Why Literacy Studio?
Do you remember your own elementary experience? Most of us experienced reading and writing as separate subjects. In fact, in my intermediate-grade years, I had different teachers for reading and writing, as many elementary students do today. Even in the most ideal circumstances where teachers plan together and communicate well, what conclusions do students draw as they pack up their writing materials and tromp down the hall to a different reading teacher? I worry that they, like I did at their age, see reading and writing as two entirely different disciplines.
The Literacy Studio can cut instructional time in half and double its effectiveness.
I know I didn’t make connections from the books I read to my own writing. I was a kid who loved to write, so I wrote stories at home because most of my “writing” classes had more to do with conventions, punctuation, and grammar than they did with encouraging us to create. There were so many missed opportunities, ways my teachers might have connected reading and writing. I don’t want today’s students to miss that integration.
These questions have troubled me for some time. In fact, I have a difficult time understanding why we persist in separating reading and writing. Do we teach reading and writing separately because published programs separate them? Maybe it’s because we assess reading and writing separately? Are we “preparing them for middle school” by having them walk down the hall in a passing period? Is it related to our tendency to follow one approach in reading and another in writing?
The fact is that we have separated reading and writing instruction to a greater or lesser degree, and it is past time to rethink it. We can do better for students, and we can regain control over the tyranny of the clock at the same time.
Perhaps you’re wondering if research supports the integration of reading and writing. Guess what? We’ve had research for decades (e.g., Tierney and Pearson 1983; Knapp 1995; Morrow et al. 1999; Pressley et al. 1997; Wharton-McDonald, Pressley, and Hampston 1998) that suggests that teachers capitalize on the symbiotic relationship between reading and writing.
Graham (2017), for example, found that the more time elementary students spent writing and the more writing instruction they received, the more robust their gains in comprehension of texts. He argued, as have many others, that when students are reading, they can learn to think about the author (become metacognitive) and can focus on ways in which the author is manipulating (I’m going to use the word manipulating throughout this book as a positive thing that writers do!) their thinking. Those skills can, in turn, be used when it is the student’s turn to compose. In his podcast, Graham goes on to say that “current understanding in the field of literacy dictates that reading and writing mutually reinforce one another and rely on some of the same cognitive processes.” He cites Fitzgerald and Shanahan (2000); Shanahan (2006); and Tierney and Shanahan (1991). This insight suggests that instruction may be more effective when teachers integrate reading and writing experiences in the classroom. Tierney and Shanahan (253) suggest that “exemplary teachers who produce high-achieving readers and writers tend to integrate the two domains regularly and thoroughly in the classroom.”
Many of us have long seen the wisdom in connecting reading and writing, but we don’t usually plan to integrate instruction. If something related to writing occurs to us while teaching a reading lesson, we might mention it. If we’re reading and writing in the same genre, we might study some mentor texts to help students improve their writing, but we often aren’t intentional about the integration. It’s difficult to remember to make the connection—if we aren’t planning integrated lessons, do we imagine that students will automatically and seamlessly connect what they learn in separate writing and reading lessons? Do we imagine that they will pause to think, “Hmm, I’m learning that writers introduce characters through exposition, action, and dialogue. I think I’ll need to consider how the author of the book I’m reading does the same”? Hmm, maybe not!
We want so much for our students. We want them to connect reading and writing; we want them to have more choice; we want them to have much more time to read and write. I don’t know a teacher who doesn’t value integration, choice, and time! And I know plenty who have taken the plunge; they have rearranged their literacy block structures to meet those three important goals, which are, not coincidentally, the three goals of this book!
- We want students to see the connections between the books they read and their work as writers. We want these connections to be more than a happy accident. We want students to move seamlessly between reading and writing gleaning insight from both, even at the earliest grade levels.
- We want students to have more choice in the texts they read and the topics about which they write, because choice often leads to deeper and more sustained engagement.
- Perhaps most importantly, we want students to have more time to read and write each day—that’s how they get better!
If those are the goals to which we aspire in our literacy workshops, we need to make the connections between reading and writing explicit. We need to teach students how to choose the texts they read and the topics about which they write. When they can choose texts and topics, we can invite them to choose when they read and when they write. And because we know (Allington 2011) that reading and writing independently is the single most important variable in student growth, we simply must carve out more time in the day for them to practice as readers and writers.
But how? In The Literacy Studio, I will reconsider our most basic assumptions about the “traditional” reader’s and writer’s workshop approach and structure. I will pose even more vexing questions that have caused me to rethink many of my assumptions about reader’s workshop and writer’s workshop. I will challenge some of the dogma that we often find in packaged programs that provide scripts and walk us through reader’s and writer’s workshop structures and, spoiler alert, I will argue that we can do much better for children.
In this book, I’ll propose an alternative workshop structure, one you can adjust, amend, tinker with. Imagine a literacy block that is flexible enough to allow you to be directly responsive to your kids’ needs. We’re going to get down to the nitty-gritty detail about planning, scheduling, conferring, differentiating, record keeping, and reflecting so that your students can build their knowledge of reading by writing and vice versa. We’ll talk about how to maximize students’ choice in how they spend their time—yes, even little kids—and engagement as independent readers and writers.
The Literacy Studio takes teachers and children beyond the workshop structures that we’ve used for many years by maximizing time for active learning, and because reading and writing instruction is integrated, the daily literacy block often comprises just one lesson focusing on reading and writing. The Literacy Studio can cut instructional time in half and double its effectiveness. In integrated lessons built on, but not limited to, state standards, students learn to read with an eye to the author, thinking about what the author was up to and how they can use the same tools and strategies in their own work, and they write with a specific reading audience sitting on their shoulder. They ask: “What do my readers need to think about to understand the message that is so important I’ve chosen to write about it?”
To make these changes is a bit of a daunting prospect, which is why I’ve worked side by side with teachers for years to figure this out in a wide variety of schools. And as you read, it’s important to know that the vast majority of schools in which I work most serve low-income populations. I won’t say that the Literacy Studio as I describe it in this book is perfected, but together we’ve sorted so many of the knottiest (and naughtiest) problems, and this book is all about sharing those solutions. We have learned that we can breathe new life and possibility into the reader’s and writer’s workshop to engage students and meet them where they are, including children who are new to English and students who have learning differences. We’ve developed ways to integrate reading and writing in both instruction and student application, and in so doing, reclaim time for them to work as readers and writers.