Center on English Learning & Achievement
Writing and Reading Relationships: Constructive Tasks
Judith A. Langer and Sheila Flihan
* This excerpt is a chapter in Writing: Research/Theory/Practice, Roselmina Indrisano and James R. Squire, Eds., Newark, DE: International Reading Association, 2000.
Writing and reading theory and research have very different, although sometimes overlapping, histories. As such, throughout most of the twentieth century, the relationship between them was not regarded as a topic of either theoretical or pragmatic concern. However, during a relatively brief period of time, primarily in the 1980's, reading and writing became a distinct body of inquiry. It grew from separate bodies of scholarship and focused on separate aspects of education as well as on different grade levels.
This small but intense body of scholarship and research into the interrelationships between writing and reading also focused on ways in which those relationships might affect learning, and inform instruction. It was initially motivated and shaped by extensive research on cognitive processes in the separate fields of writing and reading, primarily from a constructivist perspective. Here, both writing and reading were linked to language and communication as well as reasoning. A concomitant wave of research into the social dimensions of writing and reading, with an eye to their actual functions and uses, moved the target of theory and research toward contextualized practice within real life and real school situations. As a result, one route of scholarship began to examine literacy or, rather, literate acts as they serve social and communicative uses, with a concomitant shift in the focus of inquiry away from writing and reading relationships, and toward the ways in which they function in the contexts of life, both in and outside the classroom.
As the object of inquiry became more contextualized, similarities and differences in the writing and reading processes and the ways in which reading and writing develop, affect each other, and relate to learning and schooling became less focal. They did not, however, become less important. We will review these changes and close the chapter with a call for a renewed although somewhat changed research focus on the uses of reading and writing and the ways in which reading and writing interact in relation to the contexts and social relations in which they are embedded. Informed by past as well as current knowledge from the perspectives of sociocognitive, sociohistorical, and critical theory as well as psychology, linguistics, anthropology and English, this renewed focus will examine ways in which reading and writing function in the development and communication of ideas and understandings in the social, private, and internal worlds of people and groups.
A Brief History of Writing and Reading Research
Until the 1970's writing and reading were not conceptualized as being integrated. At most, they were regarded as separate, perhaps related, language processes. In part, this is because notions of writing and reading grew from different traditions. Taking an historical look back, one sees a conceptual and disciplinary schism between scholarship in writing and reading. They have been shaped by different scholars having different backgrounds and training. Writing, as an academic subject, is deeply rooted in classic Aristotelian rhetoric. Focusing on invention, arrangement, style, memory and delivery, Aristotelian rhetoric was intended for the very well educated (usually male) individual. It "dominated course work in American colleges during the 18th century and was modeled after the curriculum already taught in English universities" (Langer & Allington, 1992, p. 688). By the 1800s the work of Campbell (1963 ) and Blair's (1965 ) belles-lettres view of rhetoric became widespread in the United States, "bringing appreciation of the art of writing into the commonplace tradition" (Langer & Allington, 1992, p. 688). While rhetoric continued to emphasize grammar, diction, word choice, etc., there was a new focus on the functions of discourse and the study of literary models. Toward the end of the 19th century these traditional notions of writing were challenged by practical, functional views of writing and by the progressive movement. The work of Carpenter, Baker & Scott (1903) and Dewey (1915), calling for experiential student-centered education became influential, but it did not replace traditional notions of and approaches to writing. Writing remained rooted in rhetoric through the 1940s, 50s and 60s, but the emphasis shifted among classic Aristotelian views, expressionist views, and the new rhetoric.
