When I talk to educators about reading, the question always comes up, “What about writing?” The question always confuses me — I thought I WAS talking about writing. Reading and writing are just two directions on the same street — two sides of the same coin. The skills that are necessary to be a good reader are necessary to be able to write, and the skills and knowledge that are developed when practicing writing will help with reading, too.
When I talk about reading, I always emphasize the importance of understanding what is happening inside the child’s head. The approach to reading instruction that I advocate is to begin with an understanding of what research has shown that EVERY child must learn in order to become successful readers (and in this conversation, I usually use the “Framework of Reading Acquisition” as a visual guide), and further, to use that understanding of reading acquisition to inform assessment and instruction.
Assessment should be focused and diagnostic. And it should be ongoing while still being efficient (check out the Abecedarian Reading Assessment). A child’s writing sample can tell a trained teacher volumes about the child’s strategies and understandings about reading. A child that scribbles from left to right has some rudimentary concepts about print mechanics. A child that writes the first and last sound in words is developing some cipher knowledge. A child that uses elaborate syntax in his or her writing has strengths in that area.
Similarly, writing can be an essential tool in focused reading instruction. Reading is a process that is mostly internal and which is, for most of us, fairly rapid and automatic. Writing slows that process down, and externalizes it. If you want children to develop cipher knowledge, work with them on writing words, sounding them out as you encode them. If you want children to develop a richer vocabulary, work with them on using new words in their writing. If you want children to develop an appreciation for different genres of text, teach them how to write in a variety of styles.
Writing, for many, many children, is the key to reading, and writing can be a highly effective motivating tool for older children who need to practice with their basic skills, but who do not need exactly the same type of instruction that younger struggling readers need. Older children have larger vocabularies and a greater appreciation for elaborate syntax than younger children do. That is their strength, and it is a strength they can bring to bear immediately on their writing.
In short, then, writing is at the heart of reading acquisition. Writing is a valuable assessment tool, and it is an important instructional tool. Interactive writing activities can be powerful group instructional tools that help all children to understand the basic mechanics of text and the process of decoding. Children’s journals can be, if used effectively, powerful tools that can be used to track individual growth in reading and writing skills over time. A good reading teacher always incorporates both reading and writing activities into both assessment and instruction.