As I have mentioned before, we, in my district, have the incredible privilege of working with Ellin Keene. She has been a literacy consultant for our district for almost the entire time that I have been working there. She has pushed our thinking in incredible ways and I am pretty sure that I have learned more from her about teaching than from any other single person. She has helped me to become a more student-centered, responsive, thoughtful, reflective teacher and every time I speak with her, I end up a better teacher than I was before the conversation.
This summer she has been talking to our district about changing our reading and writing workshops into being more of a literacy studio. The literacy studio is something that Ellin discusses in her book To Understand. While we are still in the process of learning exactly what this switch would entail, one of the biggest changes that Ellin talks about is a need to merge together our reading and writing instruction. She speaks about the time we are wasting and the damage we are doing by separating and compartmentalizing our reading and writing instruction as we have done for so long in our schools.
I am really struck by this idea.
I find real power in the idea that by fusing our reading and writing instruction, our children will stop seeing these two things as separate acts. Instead, they will be able to use what they learn as readers, in order to help them as writers. And they will use what they learn as writers, in order to help them as readers. Plus, I think about the time we would save on our teacher-driven instruction and how much more time we would have for student-driven work time.
I don’t really know how this will happen in my own classroom. I don’t quite know how we will merge our instruction while still having to worry about the somewhat separate reading and writing curricula that we currently have. I don’t know how to do this kind of work while still honoring both reading and writing equally.
But I do know that I am excited to give it a try. I am excited to learn. I am excited to be more creative with the structures that I use in my classroom in order to create an environment where students see reading and writing as tools that can be used together in order to do important work in making this world a better place.
For me, the place that I want to start with this concept happens to fall at the very start of the school year. In writing, we begin with memoir and personal narrative. I have already written about how I want to use this writing unit to focus on the power of telling our own stories.
In reading last year, I began the year by taking the idea of making connections to our reading and pushing it further to look at how books can be both mirrors and windows for students. They can see themselves reflected in the books they read and they can also look into the lives of people who are vastly different than they are in order to gain understanding and develop empathy. I wrote about that work here and here.
These units feel like the perfect place to start merging my instruction. While we are talking about writing our own stories, it makes so much sense to tie that into how we read the stories of others. While we are reading stories in order to learn how to see ourselves and see others, we can also use those stories as mentor texts for writing our own stories. While we look at how authors teach us about their lives through stories, we can talk about how we can use our stories to teach others about what our own lives are like. While we talk about how reading other people’s stories can challenge what we think we know about what life is like for other people, we can also talk about how when we write our own stories we can challenge what other people think our own lives are like.
There are so many possibilities. So many ways that we can connect these units. So many ways that we can merge our instruction so that our students see that the power of story is in both the READING and WRITING of stories.
I don’t know exactly how this is all going to look yet, but I know that there is something really powerful here. I am eager to get into the classroom, to get right next to my kids and figure it out together.