When educators combed research on the writing / reading connection in 2010, they found three writing activities which improve reading comprehension.
- Having students write about the stories and texts they read by writing personal responses, analyses, or interpretations; by writing summaries; by writing notes; and by answering or asking questions in writing about what they have read.
- Having students learn about the process of writing; about how texts are structured; about how paragraphs and sentences are put together; and about how to spell.
- Having students write frequently.
All of these writing activities improve students’ reading. In future blogs, we will look at why these activities improve reading, and how these activities can be incorporated into a student’s schoolwork or work at home. We’ll start in the next blog with the last idea, that students should write more to improve their reading.
Meanwhile, for more information, see Writing to Read. At this site you can read the full report, Writing to Read; evidence for how writing can improve reading by Steve Graham and Michael Hebert for the Carnegie Corp. of NY, 2010.
You might also enjoy reading Shanahan on Literacy, a blog about reading by an expert in the field. In his current blog, Dr. Shanahan comments on ideas in this report.
Why do we write? We express ourselves, we show what we know, we communicate with others, we have fun–the reasons vary. But one of the most important, though often overlooked reasons, is that we write to learn.
Recently I worked with a high school student who was required to read Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, a memoir about the author’s miserable childhood.
However, my student not only needed to read the text but she needed to write about it using this approach:
- On her computer (she could have used notebook paper), she created two columns. The first was labeled “Direct quote and page number” and the second was labeled “My response.”
- For each chapter in the book, she was required to find one quote that identified the main point of that chapter. In the left column, she rewrote that quote and its page number. In the right column she wrote a personal response to that quote. She did the same for all the chapters of the book.
“This assignment is probably to prove to the teacher that I read it,” she said to me. True, but this combination of reading and writing also helped her learn.
- The student needed to analyze each chapter for its main idea or theme. She had to compress all those words of text and evaluate which idea seemed to dominate.
- The student needed to find a quote that exemplifies the theme of each chapter. This called for understanding the text and evaluating one quote’s worthiness compared to another quote’s worthiness.
- The student needed to use her emotional intelligence to offer a personal response. She knew that other students might choose the same quote. She needed to offer an insight that was uniquely hers.
- And later, during a verbal discussion of the text or a written test, this writing assignment would probably make the student more confident. She had thought through the main ideas and was able to put forward an educated understanding.
Many research studies show a positive correlation between writing about a text and understanding it. Writing is not the only way to improve reading comprehension, but it is a proven good way.
For more information about this learning strategy, see The Read, Respond, Revisit, Discus Strategy (Hurst, Fisk, & Wilson, 2006)