As a teenager I loved to ride my mountain bike. I usually rode the “cow paths” out in the farmland and forests in back of my parents’ house. These were literally paths made by cows, where the dirt had been packed down by years of cows stomping along on the same trails over and over. I could ride on cow paths for miles through fields and trees, breathing the fresh air, watching the sun set from the apple orchard.
That was all a long, long, time ago. For the past two decades I’ve been too busy to do very much mountain bike riding: School, work, living in cities, writing books, kids. Adulthood seemed to leave no time for riding on trails.
But a few weeks ago, I got a shiny new mountain bike and I’ve been riding it almost every day since.
You know that expression people use: “It’s like riding a bicycle?”
It’s supposed to mean that once you learn a skill set you’ll never forget it.
Well, turns out that riding a mountain bike is not like riding a bicycle. My legs are covered in bruises and cuts from the spikes on my pedals and the falls that I’ve taken. My muscles are sore. My wrists are in pain. I have a lot of work to do if I’m ever going to be able to do what I used to do.
The thing is, like mountain biking, reading and writing are also not “like riding a bicycle.” Kids actually can forget what they’ve learned if they don’t keep practicing. In fact, they probably will. This phenomenon, known as the “summer slide” is something that educators, librarians, and families have been concerned with for years. Summer reading programs, book give-aways, reading lists, and various challenges all exist to encourage and even require students to keep reading over the summer.
Current research and practice shows that writing and reading are reciprocal – meaning growth in one often corresponds to growth in the other. Over the summer, kids who write as well as read are not only maintaining their writing skills, but they are also helping to maintain their reading skills while doing it.
Fostering a Sense of Story in Both Reading and Writing
Inviting your students to draw and write stories over the summer helps them retain some of what they’ve learned about characters, setting, problem, and resolution. Whether you send home a journal, or a writing folder, or a full-blown writing kit, having the materials to write with and a few strategies for getting ideas can go a long way toward fostering a writing life over the summer that will also support students’ work as readers.
Some schools plan a mid-summer day (or two) where kids can come into school, swap their summer book baggies, and share the stories they’ve written so far to have a mid-summer celebration and check-in. One school I know is planning to have a few teachers available to do informal assessments to share with families and help kids set new reading and writing goals mid-summer.
Pursuing a Passion Supports Both Reading and Writing
Nobody knows how to obsessively pursue an interest like kids do. Over the summer is the perfect chance for kids to write about anything they are currently passionate about. Whether it’s Pokemon, or dragons, Taylor Swift, baseball, swimming, or Legos, kids tend to go through phases of being obsessed about one topic or another. Before the school year is out, show them how they can turn those obsessions into mini-writing projects. Leave them inspired to create info-books and posters, how-to guides, top ten lists, and other bits of writing about their passions. It helps to make these options as engaging, and maker-oriented as possible. Cheat-guides and tip sheets for video games, comic books or graphic novels, treasure maps, joke books, or all of the above are engaging formats that kids will want to play around with if given the materials and a little inspiration.
Working on these passion projects is highly supportive of learning how to structure and organize information, and use content-specific vocabulary. If they practice doing this in their own writing, this supports their work as readers of nonfiction texts. Particularly as informational texts get more challenging, the more kids experience creating complex, hybrid information texts from the inside out, they can apply that familiarity to the texts they read, thinking “Hey, this is like that book/list/thing I made!”
Word Solving in Writing and Word Solving in Reading
Spelling and grammar are the most obvious reading/writing connection for many people. It makes sense that the more students practice hearing and recording the sounds they hear in words, the more easily they’ll then recognize those patterns as readers.
In fact, there’s been a recent burst of articles and research on the topic of reciprocity of reading and writing, with spelling and decoding in mind. Recently headlines were made when a landmark study (once again) demonstrated the importance of invented spelling (a.k.a. developmental spelling). Encouraging kids to write a lot, and to write as best they can is incredibly supportive to their growth as readers. Many teachers send home a few key resources for spelling (an alphabet chart or blends chart for younger writers, a simple editing checklist perhaps for older), but emphasize that over the summer, the most important thing is to just keep writing.
Professional Books and Resources
The connection between writing and reading has been studied for decades. Here are just a few professional books and resources — to keep your reading/writing life alive over the summer.
Change Over Time in Children’s Literacy Development by Marie Clay
Writers ARE Readers: Flipping Reading Instruction into Writing Opportunities by Lester Laminack and Reba Wadsworth
This giveaway is for a copy of Joy Write: Cultivating High-Impact, Low-Stakes Writing. Many thanks to Heinemann for donating a copy for one reader. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to win a copy of this book.)
For a chance to win this copy of Joy Write: Cultivating High-Impact, Low-Stakes Writing, please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Sunday, May 7th at 12:00 p.m. EDT. Betsy Hubbard will use a random number generator to pick the winners whose name will be announced in the ICYMI blog post for this series on Monday, May 8th.
Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so Betsy can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, our contact at Heinemann will ship your book out to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
If you are the winner of the book, Betsy will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – JOY WRITE BOOK. Please respond to her e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.
Literacy Coach, Consultant, Author, Graduate Course Instructor, and Mom. Passionate about fostering a love of reading and writing in learners of all ages.