Don’t Forget: We’re Reading to Write

June 21, 2009 at 10:26 am | Posted in uncategorized | 3 Comments

(Post authored by Jane Lungershausen)

In regards to strategies, methods, and lessons revolving around content area reading, we’ve learned quite a bit in this class. I had no idea there were so many creative ways to introduce students to reading, help them during reading, and ask them to recall what they’ve already read, all to help them better understand the big picture and key topics. Many of these strategies I foresee myself using in my own classroom. We have also looked at a sampling of different texts (namely books) that we might be interested in reading with our classes. Our text, Subjects Matter, also offers an extensive list of books that have been successfully used in other classrooms. It is almost overwhelming, the variety of choices there are out there. How are we, as content area teachers, to pick out the best texts to use in our classrooms? While a book may have worked for one teacher, it may not work as well for the next. How do we know the book we choose is the best one for our class at that time?

I do not have an answer for this, but Angela Maiers’ blog post on New Relationships with Content shows us how our students react to content area reading. After asking a group of students what they thought was involved in content readings, many responded, “”facts to be memorized,” “vocabulary to be defined,” and strategies to “remember EVERYTHING to pass the test!”” We don’t want our students to think like this every time they are asked to read something. So, we have to better prepare ourselves. Take a look at the list Angela provides in her blog, which she borrowed from Rajesh Setty. This list compiles many different methods people (and students) use when reading content. When choosing a text for our classes, we can use this list to consider whether one is suitable or not. We can ask ourselves: Will my students view this as spam, or will they stop, shift, or maybe even subscribe to it?

After we successfully choose, read, and reflect on our text, why not have the kids write about it, using this same set of principles? Aside from the RAFTS assignment, we haven’t talked much about writing activities in this class, but literacy is actually defined as the ability to read and write. Will Richardson cites a powerful quote from Deborah Brandt in his recent blog post about writing on the internet:

Some of the resistance to a more writing-centered curriculum, she  says, is based on the view that writing without reading can be  dangerous because students will be untethered to previous thought,  and reading levels will decline. But that view, she says, is “being  challenged by the literacy of young people, which is being developed  primarily by their writing. They’re going to be reading, but they’re  going to be reading to write, and not to be shaped by what they read.

Reading and writing are co-pilots that work together in literacy. Why, then, don’t we promote more extensive writing activities rather than just focus on reading strategies?

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3 Comments »

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  1. Janet and I have always struggled with the short timeframe of this course (4 weekends) and the intensive amount of content to explore in regards to content area literacy. A few years ago we requested that the course be split into 2 separate courses – one on reading in the content areas and one on writing in the content areas. Unfortunately, the department was unable to make this happen. We’d love to hear suggestions on how to incorporate more writing strategies (besides the ones we already address including RAFT, graphic organizers, notetaking, and the writing directly incorporated into the pre/during/post/vocabulary strategies)as well as which other specific writing activities you would be most interested in learning more about.

  2. To the first part of the post, the only way for a teacher to find good material to use in the classroom is to be an active reader and communicator. I know that for my part I subscribe to numerous magazines and journals in the field of chemistry. Although it is difficult to find time to read them all during the school year, I do look for articles that will help in my classroom. The magazines that do not get read during the year become summer reading material. (As I type this, the stack in my apartment is about 3.5 inches high.) Also, a teacher must talk to other teachers. I know that I have not read everything out there. Other people have read books that I have not, though, so their recommendation can be very helpful. If someone else thought that the book was useful for a classroom, perhaps I will, too.

    Teachers have to know their audiences. Teachers get familiar with their students, and they get to know what readings the students may like and are able to handle. Classrooms are different. Schools are different. A book popular with one classroom may be far too difficult for another. This is where the teacher’s expertise is helpful. It is also okay to try something and to find out that it did not work out. Call it an experiment. They do not always work out for the best of scientists.

    My feeling on the writing issue is seconded in Wendy Smith’s comment to the original post. There is only so much one can do in a given time frame. This is an issue that every teacher faces. The teacher has to decide what to cover and what not to cover in order to fulfill whatever standards are necessary. I think that this course does a good job attempting enough writing without making it overwhelming. As we, teachers, are told, in-depth coverage of fewer topics is better than shallow coverage of many topics.

    I think that one of the significant values of this course is pointing us in the right direction. We have been given ideas, places to look and topics to ponder. Hopefully that will incite us to delve deeper. After all, that’s what we would hope of our students. We try to create learners of our students. Our own professional development classwork should do the same of us.

  3. I’m glad you posed that last question. As I read it I wondered if you had thought, by chance, that you were writing in this blog post? Writing comes in so many forms and as educators we miss a lot of writing students do by looking for the formal opportunities of writing.

    IMHO, blogging is, when fostered to build a learning community, one of the most extensive writing activities available to us today. Your post, which is good in length, well researched and linked to other writers is a good example of this. If writing were limited to only formal writing opportunities the experiences would be few and far between.

    You likely had noticed you were writing in this post, but think of the times that, in an engaged learning community, we (educators and students) could write together. All the while improving upon the content as well as the writing process.


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