Exemplary teachers routinely have children actually reading and writing for as much as half of the school day – often around a 50/50 ratio of reading and writing tostuff (stuff is all the other things teachers have children do instead of reading and writing). (Allington, 2001)
If I was starting teaching now rather than being towards the end of my career, I would aim for a classroom rich in opportunities for students to read, write and develop vocabulary and look very carefully at the 50/50 ratio. This is because teaching content to students who do not have well-developed literacy skills is difficult for the teacher and frustrating for students. I have conducted two studies where I shadowed a student for a week and kept a record of the types of learning experiences the student was given. When I ask teachers, ‘How much time (in minutes) do you think the student was required to read and write?,’ they give me very low numbers. And they are right. So, not only is insufficient time given to these essential literate practices but we know that this is the case.
Here are some simple ways we can increase the amount of reading and writing that students do in a lesson.
- Teach and talk less and set up reading activities where students read about the content.
- Never do the reading for students. If the information is on a PPT slide, give students time to read it silently or they can do paired reading. This works well for bullet points. Students can take turns to read the bullet points. Student A begins the first time and student B begins the second time and they take turns to read each bullet point.
- Avoid asking students to copy notes from the board. Remember that if you have made these notes and students are merely copying then, then it is unlikely they will have sufficient deep knowledge to write about the topic. Instead, get the students to turn the notes into full sentences. If they can’t do this, they haven’t understood the information so this is a good piece of formative assessment.
- Try, where possible, to make sure that a post-reading/listening/viewing activity involves some writing.
- Provide students with what they have to write about in a plan or graphic organiser and get them to practise writing. Use sentence starters to assist (See the How to Write What You Want to Say Series).
- Punctuate the lesson with opportunities to write for reflection. For example, ‘What have I learned so far?’ ‘What do I feel confident about?’ ‘What do I need more help with?’ ‘Which parts of the success criteria have I achieved?’