'Code'name: Literature

Updated: Feb 28

When I'm not training, presenting, coaching, writing, podcasting, blogging, and parenting, I'm teaching English and Language Arts. Since this is my 24th year, it's far from my initial rodeo. With this in mind, I can state with all sincerity that reading is the most important academic skill. Granted, learning in all its facets is something to be cherished, whether it's learning the quadratic formula or how to properly flip an omelette; learning something new strengthens the brain and that's a good thing!

Honestly, if people want to see children excel in an ever-changing world, beyond eliminating poverty, I have a much easier solution. Get a book in every child’s hand and then:

*read it with them

*encourage the child to read on their own

*continue this process with more and more books

Recently, I've been making creations which combine not only reading and writing, but another much needed skill these days: a basic knowledge of coding. Now, before you scratch your head and ponder "Why would he combine coding and literature?", just stick with me.

Research has demonstrated that the human brain does much better in the long term if it is exposed to activities such as brain teasers, logical puzzles and thinking. In fact, research has shown some of the benefits regarding such activities:

•   Boosts brain activity

•   Provides emotional satisfaction and sense of accomplishment

•   Enhances memory and processing speed

•   Helps slow the decline and reduce the risk for dementia

•   Improves concentration

The human brain is no different than any other muscle in the human body. If an individual wants developed bicep muscles, they need to do arm curls with weights (i.e. an arm workout). Henceforth, if one wants to develop and maintain a healthy brain, it too must be allowed to exercise, which is the foundation of my combining literature and coding.

In essence, when writing code, I see it as writing a story for the computer to read and understand. Words, numbers, symbols, punctuation, etc. all need to be utilized properly for the computer to understand your story (code). This isn't any different from students writing a standard paper for their teacher. They need to blend words, sentences, paragraphs, punctuation, etc. properly for the writing to make sense.

So, let's look at my newest "out there" idea. The novel is a work of realistic fiction titled Code of Honor by Alan Gratz, which my students have enjoyed reading. However, instead of a standard literature/writing unit, I focused on combining elements of the novel with coding basics.

To begin, I introduced Java script to my students and kept it nice and simple.

Java is a programming language designed to build secure, powerful applications that run across multiple operating systems, including Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows.

Then I let the students know that we are only going to learn the three data types within Java language: int, boolean, and char.

Step 1: Read assigned chapters (1 - 9)

Step 2: Introduce coding concept (int)

Step 3: Int assignment for Chapters 1 - 9

Step 4: Turn in your work

Keep in mind that we continue this process throughout the novel's culmination. Some more examples are shown below:

For my formative assessments after each reading, I've had the students focus on single and multiline comments within Java.

As the novel continues, my students will be introduced to the basics of Ruby and Python as well. Some key ideas they will work with include:

-data types



-print command


-multiline string

-error readings

In the end, I'm simply teaching my students another way to communicate in a clear and concise manner. The only difference is that they are communicating to a computer. Honestly, they find it a bit refreshing. By this point, they've written many paragraphs and essays in school. Now they get to enjoy a learning new method of communication, all while continuing to take part in life's most important academic skill: Reading!

To read more on this concept, check out Chapter 28: Fun Isn't a Four-Letter Word, in my book, Teach4Endurance: Surviving the Swim, Bike, and Run in Today's Classroom.