The Reading-Writing and Writing-Reading Connections: Two Ways To Get There
Experiences, Reflections, and Insights, geared to grades 3 to 6 for struggling, reluctant, and average readers/learners, is an original education project that develops mind, self, and imagination. One key step to learning about any world is to know our selves first. Education's foundation lies in its acknowledgement of an internal world as the source for studying basic Common Core subjects and their motivation.
Think of it this way: How do you learn to read or write without an understanding of the processes involved in these activities? Through my lessons reading becomes the ability to translate or change words into mind-pictures. Writing is a little more complicated because it takes the mind-pictures created by imagination, thought, feeling, and experiences and changes them into words. Right there begins the reading-writing connection. I will explain that later in the article.
As an introduction to reading and writing I deal with kids’ inside worlds. What does each child have to know about mind, self, and imagination in order to learn? What makes up this inner universe? Why is it so important to know the contents of our worlds before studying the worlds of different subjects? These are some of the questions I try to answer in my teaching.
My lessons connect with the children's inner lives. It doesn’t help when education builds test walls around creativity and motivation, two huge channels to learning and developing a passion for reading. Education's role is to open up students' worlds so they are receptive to new ideas and think outside-the-box. By becoming aware, kids begin to discover they are the masters of their fate. The motivation to learn comes mostly from within is they students intuit. From this viewpoint, motivation becomes self-motivation and education means self-education.
Ideally, I would like to think of myself as the inspiration and catalyst for my students. But I know that the kid who is initially motivated by me will eventually leave me on the outside. I disappear as the child gallops into mysteries of new worlds.
Experiences, Reflections, and Insights attempts to develop, improve, and expand children’s self-awareness, self-knowledge, and self-understanding through one year's worth of lessons in reading and writing. Their inner worlds contain life experiences and the means for illuminating, appreciating, and using them academically and in everyday life. Thoughts, ideas, feelings, fantasies, daydreams, dreams, dialogues, monologues, memories, reflections, and all the mental image pictures are the stuff of our inside worlds. Experiences become part of our selves through the pictures recorded by the mind.
Introductory Reading and Imagining Exercises
I develop their imagination in Reading-and-Imagining activities by teaching the concept that the mind changes words into pictures as you read. The kids close their eyes, visualize words in the mind, describe them orally and in writing, and then draw/sketch what they "see."
Some examples of words for this practice exercise are:
From here, I’ll build two-word sentences such as:
- Frogs hop.
- Children play.
- Birds fly.
And then I probe what they are viewing with questions:
- What are you looking at?
- What pictures do you see in your mind?
- What thoughts are triggered?
- What feelings are connected to the image?
- Can you describe the mind-picture and your experience?
- Draw/Sketch the sentence you visualized (crayons, markers, pencil, or pen).
This is further expanded using four-, six-, eight-word and then more complex sentences. Just to mix things up a bit, and for fun, I add a touch of absurdity to the activities to show kids how they can have fun in the self-amusement park of the imagination with sentences like:
- Children float.
- Trees dance.
- Ducks skip.
The last stop is the paragraph, using real and surreal sentences. When you practice with "real" and surreal sentences and paragraphs, it gives children a glimpse of what the processes of the imagination can do with words. They really get to see and experience the pictures words can create in the mind.
Words-as-mind-pictures reveal an inside world, an imagination, a mind creating pictures, and an inner eye observing the images on an imaginary TV screen in the mind. They also learn about the silent inner reading voice, and an imaginary inner ear, that reads and hears the words inside their heads: "Who or what is reading the sentences? Who is listening to what is being read silently?
Children soon appreciate the skill/art of visualization, not to mention concentration, reflection, and even contemplation, the motivational processes needed to inspire a passion for reading, writing, and living. The prerequisite fundamental skills for learning and learning how to learn are the tools for comprehension and enjoyment in these and other academic subjects, as well as daily life. This is the basis of my teaching and the beginning of the reading-writing connection.