Interest in writing processes grew in the 1970's and 80's. Work in the fields of language and cognition (Anderson & Bower, 1973; Chafe, 1970; Chomsky, 1965; Fillmore, 1968; 1, 1970; Rumelhart, 1975; Schank & Ableson, 1977; Searle, 1969; Tulving, 1972; Winograd, 1972) led to a research emphasis on the relationships among writing processes, the learner and the text (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1982; Emig, 1971; Flower & Hayes, 1980; Hillocks, 1972). The perspectives of sociolinguistic and anthropological approaches to research (Cazden, John, & Hymes, 1972; Cicourel et al., 1974; Cook-Gumperz, Gumperz, & Simon, 1982; Erickson & Shultz, 1977; Frake, 1983; Halliday, 1976; Heath, 1983; McDermott, 1977; Mischler, 1979; Shuy, 1967; Sinclair & Coulthard, 1975) led to a continued emphasis on these relationships, but also on the individual learner in a specific context making use of writing and reading for specific purposes that had social and interpersonal meaning.
The early history of reading follows a different course. "Tradition in reading curriculum relied on British notions of primary instruction (for method), on religion (for content), and by the later 1800's on scientific experiments (for theory)" (Langer & Allington, 1992, p. 694). Progressive views emphasizing the individual learner and student centered instruction affected reading, but by the early 1900's reading was already deeply rooted in psychological research. In fact, "the combined effects of the expanding scientific research base and the application of management principles to the organization of schools seemed to overwhelm the influence of the progressive reading educators" (Langer & Allington, 1992, p. 695).
Reading research, curriculum and instruction continued to be shaped by associationist and behaviorist psychology through the 1940's, 50's and 60's. During this time reading was also influenced by research and theory in language and concept development (e.g., Bloom, 1971; Bruner, 1960, 1966; Inhelder & Piaget, 1958), linguistics (e.g., Bloomfield, 1942; Fries, 1963), and psycholinguistics (e.g. Goodman, 1967; Smith 1971). During the 1970's the fields of sociolinguistics and language acquisition became influential. Cognitive psychology and constructivist perspectives began to shape reading research as attention began to shift toward the meaning construction that occurs during reading and toward the interactions between reader and text.
Due to their different beginnings, research traditionally approached writing and reading as distinct areas of exploration. The 1980's marked a change in focus. Research began to examine the relationships between writing and reading as cognitive and social processes. Throughout the last decade, research has maintained its interest in writing and reading as separate but interdependent and interrelated acts, while interest in literacy, has grown steadily.
Distinctions are now made between "literacy as the act of writing and reading and literacy as a way of thinking and speaking (Langer 1987). Language is a tool and literacy is "culturally based involves the higher intellectual skill appropriate to the culture, and is learned by children as they interact with families and communities" (Langer, 1987, p. 2). Langer’s sociocognitive view of literacy is fully compatible with the distinction Collins (1995) makes between "a universalist or autonomous literacy, seen as a general, uniform set of techniques and uses of language, with identifiable stages and clear consequences for culture and cognition, and relativist or situated literacies, seen as diverse, historically and culturally variable practices with texts" (Collins, 1995, p. 75-76). In light of these expanded views, literacy research has a broader scope. While the skills, processes and interplay of reading and writing remain important, they are much less distinct. Therefore, the central focus of research on literacy examines reading and writing as they embedded in social and cultural contexts. Influenced by the field of anthropology and the methods of ethnographic research, literacy studies now explore how, when and where reading and writing are used, by whom and for what purposes.
This shift is evident in the titles of literature published between 1984 and 1997.
The titles of reports and books published by National Council of Teachers of English, International Reading Association and nine major journals in the fields of education, reading and English were searched using descriptors such as "reading and writing," "writing and reading," and "literacy." This search yielded 164 titles. Seventy-three percent of these titles contain the word literacy. Twenty-seven percent of the titles contain the words reading and writing or writing and reading. Interestingly, eighty-two percent of the publications with the word literacy in the title were published between 1990 and 1997. Only eighteen percent were published between 1984 and 1989. Publications with the words reading and writing or writing and reading in the title seem more evenly distributed, with forty-three percent being published between 1984 and 1989 and fifty-seven percent being published between 1990 and 1997.
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 authors style, use of conventions and the like. When reading like a writer, the reader uses the authors 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.
