WHAT CAN TEACHERS DO?: USING READING/WRITING CONNECTIONS
RESEARCH IN THE CLASSROOM WITH SECOND LANGUAGE LEARNERS
JEFFREY ROBERT SAILOR
B.A., Flagler College, 2001
A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of the Graduate School of the
University of Colorado Denver in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of English
Teaching of Writing Program
This thesis for the Master of English
Jeffrey Robert Sailor
has been approved
Ian H.G. Ying
Sailor, Jeffrey Robert. (M.A. EnglishTeaching of Writing)
What Can Teachers Do?: Using Reading/Writing Connections Research In The
Classroom With Second Language Learners.
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Joanne Addison, PhD.
This thesis explores the theoretical and empirical work of reading/writing
connections. It presents important implications of the research for classroom
instruction, and provides teachers with approaches they can use to maximize the
effectiveness of the reading and writing that they are teaching in their classrooms.
A deeper understanding of the research will help make English instruction more
effective by exploiting the idea that certain reading activities improve writing
skills, and vice versa.
In the future, teachers and researchers will need to work together to map
out a comprehensive picture of how language learners acquire reading and writing
skills on a cognitive level. This can be achieved through collecting data from
MRI studies, Specific Language Impairment research, and a closer collaboration
between teachers and researchers.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend this publication.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A Day in the Life of a Second Language Learner..............1
More Bang for your Buck English...........................3
II. HISTORY OF READINGAVRITING CONNECTIONS.......................6
Steven Krashen and the Natural Order Hypothesis.............6
Reading and Writing Connections.............................9
Learning In Directions.....................................12
Reading To Writing.........................................13
Writing to Reading.........................................16
Issues with ESL Students...................................19
What about high school?....................................22
III. CLASSROOM PRACTICES.........................................24
Principals of Teaching Reading/Writing Connections.........24
Students Emotional Needs............................27
Plug-ins for teaching: Free Reading and Genre......29
Approaches to Incorporating Reading/Writing Connections Research Into
Cognitive Strategies Approach..........................33
The Learner Centered-Approach..........................34
The Community-Based Approach...........................36
The Content-Area Approach..............................37
Specific Language Impairment Research..................41
Towards a Theory of Reading/Writing Connections...............49
A Day in the Life of a Second Language Learner
Put yourself in the shoes of a student at a large urban high school in the
Denver Metro area. The bell rings, and if you are lucky, you are sitting in your seat
when it happens. If not, you are trying to push past groups of students in the hallway
to get to your classroom. You are one of 2600 students at the school, and your
English classroom has 34 students in it.
In your school, 60 percent of your classmates speak Spanish at home just like
you, and another 10 percent speak a language other than English or Spanish. There is
an 85 percent chance that the person sitting next to you will not be considered
proficient in either reading or writing English. Many times, you have to ask that
person to translate the directions for work in class to Spanish.
Your teacher knows that you struggle with your English skills, so he spends at
least 20 minutes out of a hundred minute class on directions. After that, you struggle
with what to do in class and have to wait for the teacher to provide you with one-on-
one instructions. Many times, it doesnt happen.
You rarely have time to do homework because you work outside of school.
You are content with a C average, and you arent sure if you are going to college yet.
Money is always an issue. You have been in the USA for years, but havent had the
experience at home with English. School is one of the only places that you have a
sustained and consistent source of reading, writing, and speaking in English.
The people who run your school district have decided to focus on your
situation as a second language (L2) learner, and have set up special classes for you to
take, above and beyond your English class. Two years ago, it was a focus on reading.
You went to a class that allowed you to pick your own book and to read for 100
minutes, with a focus on working with a teacher in a small group to improve your use
of reading strategies and to push you to read more complex texts. You did improve
your reading by being in these classes, but also felt that you spent too much time
reading during the day, and it tired you out to read in another language 500 minutes a
week during school.
Last year, the district changed their mind. They decided to put you in a class
that focused on your speaking skills in English. You learned a strict point-by-point
instruction in grammar, and how to use sentence stems to improve your speaking
skills in English. The class is sometimes interesting, but the class makes you feel like
you arent doing something right, and sometimes you dont go because you already
have an English class.
This is the plight of many of the students in the English classes that I teach
right now. These are all issues in my classroom that take time away from my
instruction in the classroom.
More Bang for your Buck English
I am in the third year of my career as a teacher, and I am always looking for
new ways to make the reading and writing in my class mutually support each other,
because of time constraints. This paper and its research is an aim to answer this
question: What can I do as a teacher to support the reading and writing abilities of
my high school level ESL learners when guided by recent findings on the
interdependent nature of reading and writing?
A teachers guiding principal during instruction is to figure out how to turn all
of the bullets on their instructional to-do list into reality in the space of limited time in
the classroom. To quote another of my colleagues, teachers are always trying to find
the instructional focus that gets the most bang for your buck.
