Eight Habits for Reading and Writing Success


Those of us who have been in the classroom for a long time have noticed a marked fall-off in the reading and writing habits of our students. There is a lot of fake reading occurring, and the number of non-readers is on the rise. Writing skills have declined, and students today rarely take ownership of their writing. How do I come to these conclusions? Beyond my own thirty-plus years in the classroom, I have spoken to large groups of teachers from all fifty states—and in other countries—and wherever I go, I ask them the same question: “How many of you share my concern about our students’ lack of reading and writing fluency?” And wherever I go, teachers answer in almost unanimous agreement. Teachers know that their students are not reading and writing as much, or as well, as they should be.

The Age of Distraction

The reasons behind the drop off in reading and writing are well-documented. We live in an age of “distraction addiction,” where technology competes for our students’ attention (Terkle). Many students are addicted to their smartphones, and these addictions are physiologically rewiring the brain in ways that favor instant gratification rather than valuing the long-term pleasures that derive from extensive reading and writing (Wolf). Wolf has documented that children who stop reading for pleasure often suffer from “word poverty,” and the effects are devastating: by age five children suffering from word poverty have heard 32 million less words than their counterparts. Words, as we know, are weapons and tools, and non-readers never develop the vocabularies foundational to living literate lives.

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Eight Habits of Mind

Given these concerns, what should drive our planning and instruction for young readers and writers? Ultimately, students should develop the reading and writing habits needed for success outside of school: either in college and/or in work. We know all of our students will not attend college, but it is our responsibility to prepare all students for the reading and writing expectations at the postsecondary level should they decide to attend later in life. What kind of student is ready to meet these demands? That’s the question The Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing sought to answer. Developed jointly by the Council of College Writing Program Administrators, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the National Writing Project (2011), the document describes, among other things, eight habits of mind that are critical for future success.

  • Curiosity — The desire to know more about the world.
  • Openness — The willingness to consider new ways of being and thinking in the world.
  • Engagement — A sense of investment and involvement in learning.
  • Creativity — The ability to use novel approaches for generating, investigating, and representing ideas.
  • Persistence — The ability to sustain interest in and attention to short- and long-term projects.
  • Responsibility — The ability to take ownership of one’s actions and understand the consequences of those actions for oneself and others.
  • Flexibility — The ability to adapt to situations, expectations, or demands.
  • Metacognition — The ability to reflect on one’s own thinking as well as on the individual and cultural processes used to structure knowledge.

In order to achieve these essential habits of mind, students must be practicing extensive reading and writing. This means that educators should consider the following four key elements:

  • Increase the volume of their reading and writing.
  • Build choice into the curriculum.
  • Model the skills employed by excellent readers and writers.
  • Provide meaningful and timely feedback while students are acquiring these skills.

If educators can weave these key elements into learning instruction, they can help students develop the important habits for approaching learning, leading them closer to success in school and beyond.

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NOTE: Key ideas and sections are taken from myPerspectives author and veteran teacher Kelly Gallagher’s white paper found here.

About the Author: Kelly Gallagher, M.Ed. is a former secondary English/Language Arts teacher with over 30 years of classroom experience. He is further known for his work with districts across the country in service to literacy education, which led him to leadership roles with California State University, Long Beach, and the International Literacy Association. He is an author for Savvas Learning Company’s myPerspectives® and iLit™.

Note: Fresh Ideas for Teaching blog contributors have been compensated for sharing personal teaching experiences on our blog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.


About the Author

Kelly Gallagher

Literacy Author