Slice of Life: Writing About Reading With Kelly Gallagher

I spent last Saturday learning with Kelly Gallagher, the amazing Clark Kent-like teacher, author, speaker. While his work is geared toward middle and high school students, don’t be afraid elementary folk. Many things make sense for the youngers too.

For years, I have struggled with students’ writing about reading. They have done it because I asked them to. Kicking and screaming.  From the students’ perspective, writing about reading was more about accountability.  I believe them.

On Saturday, Gallagher shared a writing about reading activity that blew me away in terms of my understanding of a text.  We were to read a short text, the poem “Billiards’ by Walker Gibson, three times.  Each time we read, we were to self assess our understanding. After scoring the third read, we were instructed to write about the text’s meaning for three minutes. My understanding dramatically increased by writing my thinking down.  Of the teachers in the room, about 75% reported the same phenomenon. The difference was so clear I thought I had to try this with my students.

I choose a 150-word excerpt from our read aloud. This exercise was presented as an experiment. Something for them to try out to see what they got out of it. I told them I was not collecting it. It was for them. After writing, over half of the readers reported growth in understanding and felt the writing increased their understanding.

Interested in their thinking, I conferred with a dozen readers.

I asked  – What happened as you went through the process? Here are a few responses.

Writing about it after I read really made a difference. It totally changed my thinking since the first read.

I had to really think to write what I thought.

It was completely different than the quick writing I do. It took longer, but I got a whole different idea from it.

It was hard. I understand the text but putting it into words was difficult.

Writing made no difference in understanding, but there was a change in re reading it. I noticed more by the third read.

One partnership reported that writing made no change in their understanding.  I asked them to write again after they had talked the text. After about two minutes, we reconvened. Both reported the writing after talking made a difference.

Some individuals claimed no change in their understanding through out the process which is a red flag for other reasons.

While this isn’t The Solution to my writing about reading issues, it has added a new tool for my students and me.  It’s interesting work worth trying.

A few other thoughts  —

  • Readers saw this process as useful when they were confused or in part they think might matter
  • Readers who struggle writing their thoughts need to be coached.
  • Readers need reading time. Writing about reading should be strategic, purposeful.


Thank you to Dana, Betsy, Anna, Beth, Tara, and Stacey of Two Writing Teachers Blog for Tuesday Slice of Life.

Read more slices and contribute your own here.