On my travels, it is not uncommon to hear schools tell me that they have a particular focus for a year. These include reading, writing, information and communication technology, higher order thinking, numeracy, etc. All are worthy of focus but it does concern me when schools focus on reading and writing separately. This is because the driving engine of writing is topic knowledge, purpose and audience. Topic knowledge, as mentioned in previous blogs, comes from lived experience and reading. Given that lived experience is not much of an option for our students as they are so young and may not have seen much of the world, especially if they are from disadvantaged backgrounds, then reading provides them with the ‘stuff’ to write about.
Also, writing involves the use of all sorts of vocabulary. There is the subject-specific terminology found in learning areas but not necessarily anywhere else. Many of these terms are abstract and difficult to understand. Multiple exposures to these words through reading increases understanding to a point where students are not afraid to use these words in their writing. There is the grammatical language which pads or packs the content words. This language is found in many areas of the curriculum and often gives the reader a clue to the purpose of the writing. Then there are the words which are more sophisticated ways of saying known ideas and concepts. An overused word such as ‘nice’ has many synonyms. If we ‘right click synonyms’ for ‘nice’ ‘enjoyable’, ‘agreeable’, ‘please’, ‘fine’ and ‘good’ appear. Which synonym to use depends on context. The exposure to language that students receive through reading is essential if they are to become confident and competent uses of vocabulary and know which synonym to use.
So, please do not separate reading, writing and vocabulary when deciding on areas on which to focus. They are integral to one another, so think of them together.
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