. However, in grades 5-12, there were many such studies and there was clearly a learning benefit both from structured and unstructured note-taking. This one I would probably only introduce when there was an actual benefit for the skill; that is the kids will need the notes to do something else.

            In my classrooms, kids were expected to write pretty much everyday. Unlike when I taught, I’d probably make sure that between 20% and 60% of that writing (that is 1-3 days per week) would be writing about text; less of that in K-1 and more as students advanced through the grades.

            Giselle or Heidi? Heidi or Giselle? There is a place for both choices in my fantasies and in your classroom.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Why We Need to Teach Reading AND Writing

            Many educators trumpet the idea of reading-writing relationships, emphasizing how close reading and writing are. As a teacher I was a big believer in this—my kids wrote every day, despite the lack of a report card space for writing, a writing curriculum, writing standards, or even any professional development on the topic. I strongly believed that when you taught writing, you were teaching reading.

            Then I went to graduate school. My dissertation focused on the relationships between reading and writing. Boy was I surprised. Yes, indeed, reading and writing were related, but not to the degree I had assumed. The idea that teaching reading can have an impact on learning to write is correct; and so is the opposite.

            But the part that I hadn’t recognized was that reading and writing are really pretty different, too. There have been lots more studies of this since then—by researchers like Ginger Berninger, Steven Graham, Rob Tierney, Judy Langer, and so on—and with the same result. Reading and writing are related and they impact each other; and, yet, they are quite separate and different, too.

            In fact, that is why they can be such beneficial supports for each other. If writing was just another form of reading, it wouldn’t give readers any special insights that they wouldn’t develop some other way.

            When I first started publishing research articles on this topic, I received a lot of criticism. The critics were upset that I was finding reading and writing to have unique properties, not just overlapping ones. That upset them because they felt it would discourage teachers from incorporating writing into their reading curricula (and school writing was pretty non-existent at the time).

            However, as I worked with the problem more it became evident that the critics had it backwards. If reading and writing were so much the same, there was no real reason to teach them both if you could learn everything that you needed just from one or the other. In fact, that might be why so many schools taught reading and not writing; if you made students into competent readers, then they would be able to write, too. (Its sort of like ordering two desserts instead of a main course and a dessert; if the point is to satisfy all of your nutritional needs, then you need to eat different types of foods--and no, a slice of chocolate cake and a strawberry shortcake are not two different types of foods).

            The correlations among various reading and writing measures are high, but they are not a unity. The correlated and uncorrelated parts both matter. We need to teach both reading and writing because of the distances between them.

            In my classroom framework, I always encouraged substantial amounts of time for both reading and writing activity and instruction, and still do. Students need and benefit from explicit instruction in both, and they benefit from being taught how to integrate reading and writing; including how to read one’s writing with sufficient distance for revision, how to summarize the ideas from a text in your writing (or how to synthesize the ideas from multiple texts), and how to use texts as a model and source for one’s writing.

            When you are teaching reading, you definitely may be having an impact on student writing ability. But there is much to be learned about writing that can only come from writing instruction and writing practice. And the same can be said for writing’s impact on reading. 

            Make sure there is room on your daily table for all the necessary ingredients for a nutritional literacy diet, including writing. 

            Please pass the sticky toffee pudding.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Thank Goodness the Writing Scores are Going to Drop

Okay, so you’re thinking: “This guy is even more nuts than I thought. How can he root for kids to write poorly?"

I hope I’m not nuts, but one of the major new tests to be used to monitor student performance against the common core state standards is well designed (truth in advertising: I serve on the English Language Arts Technical Work Groups for that test). However, those new designs are almost certain to lower student writing scores, which I hope will be good for kids—at least in the long run.

PARCC is a 23 state consortium that is designing new English language arts assessments (mostly for states east of the Mississippi River). Earlier this week, PARCC released item and task prototypes and I hope that you’ll take a careful look at them—even if you are not in a PARCC state:

How can I be so sure writing scores are going to drop with PARCC? I’ve been studying this topic for more than three decades and one thing that I’ve learned is that reading and writing are not perfectly related or aligned. The correlations of reading and writing are lower than one would expect—which angered many people when I first started reporting that in the early 1980s.

That means that while there are a lot of students who read and write poorly or who read and write well, there are also surprising numbers who read well and write poorly and vice versa.

Traditional state writing assessments were designed so that students did not have to read to do the writing. Students who wrote well, but read poorly, did well on past tests.

PARCC is going to have students read texts, answer reading comprehension questions, and then write about those texts (summarizing or synthesizing, according to the prototypes). Students who manage to express themselves well, but who struggle with reading, will be at a marked disadvantage on the writing assessment. Such students will fail to write well not because of weaknesses in composition, but in comprehension.

That’s why the scores are going to drop. But why would I cheer for this?

Two reasons really. Research shows that literacy is improved when students write about what they read. Recently, there has been little emphasis on correlating reading and writing instruction and PARCC’s test design will push many teachers to combine reading and writing. That’s a real plus for kids.

Also, past measures provided a purer assessment of “writing,” but it wasn’t the writing that allows individuals to succeed academically and economically. Writing about reading is not as pure a measure of writing, but it is a much better measure of writing about reading, which has greater value to our children.

So, the writing scores are going to drop, but that means students are more likely to end up with higher real proficiency, especially with the skills that we most want them to have. That is going to look bad, but it is a real benefit for the kids. 

Monday, April 27, 2009

Using Writing to Teach Reading

Recently, I did a workshop at SUNY-Cortland on how to combine reading and writing instruction. This is an idea that has been out of fashion because of Reading First. You might know that Reading First emphasized reading only, ignoring the benefits to be drawn from writing. Though I was, and continue to be, a big supporter of Reading First, this prohibition was not its finest hour. Writing and reading rely on a lot of overlapping knowledge (sound-spelling relationships, vocabulary/diction, syntactic knowledge, text organization knowledge), they depend on many of the same or similar mental processes, and writing, because it requires a deeper level of processing, can have a powerful impact on reading development. I have included the powerpoint from my presentation on this subject and if you want it, here it is.