The Humanities team at Great Minds® stays updated on the current scientific research on literacy. We bring research to life in our curricula and make research accessible to educators in our blog posts. In this month’s post, Britton King shares her experience shifting from isolated reading and writing instruction to an integrated approach that reinforces literacy knowledge.
Shifting to an Integrated Approach
As a Wit & Wisdom® teacher, I know that the knowledge and skills my fourth graders develop in my classroom serve as a foundation for further learning. Throughout their lifetimes, my students will continue to build the unconstrained skill of literacy knowledge, and the grade 4 modules establish a strong foundation in this area.
I previously taught reading and writing separately, and my former students struggled to understand how reading and writing work together. I realized students were missing important literacy knowledge, but with two separate blocks, I failed to find meaningful ways to teach about the interrelatedness of reading and writing.
Wit & Wisdom integrates reading and writing—a welcome change in my classroom. As my class studies narrative texts, I witness how careful planning and lesson implementation help my students build the connection between skilled reading and writing.
Planning for Success
Before jumping in and teaching Wit & Wisdom, I must understand where the module is going, so I read the core texts and test-drive the End-of-Module Task. These two steps, embedded in the Module Study Protocol (located in the Wit & Wisdom Preparation Protocols in the Teacher Resource Pack), build teachers’ understanding of how the module’s core texts develop students’ literacy knowledge and how students will apply that knowledge in their writing.
In Grade 4 Module 2: Extreme Settings, students read and write narratives. While previewing the module, I noticed that, as students read Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, they would analyze and write descriptive language, exploded moments, sensory details, figurative language, and the development of theme.
After previewing the module, I read the text myself. I enjoyed Paulsen’s rich descriptions of the setting and events, and I appreciated how he developed themes of survival. I noted key points, knowing my students would need to understand the author’s choices to unlock the passages’ meaning and to write their own survival narratives later in the module. As I prepared each lesson, I referred to the notes I made during my initial read of the text.
I also practiced the writing tasks. Writing the assignments myself helped me
- understand the expectations I needed to set for my students,
- anticipate where my students may need support to connect Hatchet to their own writing, and
- prepare to support students in their productive struggle.
Once I completed my own written responses, I checked the annotated sample responses in Appendix C in the Teacher Edition. These annotated responses provide examples of the knowledge and skills my students build throughout the module.
When I considered Hatchet, my own End-of-Module Task response, and the sample response, I felt proud and excited to engage my students in narrative writing modeled on Gary Paulsen’s craft. Wit & Wisdom resources establish high expectations for my students’ narratives. My awareness of where students might productively struggle helps me support them in creating their own impressive narratives. And I’m always eager to read their stories!
Leveraging Literacy Knowledge Throughout the Module
After experiencing the text and the writing tasks for myself, I felt prepared to teach my students how reading and writing are intertwined.
One exciting instructional example occurs in lesson 19 when students use the ESCAPE (Establish-Setting-Characters-Action-Problem-Ending) model to create a Mountain Chart capturing the most significant events in Hatchet. As students reviewed the thrilling early chapters of Hatchet, they closely examined how Paulsen structured his narrative. This activity supports students’ reading development by helping them organize events in the text so they can dig deeper into the text’s meaning.
The next day, students started to use the Mountain Chart to brainstorm their own narratives. Because my students first understood how Hatchet contained the ESCAPE Mountain Chart elements, they were eager to create their own settings, characters, action, problems, and endings. Throughout the module, my students developed enough knowledge about survival, reading, and writing that they all created not only unique and exciting narratives but also incredibly realistic depictions of survival.
Reflecting on Lasting Learning
By using writing models like the ESCAPE Mountain Chart to unlock the meaning behind powerful storytelling, students simultaneously unlock their own power as writers. Once they practice these models as writers, they can’t help but notice similar patterns as they read other module texts (and watch movies and TV shows!).
Literacy knowledge, the knowledge of the patterns that bridge reading and writing, sticks with students throughout their education and helps them make sense of texts in a variety of contexts.
Submit the Form to Print
Britton King teaches grade 4 in West Feliciana Parish Schools and serves as her district’s Wit & Wisdom implementation lead. She has taught grade 4 English language arts for six years and in 2022 earned recognition as a Louisiana State University educator of the year. Britton provides professional development to Wit & Wisdom classroom teachers across the United States.