Lucky me I get to write, yet what I’m writing about isn’t easy. I chose to put myself in a place I struggle to make sense of, a place I am less than successful, a place I avoid.
I signed up for Writing About Reading at TCRWP’s Summer Writing Institute. Lucky me, I get to read and learn with Ali Marron and a room full of passionate teachers of reading and writing.
I signed up for this because I know that writing leads to greater understanding. I signed up for this because writing about reading is difficult for me be disciplined about doing, and it’s difficult for students to see the purpose or pay out. If they enjoy reading, they don’t want to stop reading to write. And, if they have to jot to hold on to meaning, it’s arduous.
I’ve worked hard on selling the merits of writing about reading, yet it hasn’t caught on. Most of my students do it, but not with great excitement or with great outcomes. And, it’s not surprising. Maybe because I’m not a very skilled practitioner.
Ali shared some key points about the work.
First: Writing about reading should engage us in the text.
Second: Part of becoming a stronger reader is putting yourself in a place of discomfort. Reading is invisible. So to help students, teachers need to see the kind of thinking being done. .
Third: It should facilitate synthesis. Ideas need to be tracked. Notebook structures need to promote thinking; we need to go back and revisit old ideas.
With this in mind, Ali shared some student work. Ah, mentor texts. Cool little drawings, pictures, post-its, and writing. Looks like fun.
But first, some confessions.
Confession #1: I only willingly write about reading when it’s something I’m studying, e.g., professional text. I know better. By not writing about my reading, I am accepting less comprehension.
Confession #2: I write about reading when I must be ready to discuss. I want to become that writer who writes about reading by choice.
Confession #3: I love novels in verse partly because the words pop on the page. The white space affords lots of room for thinking. Bottom line, reading novels in verse is easier. Perhaps writing about reading is more accessible in a less challenging text.
With this in mind, I chose to read and write about Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate. I decided to try two approaches to the work.
First I jotted as I read. Whenever anything hit me as important, I quickly wrote.
At the end of a section, I looked back on my notes. Patterns, questions, and theories came through in a writing reflection. The experience was a controlled one. I wasn’t swept up in the story; I was swept up in the words and images.
Then I set my notebook aside and pulled out post-its. I decided just to read and place post-its in spots with tiny thoughts, placeholders, to collect and sort later.
After reading, I sorted my post-its to come up with categories that leaned toward relationships, characters, ideas and then wrote reflections around each.
The second round of writing about reading allowed for a more holistic reading experience. The post-it placeholders let me get swept up in the story without guilt. I could go back after to sort, prioritize and decide what might be something I could write long about.
Lesson #1: Both approaches resulted in writing about reading. I would choose the latter as a better way to access the text as a reader first. Are there more ways? Absolutely!
Lesson #2: To grow our understandings students and teachers need to be pushed to less comfortable places to grow.
Lesson #3: To teach anything well we must do it. There are no shortcuts.
And this was just day one! Looking forward to four more days.