In elementary schools, writing instruction is often segmented from reading instruction, despite research showing that the two disciplines are closely connected, and an intentional focus on writing instruction pays off in the form of improved academic performance in reading and other subjects.
But in Sumner County, Tenn., district leaders have intentionally embedded writing instruction in the English curriculum to help the youngest learners make strides in reading comprehension.
The district was highlighted for its work in a recent Education Week special report that examined how writing instruction intersects with the science of reading.
In a live event with Education Week, curriculum leaders in Sumner County explained how the 29,000-student district has overhauled its curriculum to more explicitly embed writing instruction.
Sumner County’s work began in 2019, after district leaders noticed students’ reading scores on standardized tests were lagging. The new English/language arts curriculum incorporates writing as a main focus of students’ lessons. Rather than focusing on memoirs and personal essays, students are asked to write about what they’re learning in the classroom.
Scott Langford, Sumner County’s chief academic officer, and Frankie Skinner, the district’s supervisor of federal programs, said the transition took time and required patience from teachers and students, but the results have been worth what Langford called a “productive struggle.”
Yes, students’ reading comprehension and test scores are improving, but so is their self-confidence because they are better able to engage with and understand the world around them.
“The self-esteem boost kids get out of that is a big deal, too, because they’re not just getting used to talking about what they see or how things make them feel but they’re grounding that in knowledge that they’ve acquired, so their confidence grows by leaps and bounds,” Langford said.