Reading to Learn and Writing to Teach: Literacy Strategies for Online Writing Instruction
by Beth L. Hewett, 2015

Part Two: Reading to Learn

A clear pattern guided this part of the book—each of these eight reading skills (pitched as ways to help teachers make stronger student readers) started with a definition of what the skill is and why it’s important. Then, it indicated how specifically it can help with writing and how educators can teach it in an online setting. Finally, each section concluded with an exercise exemplifying how the skill could be taught. While much of each exercise was written for instructors, there were parts that could be used directly with students. Because part two is one of the clearest and most helpful parts of the book, I’m simply going to provide a brief overview of each chapter/skill and the exercise it describes.

Metacognition: While this section could be supported by any number of sources about the importance of metacognition (e.g., Yancey, Robertson, & Taczak; Perkins & Salomon; Donahue), Hewett kept it brief, defining metacognition as "thinking about our thinking or awareness of our thoughts" (p. 106), discussing real versus fake reading, and giving examples from her own experience of drifting off while reading if not conscious of her mental state. She claimed metacognitive reading helps writing by increasing awareness, application, comprehension, research abilities, and peer review abilities and provides a number of ideas for teaching online, including using sentence stems (she gives ten examples, such as "I'm thinking_____"). The exercise involved a directed annotation of a reading in a six-step process, which includes developing a personal annotation style and recognizing available tools.

Schema are "our unique memories, opinions, and background, as well as the extant conceptual knowledge we bring to our learning and our lives in general" (p. 116), which affect the way each of us read a text. Hewett doubtlessly put this chapter after metacognition, since it involves helping students become aware of how their history and personalities affect their literacy. The exercise "Connecting Your World and The Reading Life" also overlapped with the visualizing skill, since it involved drawing a spider chart or another visual representation of their learning schema.

Interference is "a skill that relies a lot on educated guessing," our schema, and, "hopefully, lots of good reading" (p. 123). This skill tapped inferential thinking that’s more focused on conceptual knowledge than content knowledge, which helps students read for subtle shades of meaning in online settings while encouraging the intentional use of evidence in their writing, among other things. The exercise "Using Textual Aids in Reading," required students to interpret a text that has had the textual signals (e.g., titles, headings, paragraphing) removed.

Questioning relates to inquiry-driven research and writing and is based on the premise that encouraging student inquisitiveness will also help them be more interested and more invested in getting answers: "Sadly, education has beaten the curiosity out of a lot of students, who seem to see their coursework as something to be endured" (p. 131). As might be anticipated, the exercise "Asking Questions" asked students to think of questions about the teacher's writing history and relied on "questioning thinking stems," such as "I wonder_______" and "It confuses me _______" (p. 134).

Relevance was the skill of differentiating important information in a text. The basic idea was that there is simply too much information in texts: "If we read for everything, we get bogged down in the unimportant. If we read for nothing, we get little value from the reading" (p. 137). The exercise, "Skim Reading for Relevance," asked students to become metacognitively aware of saccades, fixations, and regressions as they skim a pre-selected article for main ideas. This exercise came with two variations: using an article you've annotated and finding the relevance in the instructions themselves rather than actually doing them.

Visualizing enlisted the visual and sensory parts of our brains to help make sense of reading. While most students will be more familiar with this concept from reading fiction, similar approaches can be made to students' academic texts. The exercise, "Using a Cloze Procedure to Evoke Images" required students to visualize what words might fit in blanks of a pre-selected passage that has had a fraction of the words removed. Students could recall sensory memories more consciously as they wrote reflectively about what they've read.

Analyzing drew on the situation model described in part one to help students take apart a text to develop conceptual knowledge: "Analysis is a more advanced reading skill, and it rightly should take its place alongside writing analytically in a college-level writing course" (p. 155). As such, Hewett's treatment in the four pages before the exercise couldn't capture the nuance and potential for this skill in any full way. The exercise, "Analyzing with Organizational Maps" drew both on visualization and synthesis skills as students represented relationships between ideas by using different kinds of conceptual maps.

Synthesizing was related to analysis in that it is a more complicated skill. Where analysis is breaking down information, synthesis is putting the information back together. Hewett argued that students who are unable to synthesize what they read will be unable to synthesize what they write (p. 162). The exercise, "Synthesis and Summary—Different Skills," required students to differentiate between summary and synthesis with a specific article excerpt.

Back to Part One: OWI and Literacy Needs Continue to Part Three: Writing to Teach