Writing and Reading Relationships With Regard to Instruction
Researchers and scholars interested in writing and reading connections have also considered ways in which the two, conceptualized as related composing processes, might implicate various uses of language and thought, and affect students' learning. Specifically, research began to examine how the processes of reading and writing are related in actual practice. Researchers also looked at the ways in which students' knowledge of writing and reading processes can influence and support reading and writing respectively in the classroom. They also studied the kinds of classroom contexts and instructional activities that might foster reading and writing as mutually beneficial activities.
When approached as similar, related composing processes rather than as isolated skills and behaviors, writing and reading can influence and support the development of reading, writing, and thinking (Squire, 1983). Writers incorporate what they have learned about language, structure and style from the texts they have encountered as readers. They also reflect on their knowledge of texts they have read and experiences they have had as a way of generating and synthesizing ideas for writing. In becoming familiar with and gaining experience in writing and reading texts even first graders can "develop a sense of authorship that helps them in either composing process" (Graves & Hansen, 1983, p. 182).
The experience and knowledge that is shared between reading and writing can strengthen a writer's ability to read and a reader's ability to write (Blatt & Rosen, 1987; Butler & Turbil, 1984; Rubin & Hansen, 1986; Shanahan & Lomax, 1986). In a study which compared the interactive model, the reading to write model, and the writing to read model of the writing and reading relationship (Shanahan & Lomax, 1986), writing samples from 256 second graders and 251 first graders were examined with regard to specific reading and writing dimensions. Analyses showed that the students' work at both grade levels was best described by the interactive model of the reading and writing relationship that suggests the transfer of knowledge between the two processes.
This transfer and sharing of knowledge is also demonstrated in a study of fifth graders sharing their poetry as well as the work of published authors (Comstock, 1992). Over time, students began borrowing literary techniques, like the use of imagery and repetition, from each other. They also began to look to their surroundings for ideas that might prompt them to write. Blatt & Rosen's (1987) account of a young child's ability to call on her experience as a listener and reader of fairy tales as she wrote her own also demonstrates this transfer of knowledge between writing and reading. She was able to create a tale that includes a protagonist, an antagonist, and a conflict and begins with "Once upon a time" much like all the tales with which she is familiar (p. 123).
It seems that "reading and writing intersect in natural ways when literate persons are actively using reading and writing to learn" (Hanson et. al, 1991, p. 58). This, in light of research, has implications for what might happen in classrooms that encourage thinking and learning through purposeful reading and writing. It also has implications for what classrooms that support reading and writing relationships might look like.
To begin, research tells us that successful instruction in both reading and writing can begin in the earliest grades (Butler & Turbil, 1984; Clay, 1985; Graves & Hansen, 1983; Shanahan & Lomax, 1986), and are best learned when not taught in isolation from each other (Blatt & Rosen, 1987; Butler & Turbil, 1984; Sternglass, 1987). Even though it is possible for instruction in writing to improve students' reading comprehension of informational texts (Raphael, Kirschner & Englert, 1988), to affect overall learning, instruction does best to focus on both reading and writing (Ferris & Snyder, 1986; Shanahan, 1984). Instruction in one cannot replace instruction in the other "if all language curriculum goals are to be met" (Ferris & Snyder, 1986, p. 755).
In the classroom, students do best with frequent and extended opportunities to read and write (Blatt & Rosen, 1987; Butler & Turbil, 1984; Hanson, et. al, 1991; Rubin & Hansen, 1986) and when exposed to a body of literature that represents a variety of genres, topics, and styles (Blatt & Rosen, 1987; Butler & Turbil, 1984; Comstock, 1992). Providing students with choice in what they read and write and are encouraged to read and write, and opportunities to write about topics and ideas that interest them and with which they are familiar positively affects their attitudes toward and opportunities to learn (Hanson, 1991; Rubin & Hansen, 1986).
