Writing and Reading Relationships

Writing and reading have long been considered to be related activities. Along with listening and speaking, they have been treated by educators as essential components of the English language arts “pie,” at least since the National Conference on Research in English Charter in 1932 (Petty, 1983). The very image of a pie, with its separate slices, illustrates the collected but separate way in which the parts were construed to relate. However, a large and extremely influential body of research from a constructivist perspective (Anderson, Spiro & Montague, 1977; Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1982; Hayes & Flower, 1980; Spiro, Bruce & Brewer, 1980) indicates that reading and writing development are characterized by gradually more sophisticated rule-governed representations, and that the learner is an active problem-solver who is influenced by background knowledge, text, and context. A concomitant and eventually equally influential body of work, primarily from a sociolinguistic, sociocultural, and sociohistorical perspective (Chafe, 1970; Cook-Gumperz & Gumperz, 1981; Halliday, 1975; Heath, 1983; Scribner & Cole, 1981; Stubbs, 1980; Vygotsky, 1978, 1986) permitted consideration of ways in which life’s experiences as well as the uses and functions of writing and reading affect not only the acts of writing and reading, but how they relate.

As early as the 1960s, during the period of extensive interdisciplinary research into language and thought spearheaded by the Center for Cognitive Studies at Harvard (e.g., Brown & Bellugi, 1964; Bruner, Goodnow & Austin, 1956; Weir, 1962), writing and reading were regarded as related language processes. Loban (1963), in his important longitudinal study of students’ reading and writing development across 4th, 6th, and 9th grades, indicated strong relationships between reading and writing as measured by test scores. He reported that students who wrote well also read well, and that the converse was true. Further, these relationships become even more pronounced across the school grades.

In 1983, Stotsky published a review of correlational and experimental studies that investigated reading and writing relationships. Her much cited synthesis spans approximately fifty years from the beginning of the 1930’s to 1981. Correlational studies to that time showed that “better writers tend to be better readers (of their own writing as well as of other reading material), that better writers tend to read more than poorer writers, and that better readers tend to produce more syntactically mature writing than poorer readers” (p. 636). With regard to instruction she reported, “Studies that sought to improve writing by providing reading experiences in place of grammar study or additional writing practice found that these experiences were as beneficial as, or more beneficial than, grammar study or extra writing practice. Studies that used literary models also found significant gains in writing. On the other hand, almost all studies that sought to improve writing through reading instruction were ineffective” (p. 636). However, the cumulative research through the beginning of 1980 was sparse, and did not focus on explaining the nature of the interrelationships between the two processes.

A number of scholars contributed toward a growing conception of reading and writing relationships by focusing on students’ engagement in the tasks, describing how from the early years, children use signs and symbols (both those in their environment and those they invent) to gain and convey meaning, even as they are first acquiring the conventionally accepted codes (Bissex, 1980; Clay, 1975; Read, 1971). Wittrock (1983) considered the generative nature of both domains; De Ford (1981) noted the supporting and interactive nature of the processes as they occur in primary classrooms; and Goodman and Goodman (1983) described relationships between the two based upon the pragmatic functions of each. Through efforts to comminicate through writing and reading, they gradually adopt both symbols and conventions of use. Eckhoff (1983) found that the second grade students she studied tended to imitate the style and structure of the basals used for reading instruction, which affected the organizational structures and linguistic complexity of the students’ writing. Chall & Jacobs (1983) conducted a study of writing and reading development among poor children, based on NAEP-like test scores. Although reading and writing scores in grades 2 and 3 were good, they noted a deceleration in proficiency gains beginning in grades 4 and 5 and continuing through grade 7. Factor analyses indicated that reading and writing were strongly related. Together, this work suggested that the two domains do have an impact upon one another, with implications for enhancing learning. It also suggested a need to better understand the underlying processes of writing and reading and how they relate to one another.

Writing and Reading Processes: Similarities and Differences

Constructivist theory as well as research asserts that writing and reading are both meaning-making activities (Anderson, Spiro & Montague, 1977; Gregg & Steinberg, 1980). hen people write and read, meaning is continually in a state of becoming. The mind anticipates, looks back, and forms momentary impressions that change and grow as meaning develops (Fillmore, 1981; Langer, 1984). Language, syntax, and structure are all at play as texts-in-the-head and texts-on-paper develop. Because writing and reading involve the development of meaning, both were conceptualized as composing activities in the sense that both involve planning, generating and revising meaning — which occur recursively throughout the meaning-building process as a person’s text world or envisionment grows. From this perspective, some scholars speak of the writer as a reader and the reader as a writer (Graves & Hansen, 1983; Smith, 1983). According to Smith (1983) reading like a writer allows one to actually become a writer. When reading like a writer, in addition to making meaning of the text, the reader takes in and learns from the author’s style, use of conventions and the like. When reading like a writer, the reader uses the author’s text as a model for texts that he or she reader will eventually write.