Among the forces that effect my instructional decisions are the many students
I teach who dont speak English as their first language. Research shows that these
students will take anywhere from two to seven years to learn this new strange
language enough to be considered academically equal to their native-speaking peers
In order to get the most bang for their buck, English teachers need to view
their instruction in reading and writing as co-dependent. A students reading work
will help to inform their writing work, and vice versa. Many theories exist to
describe this back-and-forth model of learning reading and writing as a recursive
process. This process is commonly referred to as the study of reading-writing
connections. I am writing this paper to analyze and summarize the conclusions of
reading/writing connections research in order to provide teachers with up-to-date
information that can transform their classrooms and save them instructional time.
Because, above and beyond money, the most valuable resource that
teachers can have at their disposal is time. Given enough time, a teacher can provide
one-on-one instruction to each one of his or her students. Given enough time, a
student can practice his or her learning long enough to master it. But I dont have that
time. I need realistic teaching solutions that can help my students improve both their
reading and writing skills at the same time.
What reading skills do I need to teach my students that lead directly into
improved writing skills? How do I get them to create writing that helps them to
understand the increasingly complex reading they will have to do at a job? This is
complicated by the issue of time in the classroom. There is an enormous amount of
choices I can make as a teacher in terms of reading I can provide to students and
writing I can expect from them. But I want to know: How do I use my time best!
The first section of this paper will deal with research: I will provide an
overview of some theories of language acquisition created in the 1980s by Stephen
Krashen, which opened the book on research into reading/writing connections. Then,
I will discuss some of the most promising current studies based on reading/writing
connections. I will finish the first section with an emphasis on classroom-based
studies of reading/writing connections.
The second section of the paper will address how teachers can apply the
research in their classrooms. I deal first with the principals that underpin successful
reading and writing classrooms, then discuss curriculums that have had success, and
finish with practices (or plug-ins) that can help any teacher be more effective
HISTORY OF READING/WRITING CONNECTIONS
Steven Krashen and the Natural Order Hypothesis
The study of Second Language Acquisition moves in a certain pattern: first,
researchers postulate theories about how language learners learn a new language and
then, they attempt to institute these theories into a practical method used for teaching
language acquisition in the classroom.
One of the most popular and long-standing theories is Steven Krashens
Natural Order Hypothesis (1982). The first part of the theory hypothesizes that there
is a natural order to the way that somebody learns a new language. If we look deep
enough into the process of learning a language, we will see a pattern in the order that
certain grammar is learned. This order of acquisition is fairly similar for everyone,
but, as any theory that has to do with learning and the complicated connections that
need to be made in the brain, not everyone learns the same grammatical structures in
the same way. Some grammatical items, for example, tend to be acquired early,
while others come later (Krashen 1982).
One complication of this theory is that language learning research becomes
more fragmented when researchers looked at people who were learning a second
language. This is one of the main problems facing language acquisition researchers,
and a major consideration in discussions of teaching non-native speakers a new
language. The order of acquisition for first and second languages is similar, but not
identical (Krashen 1982).
This theory came with practical considerations for teaching as well. Krashen
elaborated in forming three rules of the theory:
1. Some rules that look simple are acquired late. Others that appear to linguists to be
complex are acquired early. This presents a problem to curriculum designers who
present rules to language students from simple to complex.
2. Natural order cannot be changed. It is immune to deliberate teaching.
3. The natural order is not the teaching order (Krashen 1982).
This hypothesis implies that there are two effective ways to teach second
language learners. The first way is probably impossible. We would have to control
the way that people learn their first language, then apply that same model of teaching
to the second language. This is impossible because human beings are wired to learn a
language in their brains before they learn it.
The second way is to identify students primary language acquisition in order
to best facilitate the secondary one. This sometimes seems just as difficult to work
with pedagogically, but it is the more practical of the two approaches because
students can provide the data necessary to paint a picture of their cognitive abilities in
another language. The most obvious barrier to this approach is if we cant determine
the first language learning capabilities of a student.
For example, I have many students this year that speak Nepali or Swahili.
These students fit outside of the dominant paradigm of L2 learners. If these students
spoke Spanish, they would have much more support because of the commonality of
their language problems. I dont have any books that are written in Nepali or Swahili,
but I do have books to read in Spanish. These students will have a harder time
assimilating, not as much support in class with students who share a common
language who may be more fluent in English, and will have to search for support
independently, which is difficult for all students.
One way that researchers have worked to solve this issue of not being able to
determine LI language capabilities is through qualitative research. Hirose has found
that case studies are effective tools: Case study research that deals with students
literary autobiographies, for example, can help disclose their prior L1/L2 writing
backgrounds and their perceptions about good writing or organization in L1/L2 in
much greater depth, through diverse data sources such as written products,
questionnaires, and interviews (2006). We can use case studies to get a bigger
picture of a cultures language acquisition issues by taking an extensive looks at
individuals from that culture, and generalizing from there. This would require, of
course, a breadth of examples of case studies to ensure that we can generalize them.
This situation in the classroom requires efforts from teachers that arent
normally taught in teacher training programs. The teacher must consider a variety of
approaches to encourage the students to take risks, while creating an emotional
environment in the classroom wherein it is all right to make mistakes.
