Teaching Reading & Writing
A student's inability to read and write creates a ripple effect that has far-ranging repercussions on his or her future prospects that demand proficient literacy. The implementation of effective reading and writing curricula is particularly crucial during the first few years of primary education when learning is more effectively conveyed during the early developmental stages of childhood. Teachers can use a variety of tools to teach reading and writing, some of which are entrance and exit slips, written conversations, self-assessments, and journal writing. Many instructional approaches advocate integrating reading and writing across the curriculum as a way to further develop students' abilities.
Keywords Electronic Communications across the Curriculum (ECAC); Envisionment; High-Frequency Words; Journal Writing; Language and Learning across the Curriculum (LALAC); Letter-Name Skills; Literacy skills; Metacognitive Skills; No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB); Phonetic Awareness; Sight Words; Teaching Reading; Teaching Writing; Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC)
A student's inability to read and write creates a ripple effect that has far-ranging repercussions on his or her future prospects that demand proficient literacy. Given how much faster and technologically-dense everyday American life has become, anyone remaining illiterate after completing the educational process is deprived of basic academic tools and lacks necessary survival skills for future success, including, but not exclusive to, gainful employment as an adult. According to a 1993 United States Office of Technology Assessment, 25 percent of the adult population lacks the basic literacy skills required for a typical job. As of the spring of 2013, approximately thirty-two million Americans could not read. There are numerous reasons for the low literacy rate in the United States. A December 2004 paper released by the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (NWREL) cites an American School Board Journal story stating that less time was being spent on teaching writing because educators are focusing more on meeting the parameters set by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). The NWREL paper also mentions that a 2003 study by the National Commission on Writing found limited focus was being given to educating preservice teachers in how to teach writing (NWREL, 2004).
The NCLB is federal legislation defined by the theory of standards-based education reform in which high educational goals are set for states and school districts in which students are expected to meet or exceed these expectations. Federal requirements are measured via roughly 45 million annual standardized tests created at the state level and first administered in the third grade (Scherer, 2006). The demands of NCLB have shifted the focus in classrooms towards test-taking because school districts whose results don't meet or exceed pre-determined test levels risk losing federal funding. According to Guilfoyle (2006), this redirection of focus prevents teachers from providing the kind of rich and varied curriculum needed for an environment more conducive to teaching reading and writing. In 2012 and 2013 President Barack Obama began issuing waivers that released states from the restrictions of NCLB if they continued working toward rigorous educational goals and meeting requirements. Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia have waivers that will expire—but can be renewed—at the end of the 2013–2014 school year.
Therefore, the implementation of effective reading and writing curricula becomes all the more crucial, particularly during the first few years of primary education when learning is more effectively conveyed during the early developmental stages of childhood. Effective reading instruction is the initial springboard for ensuring that children achieve maximum literacy via a number of techniques incorporating phonemic awareness instruction, an emphasis on decoding and comprehending sight words along with teaching the relationship of this vocabulary within the context of written and verbal communication. To this end, exercises that hinge on frequent prose writing further complement the educational process and are at the heart of programs such as Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC), Language and Learning Across the Curriculum (LALAC) and Electronic Communications Across the Curriculum (ECAC).
The grander scope of WAC is that rather than have writing be its own discipline, it is instead used as a tool that can enhance the learning of various subjects like science and math while enriching a child's overall proficiency in communicating both within and outside the educational spectrum. LALAC and ECAC are related movements. LALAC proposes that writing well goes far beyond merely putting words down and that it is one component of learning and communication that should include fostering other components of language-speaking, reading and listening. ECAC has more of a technological bent. This program puts an emphasis on how technologies like the Internet and digital communication are not only changing the way that writers write, but that access to the Web is providing new outlets in which students can communicate, acquire and organize new data. Therefore it is imperative that students are familiarized with the kinds of Web-based documents they'll be using along with utilizing sound, images and links in a way that will make the communicative process far more interactive. This use of technology for purposes other than its original use is referred to as envisionment by Donald Leu and his collaborators in a 2004 paper written for the International Reading Association (cited in Yancey, 2004).
Some applications of writing exercises used as part of Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) and approaches used to increase reading competency in elementary through high school levels are:
• Entrance and Exit Slips
• Written Conversations
• Journal Writing
• Improving Reading
In this exercise, entrance slips are assigned at the start of class and students either compose questions or write a few sentences about any knowledge they may have of the day's upcoming topic. These anonymously penned blurbs are collected and read aloud as a means of jumpstarting the day's learning. Exit slips are written at the end of class, where students write brief descriptions of what was covered in the day's lesson along with any techniques they may have used to absorb this new knowledge. Elementary school students should be encouraged to write freely without concern for punctuation or spelling, so the intuitive flow of expression and language structures is not impeded. Proper grammar and spelling are stressed more in the middle and secondary levels as the student's writing abilities become more sophisticated. Throughout, these particular methodologies are mutually beneficial as a teacher can use them to determine how well the class may know a topic while the students can absorb new ideas, review old ones and potentially trigger their long-term memory.
These five-minute exercises consist of having students write as much as they can about the day's topic, either by themselves or collaboratively with a partner. Subsequently, the pupil will have had a chance to organize his or her thoughts before being asked to participate in a discussion which works equally well when the process is tailored towards a collaborative response. Writers in elementary school would begin with more basic topics. Middle and secondary level instructors can eventually guide their students towards writing about non-literary topics such as the processes behind a science project or the steps taken to solve a mathematical problem. The benefit of written conversations is that students become more familiar and proficient with the pre-writing process, enabling them to more effectively group thoughts about similar topics into a working outline when starting a paper.
Students are asked to write brief assessments of a project they are either still working on or are on the brink of submitting. Questions that should be addressed can range from what knowledge they may be accruing through this assignment and what the most difficult aspect of it is to delineating the most gratifying part of it. Teachers can obviously monitor how well their charges are grasping a given topic and also help the student oversee how well they are learning the given subject matter. The approach for these self-assessments is similar throughout elementary, middle and secondary levels due to the simplistic nature of this exercise.
Students should be consistently encouraged to write, and among the most effective techniques to stimulate the writing process is journal writing. In addition to getting students acclimated to writing, this daily exercise also enriches fluency, encourages reflection and helps students become familiar with the creative thought process.
The mental muscles involved in writing are much like the physical ones that are firmed up at a gym. Using these writing muscles consistently will build up a student's literacy skills and give the student more confidence in tackling future writing assignments. The important approach to take towards having novice scribes compose journals is to allow them to write without concern for proper punctuation and spelling. In this way, they can develop a more...
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