Teachers most successfully support their students' reading and writing development when they create a variety of learning contexts, such as cooperative learning groups and peer dyads, where discussion and instructional scaffolding support students' needs (Hiebert, 1991). Within these contexts teachers help students explore their understandings by providing them with ample opportunities to consider personal responses to the texts they compose and to make links between their prior experiences and what they are reading and writing. Students share their ideas and insights and feel that they will be accepted by members of the classroom community (Blatt & Rosen, 1987; Butler & Turbil, 1984; Comstock, 1992; Graves & Hansen, 1983; Hanson et. al, 1991; Rubin & Hansen, 1986; Sternglass, 1987).
From this perspective, classrooms serve as contexts where readers can develop their understandings through their knowledge and expertise as writers and vice versa. Instruction that encourages meaning making through reading and writing is based on an understanding of reading and writing as related composing processes. In the classroom, "a failure to recognize that composing and comprehending are process-oriented thinking skills which are basically interrelated...impedes our efforts not only to teach children to read and write, but our efforts to teach them how to think" (Squire, 1983, p. 581).
Writing and Reading as Related to Thinking, Conceptualizing and Communicating Knowledge
Moving beyond an examination of the ways in which writing and reading are related is research that examines how reading and writing, as processes, are used to conceptualize and communicate thoughts and ideas. This research looks at the "synergism" (Tierney, 1992, p. 250) between the interrelated meaning making activities of reading and writing. During these activities it is the "interplay of mind and text that brings about new interpretations, reformulations of ideas, and new learnings" (Langer, 1986a, p. 2-3).
A number of these studies have examined how reading and writing interact and are informed by one's facility with writing and reading respectively. In addition to demonstrating that children's writing is heavily influenced by their reading experiences, De Ford's (1981) observations of first graders indicate that "there is a supportive, interactive relationship between the reading and writing processes. Children learn about how to become writers from reading as well as how to become readers. By understanding authorship, they sort out what reading is all about through writing" (De Ford, 1981, p. 657). A sense of authorship can lead to the development of critical literacy in which the reader/writer moves past simply understanding the content of the text or using it as a model to be imitated and begins to question, test, shape and reshape it (Flower, 1990). Greene (1992) expands on this notion of learning to become a writer through reading by introducing the metaphor of mining as a means of exploring how writers read when they have an eye toward authoring their own texts. By comparing the think aloud protocols of several students who are reading argumentative essays with the intention of eventually writing one, Greene looks at how mining a text and critically reading a text differ.
Mining is "fueled by three key strategies that can inform reading: reconstructing context, inferring or imposing structure, and seeing choices in language...[Using these strategies], a reader can begin to make informed guesses about how to use the ideas or discourse features of a given text in light of his or her goals as a writer" (Greene, 1992, p. 155). When mining, a sense of authorship guides the reader. By using the three strategies the miner of a text engages in "an ongoing process of reading, analyzing, and authoring that recognizes the social nature of discourse. Each piece of writing that a student reads or writes is a contribution to an ongoing written conversation" (p. 158). Conversely, the critical reader engages in a search for meaning by breaking down isolated texts. Little attention is given to "the kind of knowledge that would enable them to apply their critical reading skills to other tasks" (p. 159).
Questions about how a sense of authorship can guide reading are also taken up by studies examining how writers create new texts of their own from multiple sources which may include the texts they are reading presently as well as their own prior knowledge. Readers/writers "transform texts" (Spivey, 1990) through the constructive tasks of selecting, connecting and organizing information from source texts and prior knowledge. This incorporation of prior knowledge is what Stein (1990) refers to as elaboration. This cognitive process is "the principle means by which information from memory is combined with source text material in the reading process" (p. 146). Elaborations during reading create a "pool of ideas from which to draw during the writing process" (p. 147).