Reading and Writing Connections
If we accept the Threshold Hypothesis, the next step that we face is in starting
to deal with the overall relationship between reading and writing and students
learning. Whats next? Does the student then focus on writing heavily, until they
have played with the language long enough to dip back into reading to discover more
complex vocabulary and to begin noticing structures? Or does the student need to
keep piling on the reading, easing into writing? Many approaches will work, given
enough time. Unfortunately, time is not on your side as an English teacher. This is
where reading/writing connections research has stepped in.
Or it has at least tried. More recently, researchers have begun to investigate
reading/writing connections as they relate to L2 students. The early work focused on
attempts to provide a framework to describe the process of language acquisition as it
relates to learning how to read and write. This work culminated with two books, both
written by Krashen in the early to mid-80s: Principals and Practices in Second
Language Acquisition (1982) and The Input Hypothesis: Issues and Implications
(1984). These works provided a framework to understand how an L2 student learns a
second language and gave birth to the study of ESL composition. Unfortunately, this
research has not led to many practical or substantive recommendations for teachers
that they can use in the classroom.
Researchers first investigated reading/writing connections while they were
attempting to form a hypothesis to describe the process by which an individual learns
reading and writing. Do we need to build our reading skills so that they can feed our
writing skills? Do we need to build our writing skills so that we can better inform our
reading skills? How can we describe the ebb and flow of learning between the two
skills of reading and writing?
One of the important answers to these questions came from a comprehensive
understanding of how people learn to connect their reading and writing during
learning. If teachers could gain more insight into learning processes that mutually
assist and activate both reading and writing skills, students would be able to improve
both of the major aspects of literacy that teachers are concerned with teaching.
Before explaining some of the paths that research has taken, I will talk about some
important aspects of the research.
Tierney and Piersons research began the discussion of connections between
reading and writing. They looked at reading and writing from a rhetorical standpoint:
reading and writing [are] essentially similar processes of meaning construction.
Both are acts of composing (1983). Creating meaning through reading and creating
meaning through writing both involve the same parts of the brain, ones corresponding
to understanding language and discourse, as well as the parts that try to form
interactions between the two.
With the advent of reader-response theories that repositioned reading as a
process in which we fill in the gaps that authors deliberately left in their texts to
encourage our involvement and engagement with the texts (Hirvela 2004), it was
finally possible for researchers to look at literacy as a whole, as opposed to thinking
of reading and writing as mutually exclusive.
The call to teach writing alongside reading has only recently been made by
researchers, and even then, despite the strength of these assertions, there has been
relatively little empirical evidence from specially directed studies (Hirvela 2004).
The problems that researchers ran into were that although research pointed to this
connection, it is surprisingly difficult to find direct evidence (Leki 1993). This has
been a problem that reading/writing connection theories have to contend with even
now, but as more research is conducted, the theory is slowly becoming clearer.
The driving force and ideology behind the study of reading/writing
connections is the view in researchers minds that the transformed writing classroom
involves seeing reading and writing as recursive processes... (Hirvela 2004). They
go on to explain that literary texts promote reading-writing connections mainly
because of (a) the properties they contain as literary texts and (b) the kinds of reading
and writing activities students can perform with them as a result of those properties
(Hirvela 2004). Basically, a learner uses their reading as a tool to inspire both
reading and writing. Is there any way to outline how a literacy learner does that?
Where does one start when learning to be literate?
Tierney and Pearsons work (1983) also investigated the impact of coupling
reading and writing tasks together in order to determine if it helps a learner to do both
at the same time. They demonstrated that reading and writing together in specific
combinations prompts different reasoning processes and seems to engage students in
more sophisticated reasoning operations. These results argue for many skills in
common, but they also point to large areas of independent processing (Hirvela
2004). Tierneys work began the investigation into the processes of reading and
writing and how they interact together. Although there is a lot to investigate in terms
of the differences in the processes, the issue of common processes directly relates to
making the classroom experience the most beneficial it can. How do these processes
interact? Is one more important than the other? Does one come first?
Learning In Directions
Most of the research that has been conducted concerning reading/writing
connections has dealt with Directional and Bidirectional theories of reading-writing
connections. It is widely accepted that there is not an easily definable line between
reading and writing, and the two processes are combined in discussions to talk about
overall reading and writing learning, which is referred to as a students Literacy.
Directionality refers to the direction that Literacy learning takes. Do good Readers
make good Writers, or vice versa? Hirvelas (2004) definition of directionality is that
knowledge from one of these skills can be transferred to and thus inform the other.
Directionality describes learning in reading and writing in terms of how these
two skills relate and feed into each other. For example, writing-to-reading
directionality would mean that as a learner, I have to achieve a certain level of skill in
writing, which would then help increase my skill in reading. If I dont meet that level
of skill in writing, I am incapable of performing certain reading tasks.
