Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Walking the Literacy Tightrope

By Heather Jung

Is it more important for a student to be a reader or to be a writer?

We all know that to be a literate person you need both, but teachers only have so many instructional minutes a day. Where are those minutes best spent?

Striking the right balance between reading and writing is the tightrope that literacy teachers across the country have to walk each day.

In elementary schools, many teachers spend most of their time on reading.  They are often highly knowledgeable and comfortable with reading instruction and with their own skills as readers. 

These teachers are often avid readers themselves both professionally and personally, some may even belong to book groups. They read for work and for pleasure. This predisposes them to the idea that reading is the more important content to teach.  This predisposition is reinforced by standardized tests, “since federal law required standardized tests only in math and reading” (Layton, 2015), with little to no attention paid to other content areas.

Still, “over the past ten years research has shown that reading and writing are more interdependent than we thought” (, 2008).  The reciprocal nature of the relationship between reading and writing makes it impossible to teach one effectively without the other.  “A child’s literacy development is dependent on this interconnection between reading and writing” (, 2008).

Furthermore, a singular emphasis on reading does not prepare students well for life in a 21st century global community where the ability to communicate ideas effectively and multimodally is essential to success. 

So what is a busy teacher to do?

The first thing is to build a stronger pedagogy around the teaching of writing and writing conferences.  A good place to start is by researching the work done by Lester Laminak, Katie Wood Ray, and Lucy Culkins. 

The second, and possibly more difficult thing, is that teachers must build their own identities as a writer. Very few teachers, outside of secondary English departments, see themselves as writers.  While some may engage in, and be quite accomplished at writing for professional audiences; few write for personal pleasure and fewer still belong to either professional or personal writing groups. Participating in a writing group can be a great way to start building one’s own identity as a writer.

Just as a teacher that is a passionate and voracious reader models a love of reading for their students, a teacher that writes for themselves as well as for their students models and encourages a love of writing.

When the teacher is equally invested in both reading and writing, it will be easier for them to walk the tightrope of balanced literacy.

Works Cited (2008, April). The relationship between reading and writing . Retrieved from k12 Reader:
Layton, L. (2015, October 24). Study says standardized testing is overwhelming nation's public schools. Retrieved from The Washington Post:

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