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I Read Therefore I Write

January 26th, 2015

Barrie E. Olson has a Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition from the University of Louisville. Currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of English at the University of Cincinnati, Blue Ash College, she teaches first-year composition courses that focus on writing about writing, writing in the disciplines, and discourse analysis. As part of her work with the Literacy Design Collaborative, she is developing materials that stress discipline-specific ways of knowing. 

‘The connection between what a person reads and what that person then writes seems so obvious as to be truistic.

Dr. Charles Bazerman (1980), Department of Education, University of California at Santa Barbara


While to compose is in fact to write, it is also to read. Indeed, to many of us, the connection between reading and writing is obvious. But is it as obvious for our students?

 

Too Much Reading?

I’m sure that I am not the first teacher to hear students complain about the amount of reading they are assigned. In many of my classes, students are instructed to read a number of texts as part of each unit. These texts include mentor texts designed to expose them to the craft and structure of the genre they will be writing as well as support texts they will use as they explore key ideas and details to use for analysis and evidence when they craft their own arguments.

Both the mentor texts and support texts are then used significantly as students work to integrate the knowledge and ideas they’ve obtained from these texts into their own cohesive narratives. In other words, without reading both the mentor texts and the support texts, students would find the writing tasks before them almost impossible.

Despite this fact, I am often guilty of placing too much emphasis on writing instruction and not enough emphasis on reading instruction. I lose sight of just how important it is to focus on both the process of reading and the analysis of that reading. Reading exposes them to “craft and structure,” “key ideas and details,” and the “integration of knowledge and ideas.” Moreover, the wide range of texts that my students are exposed to lends itself to “a range of reading and level of text complexity.” 

 

Making Reading Integral to Writing

By thinking about the connection between reading and writing through the lens of the standards, I find myself designing better instructional units. For example, when I assign my students to write IMRaDs (a genre of writing common in the sciences and social sciences to explain research results), I first assign a series of mentor texts (such as this one) to familiarize students with the IMRaD genre.In doing so, we spend a great deal of time analyzing the structure of the text (for example, clear section titles that include Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion as well as what information goes into each section).In addition, we look at aspects such as voice (passive or active), type of vocabulary used, and the kind of data presented (not to mention how that data is presented).

(right) An IMRaD-Style Poster Presentation

We also spend a great deal of time discussing why the IMRaD is designed in such a way. What is it about how scientists create, disseminate, and read information that informs the IMRaD’s design? In other words, we talk about how IMRaDs are read and how that kind of reading informs the genre’s writing. By engaging with mentor texts in this way, students complete the following from the CCR anchor standards:

  • Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
  • Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
  • Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

One of the standard features of an IMRaD report, in addition to the dissemination of original research, is a careful review of related literature and previous studies. This review of literature informs not only the choices students make in designing their own studies, but also shows readers why the present study is relevant and timely to the field. This is where support texts become crucial. In addition to conducting their own study, students also perform library research to find evidence to support the study they are conducti

This library research, and subsequent careful reading of that research, supports these CCR anchor standards:

  • Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  • Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
  • Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
  • Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
  • Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
  • Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Finally, students are prepared to actually begin the writing portion of the module which, as I hope it has become clear, is entirely dependent on the reading portion. In my own classes, I have found that the more time I dedicate to reading instruction, the better the quality of writing that I see. In fact, by designing effective reading assignments, I have often found myself cutting down on the amount of time my students need to spend revising. More informed readers produce better writing.

 

How LDC Can Help

A great place to begin when thinking about effective reading assignments is the LDC CoreTools Curriculum Library. One of the assets of LDC CoreTools is its search function. For example, let’s say I was interested in helping students learn how to identify a text’s main point. I could search using “main point” and/or by selecting the LDC Skill Post-Reading > Content Comprehension” filter. Either option leaves me with multiple applicable mini-tasks, many of which are rated exemplary.

                                      

Using the LDC CoreTools Curriculum Library, I have an ever-growing assortment of mini-tasks that help scaffold reading instruction in my classroom. For teachers looking for entire units, searching for modules instead of mini-tasks is equally helpful. Modules do an excellent job of breaking down a writing task into its various parts, such as preparing for a task, the reading process, transition to writing, and the writing process. Exemplary modules in particular are great for showcasing just how much of a single writing task depends on reading.

Importantly, regardless of whether or not you use mini-tasks or entire modules, I think it’s crucial that we be transparent with students about the ways in which reading feeds into writing. We must actively show them that quality writing cannot occur without first engaging in quality reading. We must also make it clear that reading and writing are not simply a linear process (a deception that occurs because of the linear nature of our lesson plans). Reading and writing occur in tandem.

One cannot exist without the other and so our focus as teachers should be on both, oftentimes equally, with attention to the ways that they engage in a symbiotic relationship. Maybe then, my students, and perhaps yours, won’t complain as much about having to do “so much reading in a writing class.”

 

 

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