The strongest claim of the three approaches (all of which need more empirical
research to back them up) is the reading-to-writing connection. Connections between
learning reading and writing were assumed for many decades before Pearson and
Tierneys landmark study of literacy connections (1983) in which they claimed that
there was a close connection between reading and writing. As these connections
were established, researchers began to look into how the relationship between reading
and writing worked inside the brain. Many prominent researchers in the literacy field
agree with Lekis claim (1993) that reading is what makes it possible for us to write
rather than the other way around. Flowers talks about how writing skills cannot
emerge by dint of practice alone (1990).
She proposed that although writing is very important down the road for a
reader, especially when concerning writing for comprehension of reading, we have to
turn to reading for examples of how language works: the ability to compose in LI or
L2 cannot develop without a knowledge of the forms, patterns, and purposes of
written language (Hirvela 2004). If we follow this reasoning, reading is a closed-
loop example of language input for a writer before he or she works with the open-
loop nature of his or her own writing.
Most of the conclusive research has been done so far investigating how
reading skills affect writing skills. According to Grabe, the bulk of research has
occurred in the reading to writing part of this theory: Many researchers have
attempted to explain how writing proficiency develops as a result of readers
interactions with print (Grabe 1991).
Hirvelas synthesis of the research indicates that numerous studies have
indicated that extensive reading correlates highly with improved writing performance
in LI and L2 (2004). Empirical research has expressed frequent agreement with
Hirvelas conclusions: Everything points to the necessity of learning to write from
what we read, as we read (Smith 1991). Shanahans conclusions are even stronger:
the reading-to-writing model was superior to the writing-to-reading model (1984),
or Hirvelas statement that...reading extensively leads directly to better writing
Many of these studies have broken down the learning into addressable writing
skills that reading improves. The work of Hare (1992) and Johns (1984)
demonstrated that better readers are better able to organize, select, and connect ideas
for writing. Better readers are also able to write better summaries. Chamblisss
(1995) work outlined summarizing skills in writing: Good readers use text cues and
text structure to form their summaries of longer argument texts.
Hirvela has presented a theory that begins to explain the way that readers use
texts: .. .a readers understanding of information from multiple texts is comprised of
an intertext model (the specific network of linkages establishing basic
comprehension) and a situation model (the readers elaborations on the basic
information, incorporating background knowledge, attitudes, and goal setting
(2004). When we read multiple texts, we do two things inside our brains with the
newest one we are reading: we compare and contrast them to the less recent reading
as a whole, and we pluck pieces of them to store in a bank with other similar
Reading-to-writing research has found that, in various empirical studies, it is
very valuable for students to read extensively in the subject they wish to write in
before and during specific expository writing tasks. Unfortunately, little research has
been done in conjunction with observing how reading fiction improves the ability for
people to write fiction. There are many reasons for this; among them is the vast
flexibility of the fiction genres forms compared to the more rigid expository forms.
Another, possibly more relevant reason is societal: researchers may be more
interested in expository writing because it is unevenly used as a measure of writing
skills in school. We may not care whether students improve their fictional writing
skills because they dont help us demonstrate our learning.
Research by Hedgcock focused on what is one of the most important next
steps in the approach to research in reading and writing. Most of the work so far has
been attempting to imagine what processes and models of how reading work without
empirical research. The empirical research that has been done needs to be
synthesized together and studied as a whole.
Ferris and Hedgcock took two of their previous studies and compared them to
discuss similarities. The important part of this research focuses on the participants in
the study. The first group studied was a group of native language learners and the
second group was L2 Learners. What they found was that extensive exposure to
written textswhether LI or L2may have little impact on nonnative writing
proficiency of the type measured here or, at least, that such impact is difficult to
measure using the present methodology. If the former is true, it may be necessary to
reconceptualize LI and L2 literacy acquisition, operationalized here in terms of the
relationship of extensive reading to performance on tests of school-based writing, as
distinctly different enterprises (Ferris and Hedgcock 1998).
Crowhursts work furthered the discussion of the interaction between reading
and writing. In his study, he controlled for reading and writing learning by having
one group of college students read and write before taking an assessment to test
writing skills, another group that simply read, and one group that only wrote.
Crowhurst found that large gains in writing quality were made by the reading group
despite the fact that they did no writing at all (Crowhurst 1991).
After looking at work with reading to writing direction, research is limited.
There are many difficulties with measuring reading learning after writing learning
because almost all writing learning is presupposed that students know the structure of
writing by having read widely. In Hudsons (2007) synthesis of Writing to Reading
research, he claims that studies have not reached conclusive results, mostly because
the researchers werent clear about prior student reading backgrounds, which may
have had an effect on student writing achievement. There is not much of a way to
control for pre-writing reading understanding and work. This doesnt mean that
people havent tried to take on the challenge.
In Crowhursts summary of research, he states that there is some direct
evidence that writing leads to better reading (1991). There also has been some
interest in measuring the effect of writing skills on reading. Most of the effect of
writing on reading involves recursive understanding of the text by writing about it:
.. .writing summaries leads to better text comprehension, and summary writing is a
common reading comprehension strategy.
