RCOstaff@rcowen.com 914-232-3903 or 800-262-0787

Professional Books: Caught in the Spell of Writing and Reading

Caught in the Spell of Writing and Reading: Grade 3 and Beyond

by Margaret E. Mooney and Terrell A. Young

2006 pb 224 pages
Item #550
ISBN 978-1-57274-749-4

Based on their classroom and leadership experiences, seven experienced educators from the united States, New Zealand, and Australia share new perspectives on what it means to write and read “to, with, for, and by” students in the intermediate and middle school realm.

The authors’ practical insights and effective techniques for assessing and instructing bring clarity to what it means to engage, inspire and instruct writers an readers today’s and tomorrow’s classrooms.

“Caught in the Spell of Writing and Reading: Grade 3 and Beyond explores and expands Margaret Mooney’s concepts of reading and writing to, with, and by children. The book offers a constructive, child-centered framework and extensive practical examples of learner-centered instruction beyond Grade 3. Specific instructional strategies and uses of fiction and nonfiction literature are plentiful. Informed by the national and international experiences of the authors (including with English language learners) and by research on literacy instruction, this book provides theory, structure, and practical specifics. It is destined to be widely read, and used, by teachers.
—Peter H. Johnston, Professor of Education, University at Albany–SUNY

“The fact that writing and reading are so completely linked came up time and again in this practical book. I also appreciate the focus on and clear examples for intentional teaching, planning, assessing, and evaluating. In my work with teachers, one of the biggest understandings is that all of our instruction has to be intentional. It’s great that the various contributors focus on this concept. I definitely recommend Caught in the Spell of Writing and Reading to teachers as well as to literacy coaches.”
—Kevin Shrum, Middle and High School Literacy Coach, Bellingham, Washington

About the Authors

Author Bio: Margaret E. Mooney’s teaching, writing, and publishing career began in New Zealand, but for the past several years she has been dividing her time between New Zealand and the United States, especially the state of Washington.

She encourages teachers to view all children as worthy, not needy, emphasizing education as a process of enhancement and not one of compensation. She promotes guided reading as an instructional approach in which children practice, apply, and extend skills and strategies in order to understand text on the first reading. Margaret has written the Books for Young Learners Teacher Resource, Text Forms and Features: A Resource for Intentional Teaching, Reading To, With, and By Children, and Developing Life- long Readers.

In 1998, Queen Elizabeth II appointed Margaret as an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to education, particularly the teaching of reading.

More Books by the Author

  • Caught in the Spell of Writing and Reading: Grade 3 and Beyond Text for Intentional
  • Teaching Text Forms and Features: A Resource for Intentional Teaching
  • Developing Life-long Readers
  • Reading To, With, and BY Children

Terrell A. Young is a professor of Children’s Literature at Brigham Young University in Provo Utah, where teaches a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses in children’s literature and reading. Terry taught elementary school for twelve years in Wyoming, Utah, and Venezuela.

He is the past president of both the Washington Organization for Reading Development and the IRA Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group and the current president of the NCTE Children’s Literature Assembly. He co-authored the books Literature-Based Instruction with English Language Learners, K-12 (Allyn & Bacon, 2002) and What Every Teacher Should Know about English Language Learners (Allyn & Bacon, 2004), edited Happily Ever After: Sharing Folk Literature with Elementary and Middle School Students (IRA, 2004), and co-edited Supporting the Literacy Development of English Learners: Increasing Success in All Classrooms (IRA, 2006).

He is blessed to be married to a wonderful elementary music teacher and to have four terrific kids to remind him of his imperfections.


This book presents the concepts of “to, with, and by” (Mooney 1990) as approaches to teaching from both the reader’s and writer’s perspectives. It also emphasizes the importance of making the links between reading and writing through intentional instruction across all approaches in the middle and upper grades. This was our intent and challenge as we invited colleagues to contribute chapters to this book. Authors were encouraged to maintain their own writing style, share their experiences, and present their understandings of the practices or approaches to the teaching of reading and writing. Editorial considerations were respectful of the different voices, accepting that this may cause readers to change their reading style and pace as they begin a new chapter. However, it is hoped that readers will enjoy the range of dialogues they can create as they interact with the authors.

While this publication comprises several voices and perspectives, it endeavors to show the interdependence of the approaches and the inextricable links among the various language modes, but especially those between reading and writing. Although each chapter deals with a different approach, and separate chapters focus on reading and on writing, this is purely an organizational strategy to bring a particular section to the fore for detailed discussion. Understanding the intent of each approach and its nature, benefits, and practicalities needs to be considered in the context of the whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Although four key approaches are addressed in this book, it is acknowledged that other approaches, such as literature circles or reciprocal teaching, make major contributions to a student’s development. The labels “to or by, shared, guided, and independent” are umbrella terms and include some of the specific practices promoted through these specific determinants. The chart in Figure 1 underpins all chapters within the book. It is suggested that readers use this as a reference when commencing a new chapter or when reflecting on the place of any approach within those key to a comprehensive literacy program. The introductory page for each part of this book also provides a quick reminder of the approach in relation to the other three.

