Do approaches which teach reading and writing together improve children’s writing?

It is often recommended that reading and writing should be taught together. And whilst studies have shown that reading instruction alone can raise writing attainment (Graham et al, 2017), and instruction specific to the teaching of writing can consequently raise reading progress (Graham & Hebert, 2011), no real studies have been done on integrated programmes or schemes. 

Graham et al’s (2018) meta-analysis therefore tested this proposition by examining approaches which combine the teaching of reading with writing. It’s important to note that the study looked at approaches used with preschool all the way through to high school students.

As an aside, and I’m sure it won’t come as much of a surprise, the studies which did look at the teaching of reading and writing in isolation showed the following to be highly effective:

  • Allowing children to write about the texts they’ve chosen to read significantly enhances their comprehension of it.
  • The more children are given an opportunity to write the more their reading comprehension improves.
  • Giving children ample time to read enhances the quality of their writing
  • It is possible to successfully teach reading and writing together.
  • When reading and writing are taught together, it does improve children’s reading performance regardless of age.
  • Explicit reading comprehension instruction followed by an opportunity for children to read volitionally and write in response to their reading through a writing workshop type approach improves children’s writing and reading.

These findings were based on integrated literacy schemes like the sexily called ‘Cooperative Integrated Reading and Composition Program’ (Durukan 2011). This approach is seen as highly effective, particularly if children are allowed to read, discuss and collaborate on their writing ideas together through a writing-workshop type approach.

Other conclusions

  • Teaching reading and writing together in other subjects improves children’s writing.
  • Using a ‘literature based’ approach to teaching writing does improve children’s writing in the older years.

It’s important to point out that these last two findings are attributed more to secondary school children than primary. The study concludes that younger children do not benefit as much from these approaches as older ones. There were two studies  used by Graham et al (2018) which particularly supported the literature based approach. One of these looked at the use of literature in teaching science and writing (Morrow et al 1997) whilst the other looked at a collaborative family literacy scheme called the ‘Writing And Reading Appreciation Program’ completed between home and school (Morrow & Young, 1997). Whilst both these studies are interesting in their own right, they are very different to what is traditionally seen as a ‘literature based’ approach and so you have to question the labelling of these approaches as ‘literature based’.

For your interest, the ‘Writing And Reading Appreciation Program’ (WRAP) approach involved families: reading to and with their child; storytelling family experiences, books read and original stories together; writing together in writing-notebooks; rewriting stories read and told; collecting special vocabulary used within the home or community; completing reading/writing activities set within in a school magazine and parents coming into school to take part in school based WRAP time.

Food for thought

The study concludes that approaches that teaching reading and writing together can improve children’s reading and writing outcomes and that it is possible for reading and writing to be learnt together profitably if the approach has a true balance between reading and writing instruction.

A point made by the study is the troubling lack of research that examines approaches which combine reading and writing teaching – particularly in the primary years. There is also a call for more studies to be done on reading/writing teaching in the foundation subjects and on ‘literature based’ teaching as, at present, there is a sparse amount of research evidence or testing to support these approaches.

Graham et al (2018) also cautions that many  so-called ‘integrated’ programmes/schemes are not in fact providing a balance between reading and writing instruction, with many favouring reading instruction over writing.

For example, I recently heard a talk from a popular UK provider of ‘integrated’ approaches. The session explaining the programme lasted 55 minutes – only 10 minutes was dedicated to discussion about how the programme would help teach writing – 45 minutes was allocated to discussion about the teaching of reading. Maybe this is a metaphor for the programme itself?

There probably needs to be more focus on ensuring that integrated reading/writing approaches do in fact ensure a balance between reading and writing instruction and don’t inadvertently favour reading over the teaching of writing which Cremin et al (2014) says can often be the case. When this happens, writing attainment suffers.

In addition, these integrated programmes can often lead to writing tasks being assigned to class texts which are far more interested in checking children’s reading comprehension and retention of the ‘content knowledge’ of the book/other reading as opposed to actually teaching them about the craft of writing and being a writer. The writing undertaken in these programmes can therefore too often be in keeping with ‘literary critique.’ Additionally, children can only write as well as their knowledge of the book will allow. Is it right that children should regularly have to rely on their ability to retain information about a book that’s being studied when learning to write? Teachers and programme makers themselves can too easily believe that the tasks they assigned to texts are in fact going to teach children about writing and being writers when actually they do not.

Finally, the study simply looked to ascertain whether reading/writing can be taught successfully together and is not advocating that they indeed be integrated. The study repeatedly points out that reading and writing are very different to one another.

For example, there is a robust and consistent body of research which indicates that writing, at least, is most effectively taught when it is focused on solely (Graham & Perin 2007; Graham & Sandmel 2011; McQuitty 2014).

I would be interested to hear other people’s thoughts on the subject. Please leave your comments below.

References:

  • Graham, S., Xinghua, L., Aitken, A., Ng, C., Bartlett, B., Harris, K., Holzapfel, J., (2018)  Effectiveness of Literacy Programs Balancing Reading and Writing Instruction: A Meta-Analysis In Reading Research Quarterly, v53 n3 p279-304
  • Graham, S., & Hebert, M. (2011). Writing to read: A meta-analysis of the impact of writing and writing instruction on reading In Harvard Educational Review, 81(4), 710–744.
  • Graham, S., Liu, X., Bartlett, B., Ng, C., Harris, K.R., Aitken, A., Talukdar, J. (2017). Reading for writing: A meta-analysis of the impact of reading and reading instruction on writing. Manuscript submitted for publication.
  • Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007). Writing next: Effective strategies to improve writing of adolescents in middle and high schools. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.
  • Graham, S., & Sandmel, K. (2011). The process writing approach: A meta-analysis In The Journal of Educational Research, 104(6), 396–407
  • Durukan, E. (2011). Effects of Cooperative Integrated Reading and Composition (CIRC) technique on reading-writing skills. In Educational Research and Reviews, 6(1), 102–109
  • Morrow, L.M., Pressley, M., Smith, J.K., & Smith, M. (1997). The effect of a literature-based program integrated into literacy and science instruction with children from diverse backgrounds. In Reading Research Quarterly, 32(1)
  • Morrow, L.M., & Young, J. (1997). A collaborative family literacy program: The effects on children’s motivation and literacy achievement. In Early Child Development and Care, 127(1), 13–25.
  • McQuitty, V., (2014) Process-Oriented Writing Instruction in Elementary Classrooms: Evidence of Effective Practices from the Research Literature In Writing & Pedagogy 6(3) 467–495
  • Cremin, T., Mottram, M., Collins, FM., Powell, S., Safford, R., (2014) Building communities of engaged readers: reading for pleasure London: Routledge
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