Shanahans study of high school students writing and testing for reading was
inconclusive. It is doubtful that the writing experiences provided to these students
were sufficient to allow them to attain higher levels of proficiency (Shanahan 1991).
What he did find in his study is that there is an optimal grade to be able to measure
writing to reading skills: fifth grade, because influence of writing on reading begins
to wane in the upper grades (1991). Shanahan addresses one of the problems of
measurement: it appears that the learning that accrues from writing will be
generalizable to reading only so far as writing competency is somewhat
commensurate with reading ability (1991).
The third theory of reading writing connections is the Bidirectional Theory.
This theory addresses concerns among many researchers that there is not a certain
beginning direction to learning reading and writing. As people stated before, reading
and writing are recursive processes. This theory is very understandable, especially
given that the other two theories are hard to prove.
The bidirectional theory supposes that a learner goes back and forth between
reading and writing, using reading to strengthen writing to strengthen reading, in a
continuing cycle of refinement. While this is a very logical premise, when we look to
research to prove it, the process becomes incredibly complicated to prove. First, we
have a very limited understanding of the way the brain learns reading and writing.
Also, based on Krashens three rules of learning based on the Threshold Hypothesis,
we dont learn either reading or writing from a basically simple to complex
mentality. These issues make it even more important for teachers and researchers to
outline their understanding of which structures in reading and writing that teachers
should focus on first. The important thing is to understand that nothing is set in stone,
but they could easily begin to explain (in terms of percentage likelihood) what
support the student needs in order to most smoothly learn to read and to write.
Shanahan has taken this theory on in research as well. His study compared
the ability of each of the models to summarize the actual empirical relationships
found in an extant body of reading and writing data (1984). Of the three, the
interactive model, in which reading knowledge could be used in writing and written
knowledge could be used in reading, provided the best description of the data
Research on this theory has mostly been comparative in nature, because of the
complexity of measuring data (Shanahan 1984). Reading and writing research has to
deal with complicated issues in measurement every time that they attempt to draw
conclusions. Most empirical research runs into problems with controlling for
learning. It is very difficult to set up research in reading or writing learning that
doesnt ask students to draw on the wealth of background that they already have
acquired. Basically, empirical research in this area is difficult because its hard to
create a control group.
It becomes easier to measure reading/writing connections using qualitative
research. The biggest issue with working with qualitative research is that you can
discuss your results in terms of relationships, but it is very difficult to come to a
conclusion, because of the approach that qualitative research takes. For any theories
to gain hold, they need to have some basis in empirical research as well. One of the
next important steps for researchers is to get creative with the way that they control
for results they can generalize.
As in many approaches to research, Hirvela summarizes the research as such:
finally, reading and writing as a collaborative activity is believed to lead to better
learning. Again, this appealing notion is in greater need of empirical evidence
Issues with ESL Students
Its one thing to discuss reading and writing from the perspective of a native
language learner. Once we look at the complexity of learning in the brain when it
comes to reading and writing, once the idea of L2 Learners are put into the
discussion, reading and writing connections have become very complex to control
research for to understand any results or be able to draw conclusions.
When we add a second attempt at learning reading and writing in a new
language, the learner will not follow the same pattern of learning that they did when
they learned their first language. They will have a whole new group of people who
provide them stimuli to respond to in another language, they will be older, they will
be frustrated, and they will be treated differently.
As of this year, the school that I work at changed its intensive ESL instruction
from a program based on silent reading and small group reading response facilitated
by a teacher to a program that emphasizes increased speaking and writing in English.
The new program emphasizes drilling and memorizing language structures in English
that students use in class. As I heard of this new program, I wondered why the school
district decided to make the change. Is this the best program for L2 students? Does
this give teachers and students the most bang for their buck?
I dont know. In fact, its hard to tell. Research in the field of ESL
composition, and qualitative research on the subject hasnt come to many conclusions
yet, maybe owing to the relative newness of the study, and maybe owing to the
complicated research that this field of study requires. The variety of contexts is also
an issue: what works in one context often doesnt work well in other contexts. But,
then again, most teachers I know dont care about EEG studies of the brain; they want
to know what works so they can teach it. Research based on the relationship between
second language students and reading and writing connections is even fuzzier.
As Carson et al. (1990) have stated that there is a less than clear-cut
relationship between reading and writing in second language students. Research has
supported that experience in LI Reading has a positive impact on L2 reading (Carrell
and Connor 1991), but the connection between L2 Reading and L2 Writing are
difficult to prove. Studies such as Tsangs (1996) have found that extensive reading
can effect writing quality (Hudson 2007), and Carrell and Connors (1991) research
found a correlation between reading recall and holistic scoring of compositions.
Hudson summarizes the existing research: the studies have tended to indicate that
integrating writing with reading improves reading on subsequent reading
comprehension measures (2007).
One of the recommendations that Ferris and Hedgcock make is that direct
instruction is necessary for learning, because some LI abilities and strategies (e.g.
decoding, inference, morphosyntactic prediction, etc.) may certainly transfer to
emergent L2 literacy... however, it is important to recognize that such transfer is not
necessarily automatic (1998). How do teachers take into account the complexity of
learning reading and writing once L2 Learners are in the mix?
