Sunday, April 10, 2011

Why Doesn’t Their Writing Match Their Reading?

      For years I’ve wondered why my gifted students writing skills don’t seem to match their reading skills.  I know that part of it is the fact that their fine motor skills are still developing.  But there seems to be more involved.  To a student, their reading skills are at least a grade level above their chronological age.  This doesn’t apply to their writing skills, which are usually either on grade level, or below.  Of course, there are a few exceptions, but on the whole this has been what I’ve noticed. 
       Everyone is struggling with standardized testing.  And gifted kids don’t always do well with the testing.  Either they overthink it, they just haven’t bought into it, or they have test anxiety due to their perfectionism.  My district is asking why, because our gifted kids don’t always make “AYP,” or Adequate Yearly Progress.  The district feels that we don’t have enough Gifted kids making the top score, “Advanced,” in reading and writing.  Even though my students are great readers, the test has them write out their thinking about reading, and the writing part holds them back.  (Our kids do get lots of Advanced scores in math, for whatever reason). 
       I’ve always played down the test, thinking that it was better they not get anxious about it.  (I still feel this is true).  But there has been more pressure than ever this year to have my students do well.   So I tried some new strategies with my 3rd graders, who have to take the test in the spring.  I had them keep a reading notebook all year.  They had to respond almost daily to what they were reading – sometimes with a prompt, sometimes with whatever they were thinking.  My students did a good job with this, and even if it didn’t help their test scores, I think they got a lot out of it.  Another strategy I really stressed was good handwriting on the test, because “strangers” won’t try to read your messy handwriting, they’ll just give you a low score.  Wow, did that backfire.  My students really took what I said to heart.  And because they were being so careful, several of them didn’t finish the test.  We won’t know their scores until Fall, but I’m pretty sure they won’t be advanced.  AAAAK!  I was frustrated. But when I thought about it, I also had to smile at how endearingly industrious they were.  They worked hard the whole time they were testing, and I can’t find any fault with that!
       I had my “AHA” moment when I was skimming some information about gifted kids.  (Forgive me, I can’t remember exactly where and what I was reading).  It mentioned something about writing and asynchronous development.  Oh my goodness, I could not believe I hadn’t thought of that before!
       I first heard the term asynchronous development when I was taking a graduate course for my gifted endorsement.  It’s such a cool term, and I could connect it right away with my own children, especially my son.  When he was 4 he loved Legos, but couldn’t make what he was envisioning, because of his fine motor skills.  This was very frustrating for him.  And so I’ve always equated it more with things outside of school, as well as social development.  Sometimes I have tunnel vision.  But of course asynchronous development would have a bearing on my student’s writing!  I suppose to the district it will sound like an excuse.  But it’s got me to thinking.  I want to work on this some more, to see if there is a way to help them catch up to themselves.  Interestingly, I’ve also had a student who loved to write, but was below grade level in reading.  Her writing was sometimes difficult to read, because of the spelling, but she knew what it said, and she was very prolific.  By the end of that year she had gained two grade levels in reading, but not in spelling.  I’m confident that will catch up with her too.   
       Asynchronous development!  Yes!  Not an excuse, but certainly a place to begin! 


  1. Interesting! I would have to say that I don't think this phenomenon is limited to gifted students. I think this would apply to many, if not most students - gifted or not. I see it all the time in my students.

  2. Yes Jill, food for thought. Definitely fine motor development is an issue with lots of kids! Thanks for the comment!

  3. Well, actually I was talking about all of your points - perfectionism, spelling, etc. - not only fine motor issues. I think my kids have all of those issues, too.

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  5. From what I understand about gifted learners - well, ALL learners - the books they read are written at a much "higher" level than anything they can write. This would seem to be consistent with your idea. However, why wouldn't this exposure to higher level literature nudge their writing ahead? Also, why is it usually writing that they're behind in? Do you think it has something to do with creativity? Reading and math (the way they're tested) requires almost no creativity. They really don't need to produce anything. Not so when it comes to writing ... Even if it's not a "creative writing" prompt - producing a written piece is an extremely complex and creative process.

  6. Yes, Lisa, we always wonder why that exposure to higher levels in reading doesn't always cross over into writing. I think we have to work on stamina - I've noticed they start out pretty strong, but then it dribbles away to less than I would expect by the time they're done. And no, I don't agree that they aren't creative. I think they just would rather tell it than write it!