Why Writing is Essential to Literacy for True Success
If you’re a literacy teacher, you understand that the reading-writing connection is huge. They go together like macaroni and cheese–you really cannot have one without the other. Well, you could, I guess, but something magical happens when you mix them, wouldn’t you agree? Both reading and writing are not isolated skills: they have a symbiotic relationship. Which means writing is absolutely essential to literacy instruction if we want our students to be successful.
When students write, they are not just putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to write sentences; they are actively constructing meaning, organizing their thoughts, and refining their understanding of language, spelling, and conventions. Through this process, students develop deeper comprehension, which, in turn, enhances their reading abilities.
Unfortunately, writing instruction is often neglected. One big reason for that is the very materials teachers are provided. Many districts are either in the process of adopting a new curriculum resource, or recently already have. Most districts were given a select few to choose from which their state department of education has approved. Every one of them claims to align with “the science of reading.” And many parts of them in fact are.
Where a lot of curriculum misses the mark
But every single curriculum that I’ve looked at (which are the most predominantly adopted across the nation) sorely neglect writing. Some of them include a bunch of disconnected writing tasks or activities to assign students, but not one actually teaches how to write. And that’s the critical part.
On a recent To the Classroom podcast (episode 29), Jennifer Serravallo recently shared the same observation, saying that “In many core programs, when writing is involved, it’s more common to see it assigned than really explicitly taught.” Her guest, Dr. Karen Harris, agreed that this is terribly problematic, adding that “The skills writing requires are extremely demanding,” and that the research (a.k.a. the science) for decades has shown the “importance of emphasizing the process approach that goes from thinking, learning, brainstorming, to planning, then to drafting, then to editing and revising, then to publishing.” It’s not about assigning. It’s about teaching.
Keep in mind…
As educators, it’s so important that we never follow a curriculum as is, out of the box. We cannot put blind faith in a program because there will inevitably be holes. Keep in mind that although some are far better than others, no curriculum is perfect. If there were such a thing, everyone would already be using it and companies would have no need to constantly publish new editions.
All companies selling curriculum have one interest: selling as much product as they can–so they throw a million things in it to appeal to the masses. Because reading is getting all the attention right now, companies are catering to that cry without taking into consideration the fact that writing is so essential to literacy instruction. This is a huge miss.
In his recent presentation for the Yale Child Study Center, Mark Seidenburg referenced curriculum companies, warning that “relying on “authorities” is not a good plan,” and that these companies have been “inspired by research but not closely tied to it.”
When a curriculum is missing a key component to instruction, like writing, we must make adjustments. Although writing is complex and teaching it can feel hard, there are so many ways writing both complements and enhances students’ reading success, that we have to make it a top priority in our classrooms.
Here are some ways that writing is absolutely essential if we hope students will truly be successful in literacy:
Writing Builds Vocabulary
Writing instruction plays a pivotal role in expanding a student’s vocabulary. The act of writing requires that students search for the right words to convey their thoughts. This active exploration of language leads to vocabulary expansion, especially if read alouds are a regular part of the teacher’s instruction.
Writing Supports Comprehension
Writing involves more than just stringing words together; it requires a deep understanding of the subject. When students write about a topic, they must organize their thoughts logically, connect ideas in ways that make sense, and provide supporting details. This is important to process main ideas and themes not just in books read aloud or media that’s viewed, but also, of course, in content area instruction. This is the entire premise of The Hochman Method, as described in the book The Writing Revolution.
Writing Enhances Critical Thinking
As students articulate their ideas on paper, they constantly reflect and evaluate. This spills over into reading activities, as they learn to scrutinize texts, identify an author’s purpose and bias, and figure out big ideas. The writing work, in other words, helps them understand what moves authors make.
Writing Improves Fluency
Writing regularly is the only way to build foundational writing skills. If we want our students to write grammatically strong sentences with correct punctuation, they’re going to need a lot of practice and a lot of feedback–and accountability. This ongoing practice will lead to more automaticity. And it will also enhance reading fluency. Because they must pay close attention to syntax and punctuation as writers, they become more keenly aware of it in their reading, too. Stronger fluency is key to better comprehension.
Writing Can Help to Foster a Love for Reading
Effective writing instruction can ignite a passion for reading. When students experience success in expressing their ideas and gaining skills through writing, they gain tremendous confidence. This confidence can often translate into a positive attitude towards the written word.
Writing Instruction Can Meet Individual Learning Needs
Through writing, we can assess a student’s comprehension, identify areas of struggle, and tailor interventions accordingly.
Writing Connects Literacy to All Subjects
Reading and writing instruction blend seamlessly into other subject areas. Science reports, historical analyses, and mathematical explanations all involve both reading and writing. This is also the perfect way to encourage students’ use of academic vocabulary…which leads back to building vocabulary. It’s all so interconnected!
If true writing instruction is not already a prioritized time in your day, I urge you to reconsider. Writing instruction and reading development are partners, each contributing to the growth and development of the other. The skills honed through writing– vocabulary expansion, comprehension, critical thinking, and fluency–create a foundation upon which strong reading is built. And let’s not ignore there’s no better way to apply developing foundational skills like phonemic awareness and phonics than through actually applying it.
In order for students to truly realize literacy success, we must balance reading and writing instruction and ensure that we’re integrating it into other parts of the day, every day.
How can I help you balance reading and writing instruction for improved student success into your busy day? I’m here for you! Send me an DM on Instagram, let me know in the Facebook group, or send me an email!
Who is Coach from the Couch?? I’m Michelle, a 24-year veteran educator, currently a K-5 literacy coach. I continue to learn alongside teachers in classrooms each and every day, and it’s my mission to support as many teachers as I can. Because no one can do this work alone. I’m available to you, too, through virtual coaching calls!
Or, consider joining my Facebook community–a safe, supportive environment (really!) where you can ask questions, learn ideas, and share your thoughts among other literacy-loving educators!