Traditionally, language learners have complicated all of the learning theories
that educators have had to juggle. The most important theory to understand when
encountering the complexity of teaching L2 Learners is the Interdependence
Hypothesis (Cummins 1981, 2000). The Interdependence Hypothesis states that
when learning a second language, a learner uses the skills they have learned in their
first language to influence the learning of their second. Much of the Second
Language reading and writing research has had to work with this hypothesis. Before
being able to measure learning in a second language, we need to have a cultural
understanding of how the individual learner learns their language especially from
What about high school?
But what about high school? Traditionally, most research on reading and writing
connections have taken place at the university level. Tardys conclusion is that
.. .there is a dearth of studies at the secondary school level overall (2006).
This is for many reasons. First, of course, are the job expectations of college
teachers. Research is not a component of the job of a high school teacher, so much of
the research has been done with the captive college student audiences that professors
have at their fingertips. Another reason is access to the moneys and time to conduct
quantitative research. There are few opportunities for high school teachers to have
access to the funding apparatus at the college level to conduct MRI brain research,
and this must be undertaken as an outside project from the duties of work.
Flowerss work has begun to shed light on the implications of reading and
writing connections on younger learners: Statistically significant relationships
between reading ability and writing proficiency have similarly been discovered
among high school and college LI writers (Bridwell 1981).
Shanahans work with students at many grade levels has also worked to support
these claims. He focused on measuring reading and writing proficiency at different
grade levels of American school children. He compared the results of reading and
writing-based skills tests that he created to begin to draw conclusions about
connections between reading and writing skills. He also measured this work on
various student grade levels to see if he could find any correlations between grade
level and understanding of certain reading and writing skills. His implications for
further research suggested researching the relationship between reading and writing
for ability levels, process variables (purpose, audience, problem-solving strategies,
and metacognitive awareness), and taking reading and writing measurements during
the performance of identical or related tasks (1984).
The research is beginning to reveal hints at what can be done with a better
understanding of relationships between reading and writing. We still have a lot of
work. There are two components to the future of research. The first is to use the
understandings we have gained from research to push research farther, and in new
directions. The second component is to get teachers to use the techniques that work.
In the next section, I will talk about what researchers should be working towards, and
what teachers should be practicing in their classrooms.
Principals of Teaching Reading/Writing Connections
One of the first things that need to be addressed with literacy teaching in mind
is how we prepare teachers to walk into the classroom. Recently, Literacy teaching
strategies have been taught to all teachers that are preparing to step into the classroom
in primary and secondary schools. This emphasis comes from a national push to
ensure that teachers have a deep understanding as to how to teach reading and writing
in every subject.
Milk (1990), says that teachers in ESL preparation courses are taught that
Language proficiency is most effectively stimulated when we focus less on language
itself and more on its meaningful use in realistic contexts. This idea behind teaching
in meaningful contexts gave rise to Sheltered Instruction, a Literacy transition
program for students who have demonstrated English proficiency, but still need
language support in content areas. This sentiment has also lead to the increased
support of immersion to support language learning. These programs have show
success in helping students with limited English skills learn content more quickly
than other approaches.
The natural next steps for these approaches that have worked is to bring them
into mainstream classrooms, unfortunately, opportunities for professional preparation
in teaching second language reading and writing have been severely limited (Hirvela
The first concern when considering implementing a classroom where reading
and writing connections research is incorporated for the success of your students is
when considering the design of your course and the resources available to students, be
it a college semester or an entire school year.
One approach to creating courses is the idea ofTask-Based Syllabus
Design. Long (1992) proposes that if we are to teach ELL students how to acquire
reading and writing skills in a specific language, we need to be teaching them in
accordance to certain skills and task learning outcomes, as opposed to units of
analysis. Most syllabus guidelines, according to Longs descriptive review of course
syllabi across the country, tend to address learning outcomes that ask the students to
break down texts to understand them. It is difficult at best for students who struggle
to read to be able to analyze their reading at high levels.
What a teacher needs to do is to consider, address, and teach, the linguistic
tasks necessary for analysis. There are some troubles with this approach that need to
be kept in mind. First, teachers must make sure that they break down the tasks and
subtasks into manageable bits for students to understand. Second, a teacher needs to
make sure that they set up grading criteria that can be assessed properly.
We also need to consider the resources that are available to our students ahead
of time. Rymess (2004) research attempts to describe the differences in language
learning in terms of the first language of the students. In US classrooms, are we
equitable to all languages, or do we demonstrate bias, either hidden or overt towards
certain language speakers? In the US, a large portion of the second language learners
have traditionally been Spanish speakers. This is changing quickly, however. In my
own school, students speak any various African or Asian Language as well. Rymes
found that where some linguistic varieties are granted more legitimacy than others,
so are some cultural backgrounds are as well.
