Reducing Cognitive Load by Pairing Reading/Writing Work
March 30, 2017
Lucy Calkins says in the The Art of Teaching Reading that reading and writing are like ‘running from one side of the boat to the other’. Thinking about that movement from one side to the other and I’m searching for balance. Previously, I thought that students were wonderful readers and then they became writers. Perhaps it is because that is how I remember it for myself. Reading, Reading, Reading. Talking, Talking, talking. Then struggling to write.
What I’ve learned from a year of collaborating in writing and reading through the units of study is this. Reading and writing should not be separated. They are the peanut butter and jelly of learning. I have upended my thinking and believe that writing is the easier craft, even if that might not be true for me. What I’ve noticed is that writing work scaffolds the reading work. When we teach into informational writing and then begin a unit in informational reading a few weeks later, we can teach into the strategies we are using to write and the style of the mentor texts we have examined as writers to teach into the reading strategies in informational reading. I can say to a student, remember in writing we were working on… text features to teach different aspects of our topic. We can use what we know about writing text features to examine what the author is trying to tell us in our books. If you are thinking about poetry these days, this teaching move makes sense. Teach into the writing of various types of poetry, then give the mentor texts double duty as readers, read and reread those poems. The more we write poetry, the more we understand the reading of it. The more we read poetry, the better our writing is.
Writing provides a lot more room for error. It’s slower paced. We can edit and revise to our heart’s content. In writing, the pressure is less. So while I still have student who are doodling on the paper, they are getting the sentences written as well. They have wait time and think time. They are constructing as constructivists. Writing scaffolds reading in so many ways that we knew. Practicing phonics skills while spelling during writing strengthens decoding skills in reading. Deeply studying a genre of writing strengthens predictive skills needed when reading particularly genres which are unfamiliar.
Studying reading and writing in the same genres keeps underlying truths in the same zip code. As in our biography study where we used our narrative arc writing structure to describe the composition of the subject’s story, using our writing structures explains new or different reading structures to students. After we have taught text structures in second grade writing, when these students read informational text, they notice the text structures and anticipate the author’s meaning and purpose. We apply the narrative writing structure to clarify theme, purpose, and determine importance.
As when I am looking for connections I see them everywhere, we have connected not just reading and writing in a grade level, but now see connections across grade. Creating those connections across grade, content, and genre provides a platform for students to move to deeper thinking, richer work, and increasing confidence.
Thank you to Two Writing Teachers and the March Slice of Life Challenge Community for inspiration and encouragement. Read their amazing blogs here.