Building Writers, Not Scribes

Reading & Writing: A Reciprocal Process

Reading and writing are interconnected processes that are woven together like a spider web. Research shows as students read more, their writing improves, and vice versa. This idea is critical when it comes to building upon the strengths of students during writing instruction. Each and every day, my goal is to INSPIRE writers to take what they are already doing ever so well, and help them exponentially GROW!

As educators, we expect our students to read a text using all of his or her monitoring strategies, and then answer comprehension questions about the text. We simply do not ask the child to just read a story and then move on to another task. It is almost our second nature as teachers to begin asking the child questions to see if he or she made meaning of the text.

Build Writers, Not Scribes

If reading and writing are interconnected, then we should treat writing instruction just as we do reading instruction. I have seen far too many times where educators help a struggling writer by writing the paper for the student, and then have the student copy it onto a "clean" sheet of paper in his or her handwriting. I dislike being the bearer of bad new, but folks, This is NOT writing instruction. All one has done is built a scribe that will simply copy the written piece onto another paper. We, as educators, need to build WRITERS. It is our goal to enhance a writer's ability by building upon his or her strengths. In every piece a student writes, there is something teachers can use to instruct the student to go above and beyond. It takes the keen eye of a responsive educator to find just what the student needs to help him or her grow.


For example, I once had a student that wrote a personal narrative piece about a trip to the zoo. A teacher looked at the piece of writing proudly hanging in the hall and said, "Oh my! This student's handwriting is AWFUL! Look! There are no periods! Is this one of your low writers?" Immediately, I bit my tongue because the words that wanted to come out of my mouth would not have been "school appropriate." The teacher who made this elementary observation of my student's writing did not have ANY background on the child. The teacher was simply making a judgment without giving the child any credit.

Now, let me tell you the TRUTH about this profoundly written piece. The student wrote with thoroughly descriptive elaborations about going to the zoo. If one were to read the writing, it was as if you were there experiencing the same thing the writer did! To quote a line, the writer wrote, "I saw the monkeys jumping around in their cage. I was so close to them it was as if our noses could touch and I could feel their soft fur tickle my nostrils." PAUSE: Yes, you just read that from a second grade student who was thought to be one of my "low" writers.
As educators, we are so eager to dive right in and fix what is incorrect with our students, but sometimes we forget to take a step back and build upon what is already there. The writer in this example truly has the eloquence of writing with a beautiful craft and elaboration. The punctuation and organization of the piece of writing will come in time. I, for one, will be building on the descriptiveness and asking this particular writer to share more experiences of his/her life.

BUILD writers through CREATIVITY and CHOICE

I truly believe in order to improve one's writing, he or she must write more. Now, I know this sounds quite simple, but in fact, it's true. The more you allow your students to write, whether it is a specific prompt or a free-write, they will show evidence of improvement in their writing. In reading, teachers ask their students to read for at least 20 minutes every day. Do we ask the same in writing? If reading and writing are interconnected, then why aren't we asking our students to also write for 20 minutes every day? In some classrooms, like my own, I know students are writing for more than 20 minutes, but this is not always the case in the world of education.

I am strongly passionate about allowing my students to have free-choice in their writing. Every Friday, I started something called Free-Write FriYAY's. This is a time during our writing block where the students can write about whatever they want. At the end of the day, I collect their writing pieces in their Free-Write FriYAY folders (yes- the students get to color it, oh my, with markers, so it's even more exciting!) and take them home over the weekend. I personally respond to each free-write with a comment, personal connection, or question. On Monday morning, the students burst through the classroom door and immediately open their folders to read the response I've written. As an educator, this is one of the best feelings! I love seeing bright smiles on the faces of my students when it comes to reading and writing. Our goal as educators is to get the students EXCITED about learning by allowing creativity and choice!

Today is YOUR day

In the wise words of Dr. Seuss, "You're off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so... get on your way!" The students are your mountains. You are their hope and inspiration to move them along as readers and writers. What's stopping you? Why wait? Today is your day!  BUILD those mountains by strengthening areas that need improvement. Allow those beautiful little mountains to be EXPRESSIVE and CREATIVE when writing. Encourage FREE-CHOICE and always allow your students to SHARE. If we want to continue to build a future of readers and writers, we must instill the ART and PASSION of reading and writing. 


  1. Thank you, Carter, for your enthusiastic support of your students as thinkers on paper! I especially appreciate your reminding us that we should be teaching our students not to become neat scribes but to become willing writers who welcome an audience.

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  3. Thanks for sharing this!, it is so obvious how passionate you are for providing students with choices and encouraging creativity in learning. I really like how you focus on looking at the writing and finding the strength and then using it to help the students push forward, promoting their choices and getting them excited for learning too

  4. What a GREAT post! Thanks for sharing your insights!~ Especially love the writing part... I teach 5th grade and always need motivation to get students to write... We are using Lucy Caukins, and it's helping. Our district just adopted it though, so my 5th graders missed out on so many lessons in previous years. Thank you again for blogging!

  5. Great post! As an author who visits a great many schools each year, I see a wide variety of writing teaching and student writers. With no curriculum to use in most districts, it seems that teachers often have to "figure it out" on their own. That's a tall order, so posts like this are tremendously helpful!

  6. This post has many reminders of what we should be doing as Language Arts teachers. Using the Lucy Calkins Units has really helped us at school for many years, our students have time to read and write daily. I quite like the idea of the Free write- Fri-Yays, too. Thanks

    1. Juliette, As a visitor in many schools, I cannot tell you how many times I have been impressed with student writing and upon asking, learn that they are using Lucy C.'s "curriculum." The results are pronounced!

  7. As I have continued to think about this post, it also occurs to me that when we ask our kids to read for 20 minutes/night, it is without critique of their reading. I wonder if kids need the same for their writing. Writing for practice, but not critiqued/graded/edited. It could still be used to inform the teacher of where the "growth tips" are, of course, but without any "risk" (from the child's point of view) of judgement. Not sure--just a thought.

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  9. Carol Jago wrote that teachers ought to be writing instructors not copy editors. An important distinction and one you seem to agree with. Fine post.

  10. I enjoyed reading your perspective. Thank you for sharing.


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