Whether referred to as reading to write (Flower, 1990; Stein, 1990) or composing from sources (McGinley, 1992; Spivey, 1990; Spivey & King, 1989), the readers/writers are involved in processes of reading and writing that are so integrated
that boundaries between the two processes tend to blur. When writers compose
from sources, reading and writing processes blend, making it difficult, if not
impossible, to distinguish what is being done for purposes of reading and from
what is being done for purposes of writing...we often cannot say whether a writer
performs a certain operation to make meaning of the text that is read or to make
meaning for the text that is being written (Spivey, 1990 p. 258).
Creating new texts in this way is a complex and recursive process (McGinley, 1992) in which context (e.g., task, setting, prior experience of reader/writer), ones expertise as a reader, and his or her ability to use strategies play important roles (Flower, 1990; McGinley, 1992; Stein, 1990; Spivey, 1990; Spivey & King, 1989).
Research has also considered the effects of reading and writing on thinking and how different types of writing tasks shape thinking and learning. It suggests that "reading and writing in combination are more likely to prompt critical thinking than when reading is separated from writing or when reading is combined with knowledge activation or answering questions" (Tierney et al., 1989, p. 134). Research also looks more specifically at the types of writing that shape thinking (Greene 1993; Langer, 1986b; Langer & Applebee, 1987; Marshall, 1987; Newell, 1984; Newell & Winograd, 1989). In the content areas, essay writing was found to be more beneficial than answering questions or taking notes regardless of students prior knowledge (Newell, 1984). Students involved in note-taking and responding to study questions seem to concentrate on remembering and regurgitating specific information from the text. Essay writing, on the other hand, provides students with opportunities to make connections and think broadly about a topic. These studies indicate that "the greatest variety of reasoning operations occur during essay writing, suggesting that this type of activity provides time for students to think most flexibly as they develop their ideas" (Langer & Applebee 1987, p. 100).
These findings are supported by Marshall's (1987) examination of the relationship between writing and the understanding of literature. By looking at the effects of restricted writing, personal analytic writing, and formal analytic writing, he found that restricted writing like responding to short answer questions may actually hinder students' understanding of literary texts because such tasks fail to provide students with an opportunity to explore and elaborate on possible interpretations.
Similarly, Greene (1993) studied the ways in which problem-based essays and report writing assignments shaped history students thinking as they attempted to compose from multiple sources. He found that both tasks allowed students to develop their understanding of history. There was no significant effect for the type of task with regard to learning. However, "[d]ifferent tasks of writing encouraged students not only to think about historical issues differently but also to supply different patterns of organization in writing about these issues. Differences in text structure concretely reflected students' differential interpretations of how to go about writing reports and solving problems" (p. 72).
Clearly, the focus of research has shifted. Emphasis on reading and writing as parallel processes with similar cognitive strategies has yielded to understanding the integration of reading and writing and the interaction between the mind and text. Within this body of research, process and purpose remain focal. Also, the effects of grade and ability level on reading and writing persist as areas of concern. Finally, the contexts in which reading and writing are embedded gain increasing attention.
Writing and Reading as Literacy Events
As sociolinguistic, sociocultural and anthropological perspectives became more influential, new ways of thinking, talking, and learning about literacy took hold. There was growing interest in the interactions surrounding text and the ways in which interactions between and among individuals, who they are, and why they are writing and reading influence meaning making. Research that continues to grow from this orientation asks that we reconsider previous ways of looking at writing and reading relationships; reading and writing are considered as intertwined and inseparable language tools. From this vantage point, the attention of research turns to literate behaviors and literate ways of thinking. Here, literacy means the ability to manipulate the language and thought involved when people make sense in a variety of situations; it involves ways of thinking that are learned in the many contexts of life (Langer, 1987; 1995). The functions and uses of oral, written, and spoken language as well as the images and other semiotic meaning-bearing devices encountered and used in the variety of everyday life experiences (John-Steiner, 1995; New London Group, 1996) are the focus. Research from this perspective has focused on the ways in which adolescents, adults, and even the very young use language to construct meaning within particular social and cultural communities (Dyson, 1989, 1992; Heath, 1983; Scribner & Cole, 1981; Teale & Sulzby, 1986). Within this body of research the literacy event is "a conceptual tool useful in examining within particular communities of modern society the actual forms and functions of oral and literate traditions and co-existing relationships between spoken and written language" (Heath, 1988, p. 350). Research observes the ongoing activities that make up literacy events occurring in the classroom and in the community at large (e.g., home, workplace). Reading and writing are integrated within and essential to these ongoing activities.