Rymes recommendations are that teachers get reflexive. We must create a
curriculum that is flexible for language learners, one that allows teachers to be able to
support students in their own language. Even in my school, which deals with students
that speak over 30 different languages at any time, the only major resource that is
available to English teachers is a Spanish-to-English dictionary.
Hirvela adds that little research (2004) has been conducted on the effects of
new reading and writing connections research, but does present an overview of what
teachers and students need to do. They should be involved in a long-term curricular
commitment to extensive reading, but they arent. Also, reading extensively and
fluent reading are often seen as secondary goals. Finally, reading and writing is one
piece to the puzzle of learning a language: there is a need to examine the role of talk
and discussion in the development of literacy abilities (2004).
Students Emotional Needs
A growing area of research is the emotional component of reading and
writing. Most research has been done with anxiety and reading (Pappamihiel 2002).
Many students who are in the process of learning language have a hard time with
anxiety. You can see them in every classroom: they sit in the back and avoid eye
contact as much as humanly possible. They turn in blank sheets of paper, or ignore
assignments completely. They are very nervous about making mistakes in a bizarre
language that they dont understand. This is the reality for many students: a
multidimensional anxiety that can seriously harm their ability to acquire languages.
It is important for teachers to consider the context of the learning situation when
working with second language students because of this anxiety.
You must be especially aware of female second language students tendency
to struggle to establish safe relationships in the mainstream classroom and withdraw
from classroom interactions (Pappamihiel 2002).
Work by Sparks has found that some students will do better at learning
language just because they think they are good at it: a low anxiety or high
motivation score reflects accurately the students perceptions that s/he does well in
the L2, which suggests that s/he has average or better LI learning skills (2009).
Another emotional phenomenon that we need to look at for students is the
comfortability that students have with working with the language. Snellings (2004),
for example, measured the time that students spent on thinking of words to use
(lexical retrieval time) in their writing, and compared the overall writing product to
this time. Basically, he asked if thinking about what word to use gets in the way of
good writing. They did find that speed in accessing lexical items in the mental
lexicon (retrieval speed) is important for productive competence, but did not find
significant effects on global writing quality.
In their study, students writing was not affected by the time they spent
thinking about words, and it didnt help if the students were coached with a list of key
vocabulary words. This discussion about reducing time spent thinking about aspects
of writing is one that all teachers should engage in as well. Future studies of English
language anxiety should be more longitudinal in nature in order to further explore
changes in anxiety levels as students move from sheltered classes to more mainstream
environments (Pappamihiel 2002).
Writing itself is not practiced in an academic vacuum. According to
Kobayashi, Writing is considered to be both cognitive and social in structure
(2008). Dealing with the social aspects of Writing is one of the places that Secondary
teachers can provide a wealth of understanding and information to researchers. This
approach to incorporating the social aspects of writing into the academic discourse is
called the socio-cognitive approach, and Kobayashi concludes that future
directions for this research should lead us toward a deeper understanding of the
influence of LI and L2 writing experience on the development of writing competence
in the two languages (2008).
Plug-ins for teaching: Free Reading and Genre
Research recommends a variety of specific approaches that can help both
reading and writing skills simultaneously. Like many school districts, mine has a
mandated curricular framework, meaning that we teachers have to set up our
classroom learning environments in the same way. Mine, for instance, mandates
teaching readers/writers workshop. This is a beneficial approach in many ways, but
no vast program will cover all of the needs of a learner. This section will discuss
some teaching plug-ins that will work no matter what classroom learning
environment you have. The plug-in is like a mini-lesson: you can add them to classes
and remove them without changing the classs overall instructional framework.
In many classrooms, students are allowed time to simply read. And to read
pieces that they pick for themselves. This may sound like a serious waste of time to a
teacher that doesnt have much of it, but these worries have not been supported by the
research. One of the big changes that teachers and the people that pay them need to
understand is that learning is not a yearly process. It is sustained over many years.
As long as teachers at every grade provide students with free time to read, we can
turn a reluctant Second Language Learner into an active participant in his or her
second language: one that forms learning habits that will help them improve their
understanding for their entire lives.
Free reading is especially important for L2 students. Hirvela (2004)
summarized the work of Lee, Krashen, and Gribbons: the amount of free reading
reported was a significant predictor of the ability to translate and judge the
grammaticality of complex grammatical constructions in English. Their research
measured other factors, such as the amount of formal study and length of residence
in the United States, which they found to not have any relationship to grammar
Another great benefit of free reading on all students is that it mimics the
reality of post-educational literacy for a lot of students. It is important for students to
leave an educational setting with the tools to identify and independently select their
reading, so that they can create a life-long commitment to their own literacy.
Hirvela conducted a large-scale survey to determine what essential skills a
college student needs to be successful in college-based reading and writing skills. He
concludes that the two most important skills that college teachers need to work with
to ensure success for second language students are reading and listening. Less
important to learning is writing. Finally, speaking is the least important skill (2004).
