Until recently, elementary writing instruction has received little attention, especially as more educators focus on the science of reading. A new Education Week Special Report, however, sheds light on integrated reading and writing instruction, a long overdue conversation.
The blog posts highlighted in the special report explain why K–5 students need high-quality resources that integrate reading and writing, incorporate write-to-learn content, and include explicit writing instruction.
All of that lies at the heart of the writing instruction embedded in Wit & Wisdom®.
How Does Wit & Wisdom Integrate Reading and Writing in the Classroom?
In the series, EdWeek reminds readers, “research suggests that teaching students to write in an integrated fashion with reading is not only efficient, it’s effective.”
For example, in the Wit & Wisdom fourth-grade curriculum, when students study a literal and figurative heart, they read about the circulatory system and the book Love That Dog by Sharon Creech.
Through their texts and instructional materials, students build the necessary knowledge to write about the figurative and literal meanings of the term “great heart.” The curriculum module also helps students build writing skills through practice.
They learn how to craft a focus statement, support it with evidence, and effectively use commas in compound sentences. Each of these skills helps students write an effective informative essay that expresses their new knowledge about a great heart.
How Districts Connect Reading and Writing to Help Students Learn
Writing is a valuable tool for learning content. As students build background knowledge, they need opportunities to process what they learn through writing.
The EdWeek series includes an article spotlighting writing instruction at Sumner County Schools and how the district shifted its education approach. Teachers used to focus writing lessons on individual experiences but now connect reading and writing to help students write to learn.
The Sumner County School District uses Wit & Wisdom and does a fantastic job implementing the curriculum and helping students and teachers excel.
Scott Langford, the chief academic officer of Sumner County Schools, explained that district leaders turned to Wit & Wisdom because they desired a curriculum that took a knowledge-rich approach to writing instruction.
They didn’t want to ask students to perform writing tasks that weren’t tied to important topics they were learning and reading about.
Langford told the EdWeek reporters that the district looked for a “high-quality curriculum that builds that background knowledge and gives students work that they have a lot to say about because they just learned about it, rather than picking up topics randomly.”
Writing to learn is a more equitable way to teach writing skills.
Tanisha Washington, a regional director of implementation services for Wit & Wisdom, noted in a literacy article for Edutopia that asking students to write about their own lived experiences is a common classroom practice but doesn’t create a level playing field.
Students come to school with opportunity gaps and varying degrees of background knowledge. A curriculum that focuses on integrated reading and writing instruction, therefore, better builds knowledge and skills.
The Link Between Explicit Writing Instruction and Writing to Learn
Students need to be explicitly taught the rules of writing and given opportunities to apply their knowledge of written language to their work.
Wit & Wisdom builds students’ knowledge of language and the craft of writing through explicit writing instruction embedded within every module in the curriculum.
Another reading and literacy article in the EdWeek report highlights the critical role explicit writing instruction plays at Kegonsa Elementary School in Stoughton, Wisconsin, where students learn to write using Wit & Wisdom.
A third-grade teacher at Kegonsa Elementary, Julie Alexander, shares with EdWeek that before her school’s new approach to writing, students would give up on instruction and complain they didn’t know how to write. That doesn’t happen now.
Every Wit & Wisdom module includes writing models based on the work of the Vermont Writing Collaborative, which helps students organize their thinking and writing. These models grow over time, and students gradually develop longer writing pieces.
For example, kindergarten students end the year writing an opinion piece about why someone should visit a continent they have learned about. They structure their travel brochure with a subjective statement, two reasons, and a conclusion.
By third grade, students use the model to compose a four-paragraph opinion essay about the most important things people have done to learn about space—with an introduction, two reasons, and a conclusion.
The writers of the EdWeek report suggest that the science of reading should be called the science of reading and writing. Whether the national conversation shifts to emphasize an integrated reading and writing approach remains to be seen.
But, it’s great to see strong writing instruction finally get the attention it deserves in a prominent publication.
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Katie Waters was a middle school English teacher, curriculum manager, and instructional coach for 12 years. She now works with K–8 literacy teachers as the lead facilitator for humanities professional development at Great Minds, the nonprofit developer of Wit & Wisdom and Eureka Math.