The Writing Rope: Author Q and ASince the publication of my book The Writing Rope: A Framework for Explicit Writing Instruction in All Subjects in August, 2022, I have been asked to do several interviews for podcasts, webinars, and articles about the book. The book has also led to inquiries about how Keys to Literacy's professional development courses are aligned with The Writing Rope. For this month's blog post, I have collected questions and answers from these interviews.
Motivating & Engaging Adolescents to ReadA significant number of the teacher trainings that Keys to Literacy delivers at schools and districts are focused on teaching reading comprehension, vocabulary, and writing to students in grades 5-12. A common question teachers ask us is, "How can I motivate students to read and stay engaged while they are reading?" This is not surprising given that there is strong evidence that students' motivation and interest in reading school-related texts declines after they move from elementary to middle school, and this is particularly true for students who have difficulty learning to read (Torgesen et al., 2007; Kamil et al., 2008). This post provides information about this topic and suggests instructional practices associated with improved motivation.
New Book: The Writing RopeI am pleased to announce that Brookes Publishing in August published my new book titled The Writing Rope: A Framework for Explicit Writing Instruction in All Subjects. I am also delighted that my friend and colleague, Jan Hasbrouck, wrote the foreword. The book can be ordered at the Brookes website. I wrote about The Writing Rope framework in a 2019 article, and again in a Literacy Lines January 2020 blog post.
Reading Intervention for Older Struggling StudentsIn the last few months I have seen a growing interest in adolescent literacy. This includes content literacy instruction for all students that is integrated across subject areas, as well as intervention instruction for older students who struggle with reading and writing. Between 2005 and 2015, a number of adolescent literacy research reports were published based on meta-analyses of research on effective practices for teaching reading and writing to older students, and the website AdLit.org was also launched (see the reference list).
What is adolescent literacy?Ever since the report of the National Reading Panel in 2000, significant emphasis has been placed on research-based practices for teaching reading in the elementary grades. Early literacy achievement, however, is not necessarily a guarantee that literacy skills will continue to grow as students move beyond grade 3. Scores at the secondary level, where there has been relatively little investment by school districts or states, have remained flat. A growing body of research has developed about what students beyond grade 3 need in order to keep growing their reading and writing skills, why some struggle, and what effective instruction looks like, beginning with two seminal research reports: Reading Next (2004) and Writing Next (2007).
Semantic Mapping to Grow VocabularyKnowledge helps you remember new information, and people who know a great deal about a topic also know its vocabulary. One critical finding from research is that word learning takes place most efficiently when the reader or listener already understands the context well. In fact, we learn words up to four times faster in a familiar context than in an unfamiliar one (Landauer & Dumais, 1997; Hirsch, 2006). Vocabulary instruction that compares and contrasts word meanings and that activates prior knowledge not only helps students learn new words, but also has been shown to improve comprehension of a reading selection (Graves, 2006). Therefore, an important goal of instruction in any subject grade, in any grade, should be to help students acquire the vocabulary associated with the content and to make connections between known and unknown words.
Science of Reading in the NewsAs the number of articles, podcasts and blog posts related to the science of reading grows, I've been updating a list I started for our Keys to Literacy trainers to share. We have been getting so many requests about the list, that I decided to make it the focus of this post.
We Need a “Writing Rope”!The literature and discourse related to literacy instruction tends to focus on reading, even though writing is just as important for student literacy achievement. In addition, significant attention is paid to the multi component nature of skilled reading, while writing tends to be referred to as a single, monolithic skill. With a nod towards Hollis Scarborough’s “Reading Rope”, in 2019 I developed a model that identifies the multiple components that are necessary for skilled writing: The Writing Rope: The Strands That Are Woven Into Skilled Writing. In 2001, Scarborough published a graphic that depicts multiple components of language comprehension (i.e., background knowledge, vocabulary, language structures, verbal reasoning, literacy knowledge) and word recognition (i.e., phonological awareness, decoding, sight recognition) as strands in a rope. As students develop skills in these components they become increasingly strategic and automatic in their application, leading to fluent reading comprehension.
Previewing Vocabulary Before ReadingExisting background knowledge is a critical component for comprehension, and word meanings are part of larger knowledge structures about a topic. Knowing the vocabulary words associated with a given topic enables students to connect their background knowledge to what they are reading. What if students aren't unfamiliar with some of the vocabulary in the text? Many studies have shown that previewing unfamiliar words before students read improves comprehension.
The Power of Quick WritesI recently read an Edutopia blog post by Benjamin Barbour titled "The Power of Short Writing Assignments" just after delivering a professional development workshop about Quick Writes from my Keys to Content Writing teacher training program. I knew I had to make this the topic of my next blog post!
How to Teach Main IdeaThe ability to identify and state main ideas and distinguish them from supporting details is a foundational comprehension skill. Instructional practices for this skill are an integral part of several Keys to Literacy professional development programs, including The Key Comprehension Routine and Keys to Content Writing. Its importance as a reading skill is highlighted as one of the 10 anchor standards in the Common Core ELA standards.
How to Jigsaw a Literacy Lesson in P.E. by Peg GrafwallnerThis guest post was written by Peg Grafwallner and first published in her blog 2018. It caught my eye because it is an excellent example of how literacy instructional strategies can be embedded in any subject area. She made main idea and summary instruction a part of her lesson, which are two big skills in our Key Comprehension Routine.
Using Morphology to Teach VocabularyA recent blog post by Tim Shanahan titled “What should morphology instruction look like?” reminded me how important it is to teach students about word parts (i.e., roots, prefixes, suffixes) as a useful tool for determining the meaning of unfamiliar words and growing academic vocabularies. One of the five components of our Key Vocabulary Routine is Teach Word Learning Strategies, which includes how to look for clues outside the word (use of context) and inside the word (use of word parts) when encountering an unknown word while reading. Outside clues include rereading the sentences before and after the word and using the context of the text. Inside clues come from recognizing meaningful parts of the word, i.e., using morphological knowledge.
