The Link Between Reading and Writing
Reading and writing are intrinsically linked together, both possess similar cognitive and socio-cultural characteristics, and require that the individual utilize their skills to compose or interpret meaning (Vacca et al., 2005). Skilled readers and writers are both involved in the development of ideas, activation of prior knowledge (schema), working with purpose and commitment, revising or rethinking meaning, and being aware of the audience you are addressing and the content you are conveying (Vacca et al., 2005). Therefore, connecting reading and writing activities, whether it is before, during or after reading, assists students to explore the ideas they have encountered, and think more deeply about the underlying meaning of the text which resultants in greater learning of content material, deeper understanding of the material and increased knowledge retention (Vacca et al., 2005). As outlined by King (1995) if we desire that our students do not simply memorize materials, but actively engage in their own learning, we as teachers, must provide assignments that foster this type of thinking and learning. The key to critical thinking is an enquiring mind, which means a learner is always asking questions, and trying to understand the world around them. King (1995) suggests that the role of teachers is to help students, through a variety of techniques, to develop the skills needed to ask relevant questions, and therefore become effective critical thinkers.
School and Classroom Composition
Grade 8 Science
The class consists of two students with dyslexia, two ESL learners, and six second generation Canadian students from various cultural backgrounds (China, Germany, Brazil and Vietnam) who speak English fluently. In total there are 29 students in the classroom, which is laid out in a horseshoe shape, with various work stations and sinks along the border of the classroom. There are four long desks that make up each horseshoe shape and three students can sit at each desk. The school is located in a less affluent neighbourhood in an urban setting. One of the greatest challenges faced by the teacher is repetitive absences.
Today we are addressing prescribed learning outcome C4 – explain how human vision works. In a previous class we diagrammed the components of the eye, and students have taken the time to know the parts that make up the eye. Today’s lesson will be to understand how our eye receives and processes light.
Introduction of Lesson
Teacher: Yesterday, we looked at the different components of the eye, and took the time to draw a representation of the eye in our journals. In class today, having built upon the information associated with the eye, and how its components enable us to see, we will take about 8 minutes before the end of class to write in our journals about what we learned. As you may recall, we watched a short video clip pertaining to the way the eye functions and also worked in jigsaw groups to understand and teach specific information on how the eye works. If you get stuck for ideas when writing in your journal, I have posted some questions on the board that you can think about to develop more thoughts on the topic.
- How could you explain to a younger sibling how your eye works to see?
- Is there any additional information you would like to learn about for the parts of the eye and how they function?
- What do you feel you understand best about how the eye functions?
- Is there any aspect of the function of the eye that you can relate to other information you already understand well?
Student: Do you have a journal for me?
Teacher: Yes, of course Dan. I have one right here. Since Dan is new to the class, can anyone briefly outline for him how we use our learning logs?
Student: Well we write about how we feel or think about something, like the eye and how it functions, after having learned about the topic.
Teacher: Can we write about anything relating to the eye?
Student: Well, yeah, but I think the goal is more to give us a memory of what we learned in class and how we understood it at the time.
Teacher: Very good. Yes, try to write about your understanding of the topic. It’s important to remember with our learning logs, that though we sometimes share out writings with the class, or further develop our ideas to create some to hand in to the teacher, your learning logs will never be marked. The key idea behind a learning log is for you to develop ideas and how you understood the ideas presented it class. It’s not about the spelling or grammar. Are there any questions before we begin?
Student: Do we have to write like we would in a standard journal? Sometime I like to draw pictures in my journal and it helps me remember things better.
Teacher: That’s also an excellent question! I am content with you drawing a picture of the eye, to help you to understand how it functions. Sometimes, it’s harder to draw a picture that relates to what we’ve learned in class, but today for the eye, I definitely think that’s a possibility.
