Reading like a Writer

bookshelfMy pedagogical approach to writing is supported by my philosophy that students cannot be good writers unless they know how to be good readers first. However, what does it mean to be a good reader and writer? Honestly, for a number of years I did not know. It was just something I told students even though I did not know how being a good reader led to being a good writer. I did not know was how the transfer of reading to becoming a better writer took place.

The idea of reading to become a better writer is not necessarily new. I found this idea from a quote I read from Maya Angelou several years ago in a Composition textbook, and I have read a similar quote from Stephen King, “You’re not ready to write unless you’re reading first.” However, it was not until I read Mike Bunn’s article, “How to Read like a Writer,” did I know how this knowledge transfer happened. Bunn, who is an Assistant Professor, University of Southern California, says this concept of reading like a writer is new to our composition students. I found after discussing this idea with my students that Bunn was accurate in his statement.

This semester I took Bunn’s essay to heart and began teaching how I expected my students to read like a writer. What Bunn says about reading makes sense. Like writing, reading is a process, one word and one sentence at a time. As teachers we want our students to question why authors make certain choices when they write. It’s questioning these choices that helps students improve their own writing. We want our students to ask themselves while they read, “Do I want to incorporate this strategy in my own writing?” Throughout the semester, students will read assigned texts and learn to question why writers use certain words and why writers structure their writing the way they do.

As Bunn explains, as a teacher [I] cannot be so focused on teaching writing that I forget to teach my students how I expect them to read. To model reading like a writer I used an introductory paragraph from my own writing. In reading this paragraph, I asked students first to try discerning what they believed my purpose for writing was, and who was my audience. I stressed to them that it was ok to make assumptions. After discussing their thoughts, I asked they read and question why I used certain words and wrote my introduction the way that I did. I told them to be honest with their feedback and that according to Bunn, all writing can be improved. So mine could also be improved.

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3 thoughts on “Reading like a Writer

  1. Tim, excellent post. In Middle School, I find it is so important to model every assignment I give to my students. For example, when we tackle structured writing such as a basic academic essay (like the dreaded “5-paragraph essay” – AUGH!), I also show them a few that I’ve written, deconstructed and color-coded. I walk through the introduction, the thesis statement, the topic paragraphs with examples, the transition words… Expecting them to write academically without this process would be a ridiculous assumption on my part. Once they see the essay deconstructed, they were able to comfortably attack an essay on their own, with some confidence. Having them question word choice was something I had not thought of, but I definitely see the value. I will be adding this to my arsenal with my next essay assignment!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This feels like a very honest look at the intersection between reading and writing, and how quickly that gets shoved under the rug when people are teaching one or the other. I particularly like that you’ve used examples in your own writing to explain how this might work for anyone interested in implementing more techniques like this.

    Like

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