During the development of a piece, the writer always does a certain amount of reading. And, further, writers often try to place themselves in the shoes of their audience, the readers, in order to check the comprehensibility of their presentation from the reader’s perspective. In a similar manner, the reader has also been considered a writer in that the reader’s mind races ahead to anticipate (and thus create) not only the message, but also the structure and presentational style of a piece; words are thought of as well as ideas, in ways in which they might appear (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1982; Flower & Hayes, 1980). Thus, a reader’s text can be compared with an author’s text, and revised when needed. This sense of writing as reading provides a sense of personal engagement to the reading experience. Readers also sometimes place themselves in the shoes of the author in order to gain a personal or cultural perspective that enriches their own responses or interpretation (Purves, 1993)

Tierney & Pearson (1983) argued that both readers and writers compose meaning. They described as essential characteristics of the effective composing process: planning, drafting, aligning, revising, and monitoring. Further, they saw “these acts of composing as involving continuous, recurring, and recursive transactions among readers and writers, their respective inner selves, and their perceptions of each other’s goals and desires” (p. 578). They distinguished their conception from earlier notions of reading and writing relationships in a number of ways including treating the two domains as multi-modal processes and considering the inner as well as social selves of the writer and reader. Tierney (1985), in a later description of this model, suggests that purpose also plays a role, “Both reading and writing are tools in accordance with the purposes they serve; they cannot be extracted from context” (p. 115).

Both domains were also considered similar composing activities in that writers and readers use similar kinds of knowledge (Aulls, 1985; Flood & Lapp,1987; Kucer, 1987) in the act of making their meanings: knowledge about language, knowledge about content, knowledge about genre conventions, knowledge about organization and structure, knowledge of pragmatics (in this case about the appropriate use of other kinds of knowledge in relation to the activity — the author’s purpose for having written the piece, or their own purposes for having taken up that act of writing or reading), and knowledge about interaction (especially between reader and author). Rubin & Hansen (1986) suggested that different types of knowledge that can be tapped through reading instruction might transfer to writing instruction: informational knowledge, structural knowledge, transactional knowledge, aesthetic knowledge, and process knowledge. Flower (1988) adds knowledge of purpose. She asks how writers come by their sense of purpose; how (or whether) readers are affected by the rhetorical structure woven by writers; and how individual purposes interact with context and convention in the creation and interpretation of a text. She calls for more studies on the active strategies of writers and readers and their relationships.

Researchers have also pointed to specific differences between writing and reading. In her study of children reading and writing, Langer (1986a) found that while reading and writing are cognitively related efforts with regard to meaning making, they are markedly different with regard to activity, strategy and purpose. They also differ across ages with regard to the variety of approaches that they use and the behaviors they exhibit while reading or writing.

Langer (1986a), developed a procedure for analyzing the knowledge sources, reasoning operations, monitoring behaviors and specific strategies used during the course of meaning construction before, during and after reading and writing, for a study of 3rd, 6th and 9th graders’ reading and writing of stories and reports. She found that although the same reasoning behaviors are called upon when reading and writing for meaning, the patterns of each category showed differences between writing and reading. Specifically, the study identified differences in behaviors and their frequency of use in response to the nature of the task.

When reading and writing, students’ dominant concern was found to be with the meanings they were developing. There are stable and consistent approaches to envisionment building that emerged, as evidenced in the students’ focus on ideas, content, product, and refinement of meaning. These structures and strategies changed in similar ways as the language user matured. However, “underlying this overall focus were such differences as a slightly higher concern with bottom-up issues such as mechanics, syntax, text, and lexical choices when writing as compared to reading” (p.94). Also, when students wrote they were more aware of and concerned with the strategies they used to get at meaning. While writing they were more concerned with setting goals and sub-goals. When reading, on the other hand, they focused more on content and validation of the text-worlds they were developing.

Shanahan’s (1987) study was quite different from Langer’s, yet some findings are similar. He used four reading measures and eight writing measures to study the magnitude and nature of the reading and writing relationship, and to estimate the amount of overlap that exists between the components of writing and reading used in his study of 2nd and 5th grade students’ writing and reading. His findings suggest that the “idea that reading and writing are identical in terms of underlying knowledge, does not appear to be true” (p. 98). Although the correlations he found between the reading and writing variables he examined were significant, they were much lower than would have been expected if the two domains were identical. Shanahan concludes that, “In fact, the correlations are low enough that it would be unwise to expect automatic improvements to derive from the combination of reading and writing or from the replacement of one with the other” (p. 98).

Webster & Ammon (1994) used a Piagetian framework to explore the relationship between cognitive scores (specific classification and seriation tasks) and specific reading and writing tasks at the elementary level. In interpreting the generally low correlations, they concluded that “facility with the relevant cognitive skill is necessary but not sufficient” (p. 101) for a high level of performance in writing and reading. Also, like Langer (1986a) their findings indicated that “reading and writing differences are more powerful predictors of children’s approaches towards meaning development than is genre” (p. 104).

Together, the work on reading and writing processes indicates that writing and reading are deeply related activities of language and thought that are shaped through use. The structures and strategies that writers and readers use to organize, remember, and present their ideas are generally the same in writing and reading. However, the structure of the message and the strategies used to formulate and organize it are driven by purpose and therefore different.
taken from: http://www.albany.edu

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