Question Generation: A Key Comprehension StrategyFor this post, I want to focus on teaching students to generate their own questions while reading to improve comprehension. There is significant evidence that learning to generate questions while reading improves memory, integration and identification of main ideas, and overall comprehension (Rosenshine et al., 1996; National Reading Panel, 2000; Trabasso & Bouchard, 2002). Question generation is one of the four student strategy activities in The Key Comprehension Routine. You can take an online professional development workshop about how to teach question generation by going to the Keys to Literacy Teachable website.
The Great and Powerful Topic WebI recently read a piece at the Cult of Pedagogy blog site by Jennifer Gonzalez titled “The Great and Powerful Graphic Organizer” in which she explains why graphic organizers are such powerful teaching and learning tools. Everything she noted rang true to us at Keys to Literacy, especially as related to the foundational graphic organizer used in our Key Comprehension Routine and in our Keys to Content Writing as a pre-writing strategy: the Top-Down Topic Web.
Background Knowledge and Reading ComprehensionA recent article “Why American Students Haven’t Gotten Better at Reading in 20 Years” in The Atlantic addressed the critical role that background knowledge plays in the ability to comprehend. The article subtitle was “Schools usually focus on teaching comprehension skills instead of general knowledge – even though education researchers know better.”
What is Adolescent Literacy?“Reading is the key. Without it, the instruction for playing Monopoly, the recipe for Grandma’s lasagna, The Cat in the Hat, the directions to the job interview, the Psalms, the lyrics to Stairway to Heaven – all these and a lifetime of other mysteries large and small may never be known.” (Kansas City Start newspaper) The quote above reminds us that literacy skills in the 21st century are more essential than ever for success in education, work, citizenship, and our personal lives. However, far too many older students and adults do not have the necessary reading and writing skills to succeed in postsecondary education or the ever-increasing number of jobs that require literacy skills.
Literacy in Every ClassroomThe focus of the February 2017 issue of Educational Leadership is “Literacy in Every Classroom”. The journal has several excellent articles aligned to our work at Keys to Literacy. Only members of ASCD can access the full edition, but there are a few articles that are available free to the public. I have listed them below and added notes connecting the instructional practices suggested by the authors with our Keys to Literacy teacher training routines.
Teaching Secondary Students to Write EffectivelyThe last decade has seen a renewed focus on improving the content writing skills of middle and high school students. A new Educator’s Practice Guide was just published in November, 2016 by the IES (Institute of Education Sciences) titled Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively. This report presents writing instruction recommendations aligned with several earlier research reports including Writing Next (2007) and Writing to Read (2010). The authors of the report (Steve Graham and colleagues) organized their recommendations into three sections. Similar to reading instruction where the focus after grade 4 shifts from learning to read to reading to learn, the focus for writing instruction also shifts from learning to write to writing to learn. As students move through grades 6 to 12, the need grows to learn to write specifically for different content areas (i.e., disciplinary writing). This opening paragraph from the introduction of the new report sums up the important role of writing.
Teaching Reading for UnderstandingIn the November/December 2016 issue of Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, Goldman, Snow and Vaughn present the results of a three-year adolescent literacy project that focused on three projects that examined content literacy instructional approaches. While each project had its own model of building comprehension, all were successful in improving student outcomes. Three common practices to support content literacy instructional practices are: engaged reading, small and whole group work, and knowledge building. The findings of the study support a continuing body of research that supports the teaching, modeling, and practice of content literacy instructional strategies that are embedded in the disciplinary classroom using subject-area text. This is foundational underpinning of all Keys to Literacy professional development!
Free Online Course: Content Literacy InstructionI recently learned of a free online professional development course available called “Reading and Writing in the Disciplines”. It was produced by WGBH Educational Foundation and made available by the Annenberg Foundation. It can be accessed for free at the website Annenberg Learner: Teacher Resources for Professional Development Across the Curriculum....
Textbooks and What Really MattersRecently we at Keys to Literacy engaged in a discussion around whether or not our professional development could be referred to as an instructional “program.” As a new employee, I found the conversation valuable for a number of reasons. We had to really think about what constituted a program. We talked about how we were similar and what our perceived differences were to other professional development companies....
Content Literacy Skills: Building a Stronger PlateI recently read an article in the Washington Post about one school district’s plan to make an overhaul of literacy instruction a priority, especially in its high schools. The Prince George’s County School District in MD set a goal of ensuring that by 2020, 90 percent of its students graduating from high school will be prepared for college and the work force. The district decided to fully embrace the Common Core focus that instruction in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language be a shared responsibility among all content teachers within a school – literacy instruction is being filtered into every subject classroom, including math, science, and health class....
Why We Need Writing Instruction in ScienceI work with a lot of science teachers while visiting schools to deliver literacy professional development. The Common Core literacy standards call for teachers of all subjects to provide reading and writing instruction. Understandably, many science teachers tell me they don’t understand why literacy instruction is something they should be doing, especially given classroom time demands placed on them to cover a lot of science content. My response: look at the science standards!....
Academic VocabularyThe ACHIEVE THE CORE website is an excellent resource for everything related to literacy instruction. I recently became aware of a free, online tool at their website called the Academic Word Finder.
When teachers enter sample text into the tool, it finds the high-value, academic vocabulary words in that text. The Common Core emphasizes the need for students to learn academic vocabulary in order to access the content of subject-area texts, as noted in the anchor Language Standard #6 for grades K-12...