The layout of the chart is intentional and reflects relatively recent changes in my understandings about the teacher’s role. My earlier diagrams or explanations differentiating among the approaches usually listed the teaching approach in the left-hand column as the starting point and dominant feature. The emphasis in this book is that all instruction, practice, application, and much of the assessment should begin with and remain centered on the learner. The intent and nature of the approach and of the resources must be manipulated to enhance the learner and learning, not the learner or the learning manipulated to “fit” the approach or the resource. The teacher is the stage manager, ensuring that carefully selected resources are presented in a manner that encourages and nurtures learning. So while each chapter focuses on a particular approach, readers are urged to be mindful that very few, if any, lessons will be exclusive to any one approach. Each student’s commitment to (and success in) learning will require the teacher to “change gears” and for one approach to slip to another. What began as shared reading may become a guided session for the remainder of the lesson as the students show themselves able to overcome most of the challenges of the reading. In the same way, it is likely that a guided writing lesson will include some independent writing, when each student applies and extends some recently acquired strategies and skills. However, in most cases the amount and nature of the changing support within any one lesson will not cross more than one approach unless the resource or task proves too be far too difficult or offers insufficient challenge or opportunity for extension.

The use of learner-centered words in the first column, “self-awareness,” “self-correcting,” “self-assessing,” and “self-improving,” keeps the focus on the expected outcomes for the learner. These words also reflect the sequence of effective learning when what is known through instruction, practice, and application becomes the focus for assessment and the springboard for meeting new challenges. The inclusion of the word “self ” is also an important reminder that learning itself is not a gift that we can give students or one that students can receive from anyone else. The gift they can be given is being shown how to learn. Being shown how to learn does not ensure that learning takes place. Each student must actively and thoughtfully engage in the learning. The transition from being shown the product of the learning through to being provided with opportunities to practice and take ownership of the learning underpins the intent of the approaches and of this book.

While reading to and writing for students are supportive approaches with a more knowledgeable other taking the lead by modeling or demonstrating strategies, especially thinking patterns, the learner’s role is not one of passive reception. The second column summarizes some of the thinking that effective learning requires as the learner assumes responsibility for exploring and overcoming challenges and becoming comfortable with the new knowledge, understandings, and skills through to being able to apply them in a range of contexts.

The amount and nature of support from the teacher, instructor, or coach changes as the learner assumes responsibility. The third column shows that the learner increases commitment and participates more actively in the learning. The supportive, instructive role gradually changes into one of guidance and then one of reflection as opportunities for increased or new challenges are planned.

The role of the more knowledgeable other as described in the fourth column includes constantly watching for moments when the learner teeters between knowing and not knowing and then knowing at a deeper level or in new areas. Wavering between the known and unknown can cause the learner some discomfort, but the effective teacher is continually watching and listening, ever-ready to provide just enough support and guidance to nudge the student into the unknown without fear of failure or frustration.

The labeling of the approaches provides a quick reference or “shorthand” code. However, it also has the potential to gloss over the importance of ensuring that the student‘s learning leaves a residue of knowledge, understandings, and skills worthy of the effort expended. Every lesson should include some challenge, for without the “rub” of the unknown, no learning can take place. Ascribing labels to the approaches has led to the creation of definitive definitions of the approaches or sets of exclusive procedures. These can cause teachers to become rigid in their implementation of any one of the approaches. In such cases, the procedures assume more importance than the fundamental premise of this book–the effectiveness of any approach is the degree to which it supports continuous and successful learning and application within and by each student.

The successful selection and adaptation of any instructional approach is dependent on the teacher’s understanding of each student’s competencies and interests as well as experiences contributing to the learner’s perception of him- or herself as a reader or writer. Most students moving into intermediate grades are competent in strategies for basic decoding, comprehension, and composition strategies. However, the greater range of texts, especially those in the more specific content areas, and the expectations of speedier reading and writing of longer and more complex texts present new challenges in all areas of reading and writing development.

Readers who have made steady progress in the early stages come to Grade 3 with an understanding of their role as meaning makers and with an acceptance that their meaning may differ from that of other readers. They understand how the essential rhythm of predicting and confirming and, where necessary, selfcorrecting enables comprehension to the point of being able to restate what they have read in their own words. Re-reading to increase fluent reading with sufficient pace and expression to maintain a meaningful dialogue with the author will be well established. Their knowledge and use of a wide range of sound and letter patterns, common affixes, and the main word functions will bring sufficient confidence for reading unfamiliar grade level texts to complete assignments as well as texts composed for pleasure. Students working at third grade understand the relationships among their topic, form, audience, and purpose when planning, drafting, and revising their writing. However, as with all strategies and skills mentioned in this section, further development through intentional planned instruction is necessary.

