Writing about Reading
During the session, Writing as a Tool for Lifting the Level of Reading, Lucy Calkins stood in front of a jammed packed conference room, and asked, “If you drug a giant net through your school to collect all the writing about reading, what would it look like? Would it be good or bad for readers?” Lucy believes most of it would be bad.
This month, I thought we could dive into writing about reading. What does it look like in your classroom? Does it lift the level of student thinking? How could students write about their reading?
Top 5 Reasons Students Say They Write About Their Reading in School
1. To prove to the teacher they did the reading or assignment
2. Because their teacher said they had to
3. To get a good grade
4. “I don’t know why.”
5. To remember something
What Do I Teach Readers Tomorrow? Nonfiction, Goldberg & Houser, 2017
In order to better understand students’ perspectives about why they write about reading, Goldberg and Houser interviewed a group of fourth grade students. I thought I would share the above responses with you because these are common student perspectives that will help you get to know your students and, if needed, shift them. I’m sure these findings are not surprising to you. Many students view writing about reading as purposeless busywork. In What Do I Teach Readers Tomorrow, Goldberg and Houser list the following questions for reflection:
· What are we communicating to students about writing about reading?
· What are we modeling for students?
· How are our practices and moves creating these students’ perspectives?
· What else could we try?
When I began thinking about writing as an access point for understanding, I decided to examine my own writing life (exercise taken from What Do I Teach Readers Tomorrow). Over the course of last weekend, I tracked the reasons and ways I authentically used writing as a tool. The following is summary of what I found:
Over the weekend, I wrote:
· emails to friends about upcoming plans
· emails to colleagues
· Facebook comments
· a grocery list
· a holiday shopping list
· margin notes in a book I was reading
· lesson plans for my undergraduate course
· an agenda for an upcoming meeting
· comments on lesson plans and papers completed by undergraduate students
· meal ideas for a holiday party
· holiday cards
· a summary of my physical therapy workouts and plans
After creating this list, I wanted to look at the “why” I used writing as a tool.
· Remembering - grocery and shopping lists
· Organizing my thinking - physical therapy summary
· Sharing with others – emails
· Recording my thinking for reflection - margin notes
If you were to replicate this same exercise, would your writing fall into the same categories? I noticed my list never had the word, ACCOUNTABILITY, on it, even though students think that’s why we write. Would your list include accountability? I bet your writing would be similar to my list because it is authentic and purposeful in our lives. “Writing is often our representation of the world made visible, embodying both process and product” (Emig, 1977, p.122).
When we think about our reading and writing lives, it can inform the practices in our classroom. I mean do we read a chapter and write about it? Probably not. After I read something, I want to talk to someone about it. We need to get kids to love reading, and writing about reading can be a turn-off for kids. I am not saying we do not want students to write about their reading, but we should use efficient and meaningful ways for students to respond. Writing about reading should not be done at the expense of independent reading time.
According to Lucy Calkins, we need to draw on what we know about teaching writing to help us use writing as a tool to lift the level or reading.
· Teach the writer, not the writing
o We want our students to live writerly lives, and pay attention to what they read in the text. Be alert readers!
o Rothko - “Your life isn’t insignificant, but it is your response to it.” How do we get kids to respond significantly to text?
o We bring a writerly consciousness to our reading.
Ø During this portion of the workshop, Lucy shared this article from The New York Times. It’s a husband’s letter to the doctors and nurses at CHA Cambridge Hospital that took care of his wife after she suffered an asthma attack and later died.
o Take a moment to read the article. How would you respond to the article? What would you write? What if I asked you to make a t-chart?
o “Reading is no longer reading, if you control my mind” (Calkins). Kids need to make their own meaning as readers.
· Choice matters – students need to have choice in the texts they read and how to respond
o Texts that are genuinely ones they want to read
o Texts that inspire them to write about reading
o Texts that are written by gifted writers
o Texts about a variety of topics
· Give clear images of good work
o What does good work look like? As they read, should it look like a lit essay? Should it be more meandering? Free write?
o John Hattie, the author of Visible Learning, says kids need images of what good work looks like
· Explicitly teach qualities of good writing about reading
o Model how to take an idea and go with it for a bit
o Look at your Post-its. Are you using literary language? Go back and look at your sticky notes
· Revising and thinking about audience
· Study growth over time
o Are students looking at their growth over time? “I used to write like this…, and now I write like this…”
Ways to Write about Reading
· Sticky notes or jots
· Reading Notebooks
· Annotating a text (i.e. a printed article)
Sticky notes, oh, sticky notes. I have a love/hate relationship with sticky notes. When I was in the classroom, we went through TONS of sticky notes, which is a good and bad thing. Yes, students were responding to text, but sticky notes are expensive. Also, they seldom stuck in the books, so we were always finding lost sticky notes. Sticky notes are great because students have a limited amount of space to write; therefore, it is a quick jot about something and back to reading. Many books have been written on how students can stop and respond to parts in the text (i.e. Notice and Note by Beers and Probst….one of my favorites), but there’s no “one” way to have students respond. Students need to find a way that works for them. The sticky notes are helpful when you confer with students because you can see what they are taking note of when they read. Are students stopping at significant or insignificant parts of the book? They are also helpful for students when they meet with partners and/or book clubs so they can share their thinking. We want to push students away from just retelling a part of the story on their sticky notes to discern what’s important to jot about while reading. In the Reading Units of Study, samples of students’ sticky notes are included so you can use those to show ways students could respond. You could also share your sticky notes as a reader. When do you stop and jot? How do you stop and jot?
Reading notebooks are another way for students to share their thinking about a book. Goldberg and Houser define a reading notebook as a place to collect, develop, and revisit ideas about a text. They also found that when students make the choices about what, how, and when to record their thinking in their notebooks, and the teachers back off of nudging and assigning, students’ notebooks came alive. “Students must feel free to own their own thinking and aspirations…otherwise they will simply do what is asked and nothing more” (Swinehart, 2009, p. 33). Of course, you, as the teacher, model how to use the reading notebook and then allows the students to make their own choices of what and how to write in them.
Most of you know that I am pretty linear thinker so it will not surprise you that I am not
a Sketchnoting kind of person. Shocker, I know! However, many of our students may not be this kind of thinker and note taker; therefore, we need to share ways that our not comfortable with us. At the resources at the bottom of this page, I included links to more information about Sketchnoting.
“In Visible Learning for Literacy (2016), Fischer, Frey, and Hattie explain that the writing practices we teach in reading notebook are highly effective at improving learning. For example, when students create their own concept maps and use a variety of ways to summarize in writing, more visible learning is likely to happen. They claim, ‘writing should be a means to uncover one’s own thinking in the process’ (p. 125). But writing about reading is much more effective when students create their own thinking maps as a tool for understanding rather than filling out worksheets or creating an entry without purpose. Purposeless writing does not help with learning” (Goldberg & Houser, 2017, p. 77).
Sources for this blog posts
Notes from Writing as a Tool for Lifting the Level of Reading session at 2017 NCTE with Lucy Calkins, Katie Clements, and Carl Anderson
What Do I Teach Readers Tomorrow? Nonfiction by Gravity Goldberg and Renee Houser
Metacognition: How thinking about their thinking their thinking empowers students by Jennifer Swinehart
Writing as a Mode of Learning by Janet Emig