Teaching with “W” QuestionsThe "W" questions -- who, what, when, where, why, how -- are small but powerful words that can be used in a number of ways to develop early elementary students' literacy skills, including oral language and discussion skills, reading comprehension, and writing skills.
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.
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.
Culturally Responsive Literacy InstructionCulturally Responsive Teaching is a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of meeting students where they are culturally and linguistically. It puts students at the center of instruction that validates and affirms students' identities and gives students from historically marginalized communities an equitable education experience. When culturally responsive educators validate and affirm students and bring them where they need to be academically, students are more likely to feel recognized, valued for their contributions, and eager to learn. (Hollie, 2017)
What are Cohesive Devices and how do they affect comprehension?I was recently developing some PowerPoints and activities for a comprehension training session about the role that text structure plays in reading comprehension. One of the related topics that is unfamiliar to many teachers was Cohesive Devices (sometimes called Cohesive Ties, and also known as anaphors). I thought I'd devote this post to explaining cohesive ties and how they might affect reading comprehension, especially for younger students or English language learners.
Syntactic Awareness: Teaching Sentence Structure Part 2I posted part 1 of Syntactic Awareness on June 2. As noted in that post, the ability to understand at the sentence level is in many ways the foundation for being able to comprehend text. The ways in which authors express their ideas through sentences greatly affects a reader’s ability to access and identify those ideas. Sentences that are complex, contain a large number of ideas (also called propositions), or have unusual word order will make it difficulty for students to comprehend what they are reading, especially students who enter school with limited oral language exposure or for whom English is a second language. Developing sentence skills is also essential to becoming a good writer.
Syntactic Awareness: Teaching Sentence Structure (Part 1)The ability to understand at the sentence level is in many ways the foundation for being able to comprehend text. The ways in which authors express their ideas through sentences greatly affects a reader's ability to access and identify those ideas. Sentences that are complex, contain a large number of ideas (also called propositions), or have unusual word order will make it difficulty for students to comprehend what they are reading, especially students who enter school with limited oral language exposure or for whom English is a second language.
Levels of Language & LiteracyQuestion: What role does knowledge of language play in reading and writing? Answer: A huge role! Teachers tend to focus on the “five components of reading” when thinking about what’s needed to teach students to be good readers (i.e., phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension). But there is another model that should be considered: the seven levels of language.
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.
Fostering Academic Language Development in Primary GradesLanguage skills and literacy achievement are highly correlated. The Report of the National Early Literacy Panel (Lonigan & Shanahan, 2008) found that oral language – the ability to produce or comprehend spoken language, including vocabulary and grammar – is correlated with later literacy achievement. The more children know about language, the better equipped they are to succeed in reading and writing.
The Writing RevolutionI’ve long been a fan of Judith Hochman’s work related to teaching basic writing skills to older students who struggle with writing. In 2012, the Atlantic published a riveting article titled “The Writing Revolution” that chronicled the experience of a New York City high school as they sought to understand why so many of their students could not write. They determined that Judith’s sentence instruction practices were a big part of the solution. Now Judith has written a book with Natalie Wexler (with a forward by Doug Lemov) titled “The Writing Revolution: A Guide to Advancing Thinking Through Writing in all Subjects and Grades.”
Teaching Grammar: What Works and What Doesn’tI have been recently working with my Keys to Literacy colleagues to develop our new Keys to Early Writing professional development program -- we will pilot it next month. An important piece of comprehension and writing instruction for young children, (and also for older struggling writers) is teaching sentence structure. What’s the best way to teach sentences? A recent article by Lauren Gartland and Laura Smolkin in The Reading Teacher titled The Histories and Mysteries of Grammar Instruction presents some interesting history about grammar instruction and some suggestions for effective teaching, but first let’s address why students need explicit sentence instruction...
Text Driven Comprehension and Close Reading InstructionBasic comprehension strategy instruction, close reading instruction, and text-driven instruction are closely related. Comprehension strategy instruction provides the foundational, basic comprehension skills that students need to get “under their belt” in order to apply the more complex, critical thinking skills required to closely read challenging text. Basic comprehension strategy instruction should be text-driven -- i.e., taught and practiced using content-related text. Teachers will not be effective if strategies (such as main idea and summarizing skills) are taught and practiced in isolation. Likewise, close reading skills need to be text-driven – i.e., using challenging content-related text....
Writing DisabilitiesThe Reading Rockets website has long been a resource I recommend to educators and parents for any topic related to literacy instruction. For this blog post, I’m featuring several Reading Rockets resources related to writing disabilities.
Writing Disabilities: An Overview by Charles MacArthur offers an excellent summary of why some kids struggle with writing (especially those with learning disabilities), and how some instructional practices can help. MacArthur was part of the panel that wrote “Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers”, an Educator’s Practice Guide published by Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education....
Mentor Text Lessons to Improve Student WritingThe seminal report Writing Next (Graham & Perin, 2007) is based on a meta-analysis of research related to best instructional practices for improving student writing. One of the eleven elements identified in the report as most effective is Study of Models (i.e., provide students with opportunities to read, analyze, and emulate models of good writing). Showing models is also one of the six instructional practices that make up the teaching routine for Keys to Content Writing (Keys to Literacy’s writing professional development program). But many teachers are not sure about where to find good mentor writing samples, or what would be a good focus for analyzing a mentor text....
Sentence CombiningI have long been a fan of sentence combining activities as a meaningful and effective way of improving students’ writing skills. Since the 1960’s, research studies have shown that sentence combining is an effective way to teach grammar to students in elementary through college levels and improves student writing. This is especially so for students who struggle with writing. The Writing Next report (2007) based on Graham and Perin’s meta-analysis of writing instruction research, identified sentence combining as one of the eleven most effective instructional practices for improving the writing of students in grades 4-12....
PK-3 Writing Instruction ResourcesThe non-profit website Reading Rockets has an extensive collection of resources related to writing instruction for grades PK – 3.
Here’s what you will find at the Looking at Writing section of the Reading Rockets website:
- Writing samples from real kids
- Advice about instruction based on samples
- Guidance on writing assessment
- Writing resources
- Videos of nationally recognized experts on writing instruction
The information is organized by grade level, starting with PreK and ending with grade 3....
The Best Baby Shower Gift: Books!I recently received an invite to a baby shower, and as I packed a gift bag of books for the expectant parents, it reminded of the terrific work that the non-profit organization of medical providers, Reach Out and Read, has been doing since 1989. They promote early literacy and school readiness in pediatric exam rooms across the country by giving new books to children and advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud.
Books for babies and toddlers are the only gift I consider giving at new baby celebrations because reading to young children is more valuable than anything else you might buy in a baby store.....