Light enters the eye, passing through the cornea. It passes through a bunch of liquidy layers (called humours?) until eventually reaching the retina. The retina is the important part because it’s the place where light is detected. It can do this because it’s lined with a substance called melanin that makes the retina black – like the inside of a camera. The retina detects light in the blackness with two different types of light receptor cells – rods and cones. Rods are for low light vision and cones are for colour and details, which is why we have many more rods (100 million) than cones (7 million). When light hits the rods and cones they create a bunch of chemicals that then send electrical impulses along our optic nerve to the brain. The part of the brain that receives the signal is the visual cortex, and it interprets the images that have been sent.
Analysis of Strategy
The benefits of learning logs can be experienced by all students within the class, no matter culture, language or ability level. The is because the use of learning logs is an effective way of allowing students to reflect upon the material they have learned in class, in a concrete manner. It allows students the freedom to express “what’s on their minds, clearly and without pretence” (Vacca et al., 2005), in a manner that is personally relevant, and helps them to realize where their knowledge is lacking without fear of making mistakes or exposing their difficulties to their peers. Journaling allows students the time to reflect on the experiences they have had, creating organization of sometimes messy events and generates greater understanding and retention of information through this process (Boud, 2002). Students should be encouraged to place emphasis on returning to the event in their minds, examining what happened and identifying the feelings we may have had in this process. These key elements will facilitate the re-evaluation of the experience they have just had, and help to make the experience more personally relevant (Boud, 2002).
When using learning logs, students should be encouraged to use any method that works for them to represent the information they have acquired. This might be in the form of a story, a drawing or a step by step list of how something occurs. Allowing students the freedom to describe information in a way that makes sense to them, is how learning logs can reach such a wide range of students, including students with dyslexia. Dyslexia is not simply an issue that affects a student’s ability to read. Dyslexic students typically have handwriting challenges, difficulties spelling, and often experience difficulties when composing a written product, or when trying to acquire meaning from a written article (Pollock et al. 2004). Dyslexic students often become discouraged by their perceived prior failings or inabilities, leading to more inattention to written words, and less overall engagement in the classroom (Berninger et al., 2008). Therefore, it’s important to foster social acceptance, hope and the value of perseverance in the face of adversity in order to keep student desire for learning higher. In the attached video they discuss some of the challenges faced by dyslexic people, reasons to preserve in the face of dyslexia, and ways of addressing dyslexia.
Unfortunately, mild to moderate dyslexia issues are often ignored and students feel as if there is a great deal of pressure upon them to perform at the level of their peers. Therefore, providing students with the opportunity to write in a journal, or allowing concessions, such as using a blog or a laptop in class, can help dyslexic students to overcome some of the challenges of messy handwriting or spelling and help them to express their own ideas in a relatively low pressure situation (Pollock et al 2004). In the instance of ESL learners, Winebrenner, discusses how the continued practice gained through journaling, can help the whole language process and improve fluency (1996). This is not only true for ESL learners. There is repeated emphasis that learning logs are most effective when used consistently for an allotted period of time (approximately 5-10 minutes) at the end of each class, (Vacca et al. 2005), because all “students need varied and frequent experiences with writing as a tool for learning”(Vacca et al., 2005)
The teacher also plays an important role in the usage of learning logs. Teachers should be routinely reviewing the items students have written in their logs, in order to identify student misconceptions or lack of understanding immediately. The awareness of knowledge that journaling facilitates allows both teachers and students to undergo a process of identifying where knowledge needs to be developed further – assessment as learning. Teachers gain insight into where students are weakest, and can tailor subsequent lessons to review or further address these topics, while students are able to better identify their own problems and where they need to improve (Vacca et al., 2005). Further, the teacher can assist students to develop more in-depth knowledge of ideas by initially asking students to write in their logs to address specific questions that refine and identify important information from the lesson. The teacher can also help students to build up their own note-making skills through individual feedback on written articles, comments or additional questions, that get students thinking more in depth on a topic.
