By Laura Robb
The research on writing about reading is in, and it’s truly compelling! An article by Steve Graham and Karen Harris in the January/February 2016 Reading Teacher has implications for all teachers and all subjects. The research is clear and decisive on this point: when teachers have students write about books students can read, their comprehension jumps 24 percentile points. This is in contrast to simply reading, rereading, and studying. In addition, when students write about content material presented in class, comprehension jumps nine percentile points. The study makes it clear that it’s the students who must do the reading which means that teachers need to find materials on specific topics that all students—even those reading below grade level—can read.
The writing discussed in the research doesn’t focus on formal essays and paragraphs. So what does this mean for teachers of students in grades K to 12? The researchers aren’t suggesting that students answer questions after completing each chapter in a book. Moreover, prior to writing, it’s beneficial to have students turn and talk about their reading with a partner. Partner talk stimulates thinking, helps students clarify ideas, and often allows them to observe ideas that differ from theirs.
To support teachers with writing to improve comprehension, I’ve included the suggestions that follow:
K to 12 Students need a readers’ notebook to draw and/or write their responses to materials they are reading.
Primary Students can stop-to-think during guided and independent reading to talk about a character, an event, a setting, a problem in fictional texts, and specific details in informational texts. Students can use a framework to retell and/or summarize reading materials. They can also create lists of words that describe a character or their feelings toward an event or character.
Middle Grade, Middle and High School Students can develop lists of words that describe a character’s personality traits. They can also write the text messages two characters from a book might write to each other. In addition, students can write short summaries, post book reviews on a class website, take notes in their own words, as well as write a readers’ theater script and perform it with classmates.
Pausing after reading a chunk of text to analyze characters’ personality traits, assess how characters resolved a problem, list their emotional reactions to an event or decision, and make inferences with informational texts can also improve comprehension. After completing a book, students can identify themes, illustrate an event that sparked their personal interest, and use graphics to show a key event.
Teachers can ask students to revisit entries in their notebooks and adjust them as well as use their notebook entries and notes to write paragraphs or essays that inform or argue for a claim.