Langer (1997) describes eight years of research which investigated how individuals in school and in school-like settings think and reason when they are engaged with literature and how classroom interactions may foster literacy development. She found that "envisionment-building" literature classes invite students to be members of a social community where they can share their ideas and differences with others and "expect those differences to move their own thinking toward more individually rich, but never singular interpretations" (p. 10)
Her research also showed that a collaborative, broad-based literature activity such as story writing/telling provided individuals of diverse ages, linguistic and cultural backgrounds with opportunities to "become aware of and discuss language and discourse differences as well as to learn English literacy. Despite their ages, be they 2 or 42 years old, they were members of a language and literacy- rich environment where they learned to talk about and control features of language and form--where the literature that was sought and valued was their own" (p. 9).
Students in the envisionment-building classroom and those involved in the broad based activity are constantly and simultaneously involved in listening, discussing, reading and writing but reading and writing are not viewed as separate in time or in purpose. Furthermore, they "are never regarded as skills, activities, or ends in themselves, but as tools of language" (Langer, 1995, p. 140).
Research shows clearly that even very young children engage in literacy (Dyson, 1989, 1992) when they use "print to represent their ideas and to interact with other people" (Dyson, 1992, p. 4). Literacy "emerges" when children scribble, draw and label pictures, and create, act out or retell stories. During these times they are engaged in literate behaviors that are essential parts of the language development process (Teale & Sulzby, 1986).
Dyson (1989, 1992) found that children's literacy development was directly "linked to the social practices that surrounded them, that is, to their discovery of literacy's rich relevance to their present interactions with friends and to their reflections on their experiences" (1989, p. 276). Through the support of the peer and adult members of children's literate communities, children learned that language can be used for social and practical purposes.
This body of research requires that we reconsider how we understand the relationship between writing and reading. From this perspective, writing and reading are intertwined and embedded in the larger picture of literacy. It also moves us to reflect on what counts as literacy. Finally, it asks that we take a closer look at the ways in which literacy is developed and demonstrated at home, work, and school.
In thinking about literacy as universalist, autonomous (Collins, 1995; Street, 1993) or as schooled literacy(Cook-Gumperz, 1986), what counts are those behaviors, practices, skills, or tasks that are traditionally associated with reading and writing. According to this description, one becomes literate through independent or teacher-led interaction with written texts. One's level of literacy, and the resultant label of literate or illiterate, is determined through the testing and measuring of these skills. Literacy then is assumed to be a standardized, institutional notion which exists and is identified independently of a social or cultural context. Moreover, this notion of literacy is often the basis by which schools and society determine one's intellect, educability and potential contribution to and earning power in the work force.
Heath (1983) found that some children, as members of particular communities, are accustomed to and participate in literate ways of thinking and behaving that may not be incorporated into or reflected in the children's classrooms. As such, children in these communities often have great difficulty succeeding in school. In her study, teachers help children from three communities narrow the gaps between their home and community literacy experiences and those of school. Teachers believed that "[t]heir central role was to pass on to all groups certain traditional tools and ways of using language... Children had to reformulate to different degrees their home habits of handling knowledge and their ways of talking about knowledge" (p. 354-355).
In this body of work, literacy was not seen as solely cognitive interplay of separate reading and writing behaviors or practices, but rather as involving:
The studies focused on ways in which reading and writing can be used as tools to make sense of the world and to express thoughts that demonstrate and convey literate knowledge and understanding.
