This week in my education class, we are reading about writing instruction and what makes writing “good” (the answer – it depends!). One of the benefits of incorporating writing into reading instruction is that it gives students insight into how writing is structured, demystifies the writing process, and gives students the skills to become more critical readers.
I think it is important to emphasize the connection between between writing and reading. Students can sometimes see these as as separate tasks, because we often focus on the themes, plot, and characters in our reading instruction, at the expense of elements like structure, language, and word choice. We can give the students the impression that the books we read are flawless and disconnected from their own experiences as a writer. Of course, we choose texts we find valuable and well-written to share with students in class, and they usually have undergone editing and revision before we look at them, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have discussions about their strengths and weaknesses and how the choices the author made impact the text.
Although we talked about the elements of writing in high school, discussing things like alliteration, metaphor, and word choice, I don’t remember having critical conversations about literature or non-fiction until I was in college. One professor I admired not only showcased a student’s work each week, she also encouraged discussion about craft when we were reading the assignments for the class as well. If we critique students’ writing we can use those same guidelines to identify the strengths and opportunities within the texts we assign. This doesn’t need to be the type of conversation we have about everything we read, but the more we can connect students’ own writing process with published authors’ work, the more students will develop an identity as a writer.
Here are a few ideas for starting those conversations:
Find a short story or poem that has the revisions available, and share these with students. Seeing the way another writer’s work evolves may help them understand the editing process. It also reveals that authors’ stories and books are not perfect from the beginning and undergo many changes before they are ready to be published.
Better yet, if you or the library has connections to a local author, see if they are willing to come in and talk to the class about the writing process. Tweet authors the students admire to see if they have any tips for revising writing.
Before you do peer workshops with students, model the workshop format with a short story or poem from class. Make sure to push students from saying that they like or dislike a certain part to explaining their thoughts with evidence from the text. This will demonstrate the expectations for workshopping without the pressure of sharing their own work.
If you’ve created a rubric for student writing, try having the students apply it to a short text you are reading in class. Again, include evidence from the text in your explanations.
Model this type of thinking for your students by asking questions about the texts. Why do you think the author chose that word? What word would you have chosen? Why do you think the author decided to write in first-person? What impact does that perspective have on the story? Do you think that was the most effective choice for this passage? Opening texts up for this type of discussion will hopefully allow students to engage more deeply in the text and empower them to form evidence-based opinions about what they read.
Display and discuss good student writing with your class, alongside the reading you assign. If students are comfortable enough to have their work shown to the class, chose a passage from a student’s assignment each day or week to project, and have a conversation about why you thought it was effective.
Any other ideas about how to make this connection between reading and the writing process?