Katherine Ali is a dual-certified elementary and special education teacher. She recently graduated as a literacy specialist with a Masters in Science from Manhattanville College. She has experience teaching internationally in northern China and now teaches in the Bronx, NY.
There is a natural interplay of reading, writing, speaking and listening in the modern day elementary classroom. Morning meetings, read-alouds, and group projects foster an integrated model of literacy with a special focus on speaking and listening. Appendix A of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) states that “oral language development precedes and is the foundation for written language development; in other words, oral language is primary and written language builds on it.”
After students have begun reading and writing, speaking and listening still have an integral place in the classroom – so much that the CCSS set specific standards for speaking and listening to promote a balanced approach to literacy: “The speaking and listening standards require students to develop a range of broadly useful oral communication and interpersonal skills…students must learn to work together, express and listen carefully to ideas, and integrate information.” The speaking and listening standards expect students to participate in “rich, structured conversations” in which they are building on the ideas of others and speaking in complete sentences. Teachers need to create models and routines for deliberate and intentional dialogue that builds bridges to the students’ reading and writing. In that way, students have the opportunity to also recognize the organic intertwining of these modes of receptive and expressive language.
The Mangrove Tree: Planting Trees to Feed Families by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore – an informational and free verse text describing the impact of mangrove trees on an African country’s ecosystem – is a perfect mentor text to demonstrate the possibilities for integrating reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
One example is to begin with an interactive read-aloud of the verse and prose passages, in which students are listening to the story and speaking to one another about the characters and events. When students are determining the main ideas and supporting details of a text read aloud, they are also drawing upon their reading comprehension skills.
Afterwards, students can record the verse, speaking clearly at an understandable pace. In small groups, students can work collaboratively to make important decisions on how to read the beautiful poem including the building verse:
These are the seedlings
That grew into trees,
That were planted by the sea.
Children are simultaneously reading the text, speaking fluently, and listening to the author’s words, noticing the nuances and rhythms of the verse. Then, the teacher can facilitate a discussion in which students engage in a “rich, structured conversation,” zooming in on the craft and purpose of the verse.
The story’s factual afterward lends itself to a short student research project, aligning to writing standard 7. As the students read the information they can complete a graphic organizer to enhance their reading comprehension. Then, they can write an explanatory passage about the impact of mangrove trees or the reason why Dr. Sato named the project The Manzanar Project. Students could also write an opinion piece about the mangrove trees with supporting details from the text or search for additional information from a variety of resources (here’s a list of facts about mangrove trees).
Using information from the story and its afterward cultivates students’ reading skills, while sharing their writing with their classmates develops their speaking skills. Other students should be listening closely to each student’s presentation of their writing. Furthermore, the students should then speak about the presentations, analyzing the speaker’s decisions as a writer and reader.
Why strive to create these constant moments of fusion? Because “as students advance through the grades and master the standards in reading, writing, speaking, listening and language, they are able to exhibit with increasing fullness and regularity these capacities of the literate individual” (CCSS). Selecting high quality books such as The Mangrove Tree provides teachers and students with countless opportunities to exercise the integration of oral and written language.