When children realize the impact of words printed on the page, the pictures, feelings, thoughts, and experiences conjured up, they become enthusiastic about their own writing. They want to use these "beautiful" words to express themselves, their worlds and lives, because the primary motivation comes from within, is organically created: call it self-motivation.
It’s funny, but initially in primary grades, we teach words (reading) via pictures. Children translate pictures into words. The pictures, of course, are on the outside. However, as the student goes to the upper elementary grades, from picture to chapter books, they are not given enough practice in reversing the process in their mind and imagination, that is, to change words into images. In many classrooms, visualization lessons are given minimal instruction or are non-existent. Kids don’t always get beyond the lavish motivation of beautiful pictures created by amazing artists. Students don’t realize, because of their maturity, they must now make up beautiful pictures inside their heads and push their imaginations: imagine, yeah, imagine…yes, that’s right, you got it…
The Contemplation Music Writing Project: The Counting and Music Techniques
The curriculum continues with Contemplation Music Writing, an original, organic, and authentic form of journal writing. I introduce contemplation with this definition: “Looking carefully at your experiences and mental image pictures recorded in the mind.” The definition is a framework for the writing exercises to come.
Contemplation Music Writing lessons begin with the “Counting Technique”:
“Fold your hands on your desk and silently count backwards from fifty to one by ones. Take your time and don’t rush. When you finish, write whatever just happened inside your head.”
Kids learn to see inside. Instead of changing words into mind-pictures (as in reading), they are changing experiences/memories/pictures by putting them into words (writing). Funny things start happening: all sorts of images and “side journeys” occur in-between the numbers as they count backwards from fifty in this hypnotic, but eye-opening activity.
After students count backwards, I discuss their experiences through my questions (keep in mind that this is an inquiry technique), for example:
- What happened inside while you were counting backwards?
- Were you able to keep concentrating on the numbers? Why or why not?
- If you lost your concentration, how did you get it back?
- Did anyone experience something besides the numbers? Describe it.
- Why do you think you had these "side-journeys" while counting?
- What were you feeling throughout the activity?
- Did any thoughts come up? Describe them.
- Did you find it easy or hard to keep focusing on the numbers? Why?
After practicing the Counting Technique for four sessions, I change the format. I drop the counting and add ten minutes of music with the following instructions:
“Sit back and relax. Put your heads gently down on the desks, close your eyes, and enjoy the music. When it’s over, write whatever you experienced inside yourself.”
I begin discussing the writing or contemplations once everyone becomes familiar with the art of contemplation: “relaxing, listening to, and experiencing your self.”
As the contemplation periods accumulate, students will show increased self-awareness. They learn to appreciate the contemplation process and the music as it soothes them into their worlds and journeys of self-discovery. Experiencing one’s self is an important prerequisite for learning in my teaching world. If children are aware of the mind’s and imagination’s ability to observe, record, visualize, re-create, and create images, they have established a background for getting into the underlying worlds of reading and writing.
Here is where the prior Reading and Imagining lessons connect with the writing process: through the inner eye, imaginary inner ear, imaginary TV screen, and now, instead of an inner reading voice silently reading words from a page, you have an inner writing voice silently saying the words coming from students' inner experiences, which eventually become the Contemplation Music Writings.
Through the reading lessons, kids familiarize themselves with visualization, reflection, concentration, and contemplation. When they start the writing lessons, they are still employing the same processes.
Using the writing technique, kids can motivate reading life because the contemplated real life and imagined experiences create a greater passion to read. When students see how their inner worlds are connected to reality organically, they gain a new perspective on reading, how it can affect their lives, and make it more meaningful. The sequence starts with reading and links to the writing process, and from the latter, kids can return to reading with more enthusiasm and inner-sight. This is the writing-reading connection.
Perhaps my concepts might seem scary for some educators, especially if you rely so heavily on the students’ responses to develop the lessons: you never know what you’re going to get. Their answers make up the discussions following each Contemplation Music Writing period. I could be pinching some nerves, for students and teachers alike, which would be better off if left alone. I want their personalities and identities to emerge during the contemplation writing process of changing experiences into narratives of their lives. You really have to tap their inner resources and worlds if you want to achieve this ambitious, idealistic, long-range goal.