These skills and strategies form a foundation that needs to be nurtured and extended through the same passionate and focused planning, instruction, practice, and assessment that supported the earlier learning experiences.

Challenges in the increasing range of texts and higher expectations in exploring and understanding the reader’s and the writer’s role include the following:

  •  Understanding the purpose and features of a range of writing forms in order to pursue interests and successfully research and record ideas and information in all curriculum areas 
  • Integrating decoding and encoding strategies to the point of automaticity in order to attend to deeper levels of understanding than those previously accessed or recorded 
  • Considering topics, themes, or issues from more than one perspective in order to engage in a more critical dialogue with the author or to provoke the same within the reader 
  • Exploring and evaluating techniques that capture and sustain a reader’s attention 
  • Maintaining focus when working with several texts, including longer and more complex works in a variety of subjects and styles 
  • Evaluating the credibility and worth of what has been read or written.


In order to develop competencies to match the increasing demands of reading and writing in the middle and upper grades, some adjustments need to be made to the instruction that was probably delivered in earlier grades. Despite the usual trend to shorten the time devoted to reading and writing instruction in upper grades, more time is actually needed for a session using any one of the approaches. This may mean that fewer groups can meet during a day or only one or two approaches included in any reading and writing lesson. However, it needs to be emphasized that the strategies from any approach are applicable to instruction in all other curriculum areas. “Every classroom teacher has the direct responsibility for developing those reading skills and abilities essential for adequate comprehension within his particular area of instruction, as well as for applying to his content field and make functional those skills and abilities being developed by teachers in other areas of instruction” (Artley 1944, 464).

By the time students reach third grade, and progressively thereafter, those feeling discouraged, confused, or overwhelmed by reading and/or writing or by the expectations put upon them will have developed avoidance tactics. They may become “passengers” within class or group situations, finding excuses to absent themselves from group or one-on-one settings. Engagement from every student in every lesson should be a critical consideration when selecting the approach for any lesson. Some students will have learned how to be the dominant voice in a discussion, justifying their opinions in more detail than necessary, constantly interrupting or ignoring the views of their peers. The role of being a respectful and active group member needs to be included in each of the approaches. This instruction should include ways of eliciting, exploring, and responding to the opinions, concerns, feelings, and experiences of every group member.

Other changes necessary to the way the approaches are planned and implemented at the earlier levels include the selection of resources. Texts used in each of the approaches need to reflect the burgeoning number of topics covered as students progress through the grades and the increasing challenges in writing style, vocabulary, layout, length, form, graphics, concepts, and expected outcomes. Students should not be expected to write in genres or to use techniques that have not been modeled, demonstrated, explained, and practiced in supported and guided lessons. Material used in each of the approaches should reflect that which the students are expected to read and/or write by and for themselves. This means, for instance, that textbooks, including those from content areas, need to be used in read to and write for and shared reading and writing sessions as well as during guided and independent activities.

Whatever approach is selected as the starting point or focus of a lesson, the instruction should reflect the following:

  • Attainable targets and clear success criteria, understood by the learner
  • Formative and summative assessment, identifying achievements and setting new targets 
  • Evidence-based practices: explicit modeling, demonstrating, and explaining followed by supervised and supported practice and application and then independent application and extension
  • Material that supports the targets and has relevance for the learners
  • A coordinated sequence of skills and strategies, congruent with state and district requirements 
  • Sufficient duration to enable learning to occur without frustration 
  • Settings (including small groups) that encourage full and continuous participation from each student
  • Flexibility of pace and grouping to allow for differentiated instruction. This book seeks to help teachers reflect on their understandings of and practices in developing readers and writers. We do not claim expert status or exclusivity in any way. We are sharing our current understandings in a learning journey that continues to explore new vistas.

Table of Contents

Margaret E. Mooney

PA RT 1  Casting the Spell

C H A P T E R 1
Reading to Students
Terrell A. Young

C H A P T E R 2
Writing for and with Students
Margaret E. Mooney


PA RT 2 Sharing the Magic

C H A P T E R 3
Shared Reading
Brenda Parkes

C H A P T E R 4
Shared Writing
Jerry Miller


PA RT 3 Keeping the Magic Alive

C H A P T E R 5
Guiding Readers to Independence
Erin Lucich

C H A P T E R 6
Guiding Writers to Independence
Margaret E. Mooney


PA RT 4 Caught in the Spell

C H A P T E R 7
Independent Reading
Marsha Riddle Buly

C H A P T E R 8
Independent Writing
Mary Ann Whitfield

Weaving the Magic Together: Threads of Student Success and Engagement
Terrell A. Young

References–Professional Materials
References–Children’s Books