Where from here? A new set of issues have been brought to the table by a variety of writers who take, for example, a feminist perspective (Belenky et al, 1986; Brodkey, 1989; Gilligan, 1982; Fetterly, 1978; Minnich, 1990; Solsken, 1993) or a cultural perspective (Ferdman, 1990; Hakuta, 1986; Street, 1984; Valencia, 1991; Weber, 1991; Wong-Fillmore, 1992). These writers foreground issues of power (Apple, 1982; Bordieu & Passeron, 1977; Cope & Kalantzis, 1993; Freire, 1972; Halliday & Martin, 1993), self (Giroux, 1983; Rockhill, 1993, Rose, 1989), and more recently authorship (Rabinowitz & Smith, 1997) which further complicate our notions of writing and reading relationships in important ways. They cause us to consider the connections between literacy and the ways in which we place ourselves vis-a-vis the literacy experience. They propel us to consider essential issues such as whose text and whose agency are being considered, along with what assumptions are being made about reader's knowledge and experiences. The next logical step is for researchers to look at how readers and writers, as both individuals and members of a variety of groups, approach reading and writing as constructive tasks that are embedded in life's situations. More precisely, research needs to refocus on the ways in which reading and writing develop and influence each other while constantly being affected by the social, cultural, and political contexts in which they are enacted. This will require consideration of genres. For example, if genres are the products of socially developed conventions that foster communicability within groups of people, as the variety of groups considered to fall within the purview of the educational sphere changes to include the variety of students who populate both our schools and the world, so too will our understandings of the constructions of these genres need to change so that we might recognize, value, and teach them. So too, will we need to study the inevitable genre changes as the groups themselves change over time.
A number of school and classroom-based research agendas are called for. First, careful "teaching and learning" studies are needed of situated (Brown, Collins, & Draguid, 1989; Greeno, 1997) and activity-based , 1981) learning events from the perspectives of the diverse students and teachers who comprise the classes, the nature of the discourse groups they form, communicate within, and learn from, and the ways in which the students learn, as well as the literacy skills and knowledge they develop in these settings. Of course student learning will need to be considered in relation to the ways in which particular tasks and group dynamics affect various aspects of literacy learning, including the degree to which these are learned and how available they are for use in new situations. So too, will a careful look need to be taken at the particular skills and knowledge students learn in these situations, the additional kinds of support that might be needed based on students' knowledge and needs, and how these can be coherently linked in ways that are most supportive of students' growing literacy abilities. Teaching and learning studies will also need to focus on particular ways in which diversity can be used to advantage in diverse classrooms, as a way to help all students gain from the experiences of others and use what they already know in new literacy learning.
Another set of studies will need to focus on the curriculum. First, the curriculum will need to be studied in terms of what it includes and excludes in skills as well as content, and ways in which they are linked. The tools of learning and uses of literacy have been rapidly changing in our present-day society, calling us to revisit the guidelines meant to structure and provide coherence to student coursework. Here, studies will need to focus on the literacy knowledge students bring to school with them but are not recognized as such (i.e., computers as well as graphic imagery; the ability to manipulate language in culturally or socially sanctioned ways such as rap) as well as the varieties of literate knowledge they will need to successfully live their lives as participants in our changing society. Research also needs to focus on what gets read, when, and how. While issues of the canon tend to become politicized, an orchestrated body of research needs to focus not only on what works are to be included and what others will be optional, but also the ways in which particular combinations of texts can be used to stimulate more complex thinking as well as higher literacy (Applebee, 1996). Finally, studies of the curriculum will need to investigate the role curriculum can play in helping all students maintain a sense of self-worth and learning, yet meet their differential needs as learners, with the end goal of maximum proficiency for all.
Further, as classrooms change and students learn to become literate participants in particular social, political, and cultural contexts within their school environments, it will be necessary to explore the ways in which the variety of texts they are exposed to and create through writing and reading relate to their developing literate selves and the strategies they use to explore and achieve life's possibilities.
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