Through music, from classical to popular, kids encounter themselves and experience the feelings and sensations associated with their worlds. They see what brings them up and down and learn to create a positive attitude towards contemplation, reflection, and self-expression. It’s true that the contemplations may conjure up some negativity, conflicts, and problems, but it is the experience of contemplation and then, in turn, expressing it, with a background of music, that provides the release of emotions and thoughts. During the contemplation periods the kids learn to change destructive feelings and thoughts into more constructive and positive ones. The results of the "Student Contemplation Questionnaires” repeatedly indicated their awareness of feelings and thoughts and how, through contemplation, they were able to get into it and get it out, the motto of the one- or potentially multi-year project.
When fifty contemplations are completed, and the children stop describing superficial experiences such as super heroes, movies, TV shows, and video games, I use an activity to integrate what they learned into their everyday and academic lives and to make sense out of their experiences. I also want increased awareness and insight into themselves and their real lives. This part of Experiences, Reflections, and Insights, called “Sight-Ins,” uses quotations to add structure and organize the many events described in their contemplations.
Quotations are selected according to the overall contents of the written and oral responses (from discussions) as well as the processes involved during the contemplation periods. The following quotes are examples:
- “Know thyself.”
- “My eyes make pictures when they are shut.”
- “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
- “A penny for your thought.”
- “I think, therefore I am.”
- “Knowledge is power.”
Get into the quotations. Feel the energy of combined experiences concentrated in a single quote. Many ideas from their experiences can be discovered in the sayings. Each quotation yields a plethora of questions, which leaves students thinking about, searching for, and probing different responses, without fear of right and wrong. Explain to kids that: "This is not a test."
One saying in particular explains about the importance of asking questions to trigger more questions, a key to an inquiry technique and being a strong discussion leader when talking about the quotations with students: “No man becomes a fool until he stops asking questions.” Many ideas kept going around in my mind: “Questions, questions, questions…how important they are and the way they can influence and change our worlds…” All sorts of questions, both real and surreal, jumpstarted my thinking:
- Where do all our feelings go?
- What happens to thoughts in the mind?
- How do you create mind-pictures?
- How do you fly a kite with no string?
- What happens to all your good feelings?
- How do you float?
- Do you feel invisible at times?
- Where is your life, on the inside or outside or both?
- What is perfect peace?
- What would it be like if you lived in the sky?
- Does your imagination or inner space ever end?
And the last question: What did you experience as you read the article-post?
Check out the following published and unpublished articles on "Reading and Imagining, "Contemplation Writing, and its practical application, as well as my book motivating adolescents to read:
- “The Creative Imagination and Its Impact on 21st Century Literacies" (2013 New Jersey English Journal)
- Experiences, Reflections, and Insights” (Impact II Grant from NYCDOE)
- “Contemplation Writing” (Teachers & Writers Magazine)
- “’Contemplation’ strikes emotional chords with kids” (New York Teacher)
- “Take Note of a Great Way to Use Music” (“Short Takes” in New York Teacher)
- “Here and Now: Nine Meditative Writing Ideas (Teachers & Writers Magazine)
- “Reflection Writing” (application of Contemplation Writing, unpublished article)
- “Making Life a Matter of Meter” by David Bornstein (New York Newsday)
- “Reading and Imagining”: Project outline with sample reading/writing activities
- Motivating Teen and Preteen Readers: How Teachers and Parents Can Lead the Way (Rowman & Littlefield Education, August 2011)
The above articles can be obtained upon written request to the author at his gmail address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Many examples of student writing/contemplations, themes from their writings, and original lessons will be found in the various pieces.
The above magazine and newspaper articles, along with Internet radio show interviews on the different projects, can also be found at the author's website: www.JeffreyPflaum.com.