Archived Information

State of the Art: Reading - November 1993

image omitted 9. Children's reading and writing abilities develop together.


Historical and cross-cultural evidence suggests that literacy in a society might entail reading and writing as separate or related entities (Clifford 1989). We believe strongly that in our society, at this point in history, reading and writing, to be understood and appreciated fully, should be viewed together, learned together, and uses together.
                                    (Tierney and Shannahan 1991, p. 275)

Both reading and writing are constructive processes (Pearson and Tierney 1984). A similar, if not the same, level of intellectual activity underlies both reading and writing: interactions between the reader/writer and text lead to new knowledge and interpretations of text (Langer 1986; Martin 1987). Just as thoughtful readers read for a specific purpose by activating prior knowledge about the topic at hand, writers activate prior knowledge that relates to the topic and have a purpose for writing--to impart meaning to a reader.

While reading, readers reread and modify meaning accordingly. While writing, writers think about the topic and the more they think, the better developed their writing becomes. They also think about what they've written, reread it, and make revisions to improve it. Lastly, readers finalize the meaning they have constructed so far. Writers do likewise: they settle on their final composition.

The processes of reading and writing not only unfold in similar ways, they tend to be used together. This is natural because in everyday life reading and writing frequently occur together. For example, a person receives a letter--via the postal service or electronic mail--reads it, then answers it in writing, perhaps rereading portions of the letter while constructing the response. Moreover, learning about reading and writing takes place in a social context that contains written language and where people use and talk about written language.

When reading and writing are taught together the benefits are greater than when they are taught separately. Research (Tierney and Shannahan 1991) has begun to show that writing leads to improved reading achievement, reading leads to better writing performance, and combined instruction leads to improvements in both areas. Moreover, research (McGinley and Tierney 1989) has shown that engaging learners in the greater variety of experiences provided when reading and writing instruction are combined leads to a higher level of thinking than when either process is taught alone. Since thinking is a critical part of meaning construction, students will become better thinkers if they are taught in classrooms where meaning is actively constructed through reading and writing. Teachers can be most effective in helping students to become better readers, writers, and thinkers when they weave integrated reading and writing activities into their literacy instruction.
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[Expert readers have strategies that they use to construct meaning before, during, and after reading.] [Table of Contents] [The most valuable form of reading assessment reflects our current understanding about the reading process and simulates authentic reading tasks.]