Quick Tip Tuesday: Connecting Reading and Writing for Students

February 10th, 2009

In this week’s Quick Tip Tuesday, Cathy Mere, the author of More Than Guided Reading shares how she helped one student develop a sense of story in writing workshop. By tapping into what Cathy already learned about the student in reading workshop, she quickly realized how she could best help her student become a better writer. “Approaching writing conferences with a reading teacher’s eye allows me to see what students understand about both reading and writing,” Cathy says.

Connecting Reading and Writing for Students
During reading conferences I learn about readers, but I also pay attention to what I can learn about readers in writing conferences. Kneeling down beside Nazarena for a writing conference, I take a look at her story. Her book contains three pages. Each contains a few people floating in a sea of letters. The letters are a mix of capital and lower case letters written in long strings without spacing. Nazarena has taken note of our discussions about how words can help us tell our stories and has tried to add sentences to her writing like many of her friends at the table. But hers are really random letters and strings. “You’ve been working hard,” I say, as I look through her story, knowing that this is the first time she has attempted to add any writing to her story independently. Nazarena smiles and acknowledges that this has been a lot of work. “Can you tell me about your story?” I ask.

Nazarena turns to the first page and says, “My mom got a new car.” She turns to the next page and says, “I went to my grandma’s.” Finally, she turns to the last page and says, “My sister is crying.” When I talk with Nazarena for a bit about the content of her story, it becomes obvious that these are three unconnected stories, yet Nazarena has put them together in the same book. I have already noticed in reading conferences that Nazarena often talks about each page of a book as if it is unrelated to the page before. “Are you finished with this story?” I inquire. Nazarena proudly nods in affirmation. I am going to need to help Nazarena develop her sense of story, but I decide that this is not the time to do it. Knowing that she is ready to move on to a new story, I decide to celebrate this work, but I put her on my list for a first conference tomorrow.

The next day during writer’s workshop Nazarena begins a new story. “I’ll need three pages,” she tells me. Grabbing three pages, I ask her to tell me about her story. “My dad is holding my kitty.” I move the second page in front of her. “Tamarah is my friend,” she responds. “My mom is having a birthday.”
“You have a lot to write about.” I smile as I grab Goldilocks and the Three Bears, a familiar story that I have heard Nazarena retell during reader’s workshop. “Stories are usually about one thing.” Reaching into her browsing bag of familiar books, I continue, “This story, The Way We Go to School, is about the way children to go school each day. This story, Huggles’ Breakfast, is about all the things that Huggles eats for breakfast.” Picking up Goldilocks and the Three Bears I tell Nazarena, “This story is about what happens when Goldilocks visits the bears’ house.”

“You have three great ideas for a story, but they are three different ideas. Which one do you think you most want to write about?” I ask, repeating her earlier ideas. “My mom’s birthday,” Nazarena replies quickly. “Tell me about her birthday.”
“I helped my mom decorate her cake.”
“That will be a great way to start your story,” I tell her, placing a piece of paper on her mat. “Then what did you do?”
Nazarena thinks for a moment. “I helped my dad decorate the house.”

“I’ll bet it looked great. What did you decorate it with? Balloons? Signs?” I mentally kick myself as soon as the words come out of my mouth. It is obvious that Nazarena is really working hard to think about her responses and the last thing I want to do is get her off track.
“We used lots of colors,” she replies.
I’m a bit uncertain about what she means, but I want her to stay focused on the topic so I continue. “You helped your dad decorate the house. That will be the second page.”
“Then the people came,” Nazarena adds, as I place another piece of paper on the pile.
I pause for a minute to see if she is finished. “Then we had a party.” She grins.
“That will be a great ending,” I say, smiling. “Let’s see if I understand. This book is all about your mom’s birthday. First, you helped your mom make a cake. Then you helped your dad decorate the house. Finally, the people came and you had party.”
“Yes,” she says, grabbing her pencil as I staple her three pages together. I talk her through the story one more time to be sure she is ready to write, and I jot down her story in my notebook, knowing that it will take her a few days to complete it. For the next few days I will check in with her quickly at the start of the workshop to see how the writing is going.

This is just the beginning of helping Nazarena to develop a sense of story. I know we will need to have other conversations during reading workshop to help her recognize that stories often have a beginning, middle, and end. Retelling familiar stories will be a good way start; later, showing her how to look through the pictures before she reads new stories will help her begin to connect events as she prepares to read.

Approaching writing conferences with a reading teacher’s eye allows me to see what students understand about both reading and writing. Writing provides a window into reading: I see what a child understands and what a child nearly understands, and what is next in that child’s learning. Looking at writing can tell me what students know about print, about words, and about putting a message down on paper. I can tell whether they have the ability to develop a story, to sequence events, or to notice detail. I can discover what students understand about story language and their accumulated vocabulary.

Entry Filed under: Quick Tip Tuesday,Reading,Writing

Leave a Comment


Required, hidden

Some HTML allowed:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

New From Stenhouse

Most Recent Posts

Stenhouse Author Sites




Classroom Blogs