At times, because they are not receiving a grade for their work, students may feel that learning logs do not play an important role in the classroom. It is important to remember when faced with a challenge such as this that until recently, the effectiveness of journal writing on improving student learning had mainly been evaluated qualitatively through teacher observations (Connor-Green, 2000). Yet, quantitative studies conducted on three university classes of psychology, have also shown that using journal writing not only significantly improved student grades, but also received positive feedback from university students indicating a higher level of learning due to increased interaction with the topics studied (Connor-Green, 2000). In order to develop student accountability for learning logs, it is sometimes useful to inform students that some responses will read out to the class, or further developed as a graded article. This techniques makes students feel more accountable for what they are writing and more inclined towards creating a thoughtful article to the audience of their peers (Levine 1985). However, if this strategy is being used, it is more effective to give students the freedom to choose from a range of articles to develop or share, firstly because students can choose work that they are proud of, and secondly because they can choose a writing that has meaning to them, which makes it more likely they will put in greater effort and retain the material more effectively. The process of developing a written article also has the additional benefit of guiding students who have weaker writing skills, through the, pre-writing, writing, revising, editing, publishing process, in order to develop a finished product for grading (Winebrenner). Dyslexic students specifically, have shown significant improved writing abilities when exposed to explicit writing instruction writing (Berninger et al., 2008). This is evidenced in one method found effective in developing spelling skills for dyslexic students where 6-8 key words are placed on a card, which the student can refer to as they need when writing spelling. As the student becomes more proficient at remembering the spelling, these words can be replaced by others (Pollock, 2004). Additionally, the idea of accountability and use of learning logs can help to increase learning despite student absences. The teacher can request that absent students review the materials on their own time and develop a learning log entry for that topic. As learning log entries are usually short, and rarely focused on grammar or spelling, it is within the capabilities and time constraints of many students to write up a few notes on their own pertaining to the lesson that was learnt the day they were absent.
No matter culture, language or ability, students, through journal writing, will be able to diagram, describe or take notes on the concepts they have understood from a lesson. The freestyle nature of the writing allows students to express themselves in ways that are relevant to themselves and therefore retain and understand a greater quantity of information. Students from alternate cultures can incorporate aspects of home life or alternate learning that may reflect on their knowledge of the topic, while dyslexic students do not have to fear that they will be graded poorly for bad spelling or messy handwriting. ESL students can use simple sentences express themselves and still gain further English writing practice to develop fluency, and students with weaker writing skills can benefit from classroom development of ideas into written assignments. Journaling in all its forms can help students of differing abilities, cultures and languages to develop their own ideas, critically interact with the materials being taught, and retain and understand lesson topics. Journaling also helps teachers to reach a wider range of students, by giving students freedom to express themselves individually, understanding where topic comprehension is lacking, and providing an easy but effective tool to address absentee-ism.
Berninger, V., et al. (2008) Tier 3 specialized writing instruction for students with
Dyslexia. Reading and Writing, 21(1-2), 95–129
Boud, D. (2002). Using journal writing to enhance reflective practice. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 2001(90), 9-18.
Connor-Green, P.A. (2000). Making Connections: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Journal Writing to Enhance Student Learning. Teaching of Psychology, 27(1), 44-46.
King, A. (1995). Inquiring minds really do want to know: Using questioning to teach critical thinking. Teaching of Psychology, 22, 13-17.
Pollock, J., Waller, E., Pollit, R. (2004). Day to Day Dyslexia in the Classroom – 2nd Edition. RoutledgeFalmer, New York.
Vacca, Richard T., Vacca, Jo Anne L., Begoray, Deborah L. (2005) Content Area Reading – Literacy and Learning across the Curriculum. Toronto, Canada: Pearson.
Winebrenner, Susan. (1996) Teaching Kids with Learning Difficulties in the Regular Classroom: Strategies and techniques every teacher can use to challenge and motivate struggling students. Free Spirit Publishing, Minneapolis.