This study was based on interviews of both teachers and students across curriculums
and types of colleges. Although this research doesnt fit very well with many
teachers ideas of how learners should be learning, it is important to discuss the
reality of the learning experience for second language students in college. For a High
School teacher, this means that we need to emphasize writing skills like taking
lecture, reading, and study notes, and listening for reading focus.
This research implies that we need to look at learning reading and writing in a
different way than we have in high schools. We need to make sure that students are
learning reading and writing as integrated skills (2004) in a separate class so that
they can be directly instructed in these skills.
The most promising way that these types of skills can be taught in an
authentic manner is through direct instruction in genres of writing. (Carter 2004).
Carter says that through learning different types of genres of writing, students can
achieve a mastery of genre by incorporating generic features into writing.
Carter studied the effectiveness of teaching college-level students how to
write a Lab Report to support their learning in a class. He compared two groups of
ELL students and their resulting lab grades, one group of which were instructed on
Lab Report writing skills, and one who wasnt. He documented significant greater
learning in the group taught the generic writing components of the lab report, but
concluded that the results were limited. This type of research is important because of
its emphasis not on providing students with more practice in writing to achieve
desirable results, but in direct instruction.
Approaches to Incorporating Reading/Writing Connections Research into the
Research has also tested out various approaches to teaching students in
Language classrooms. Just as decades ago, many approaches to teaching L2 Learners
exist in the pedagogical universe of curriculum development. I am not so much
interested in looking at various curricula that have been developed and sold to
learning institutions as a profit in this discussion. It is important to present ideas that
work for classrooms, present overviews for teachers, and work with them to
incorporate them into their own classrooms. This is not generally the approach of
packaged curricula that are for sale. These curricula outline a day-by-day approach to
teaching Literacy. This formulaic approach to teaching language doesnt take into
account the research that I have mentioned above about the individual needs of the
student, which may be the most important factor in the language learning process.
All the approaches that I have selected to discuss below have three things in
common. First, they have shown positive results when scrutinized through the
research process. These curricula have been proposed by theorists; enacted by school
districts, single schools, or, in some cases, by individual teachers; and studied by
independent research. These curricula are not products being sold by businessmen or
women. Second, the research results have shown that they benefit students who have
specific language acquisition needs. These arent curricula that have been
implemented to a select group of students in a schoolthey have been put in place
with all students in mind, and have shown positive results with L2 learners in mind.
Last, and maybe most important, these curricula are formulated around the idea that
reading and writing is integrated. Reading and writing arent just integrated, but they
are the basis for the various content work. These curricula offer many of the
opportunities for reading-to-writing and writing-to-reading connections that are
integral to the function of teaching based on reading/writing connections research.
Cognitive Strategies Approach
One approach to teaching based on reading/writing connections research is the
Cognitive Strategies Approach (Olson 2007). This is an approach to combining the
ideas of L2 learning with the Threshold Hypothesis with learning based on the
relationship between reading and writing. Students are directly instructed on
strategies that both traditional research and cognitive neuroscience have measured as
shared between reading and writing. The direct instruction of these strategies that the
brain uses to make meaning of either reading or writing production should lead to
dual improvement in both reading and writing.
Direct instruction is important to L2 learners, primarily because of time in the
classroom. L2 learners are constantly playing catch-up with other students who
already have had extensive practice with their native language, especially in areas like
understanding of underlying grammar rules, understanding of the demands of certain
genres of writing, etc. Direct instruction is important as a jumping-off point in the
classroom to catch certain students up. From my experience, all of the students I
teach benefit from direct language instruction, even LI students.
According to Olson (2007), The cognitive strategies approach appears to
yield significant growth. Olsons research found that if he took students who
historically scored lower on literary analysis assessments were taught reading and
writing for literary analysis using the Cognitive Strategies Approach, they
consistently outscored students on assessments that had been scoring higher for years.
This is despite the fact that all students did show gains from a pre-to-post test
comparison as well.
One of the problems of this approach is that it isnt being used, despite a large
body of research that supports its effectiveness. As a teacher, I have been told
frequently that I should focus on teaching Literacy strategies to students, but the
problem is that one has to seek out a list of strategies that have been proven to work
and that are described well to someone whose main area of pedagogical instruction is
in Literature. The next step to help implement this type of teaching is for Literacy
scholars to agree upon the most effective strategies that good readers and writer use,
and help teachers to understand their use.
The Learner Centered-Approach
One approach that has been advocated by researchers is a learner-centered
approach to learning reading and writing pedagogy (Nunan 1995). The instruction
would begin with the direct and explicit instruction of learners to ensure that they
have a base of understanding, to attain the threshold of learning addressed by
Krashens Threshold Hypothesis. The next step (after language learners have attained
a certain level of understanding in the language) is to allow students to independently,
or as a class, decide where their learning goes from there. One of the choices that
students could have is the genre of reading and writing that they are learning about.
The important emphasis for Reading and Writing Connections is that the students
both read the genre, and then write in the same genre.
The next two steps that Nunan (1995) proposes are little used or even
discussed by teachers. The researchers propose that after the students have had
extensive instruction and choice, they should become teachers. This does not mean
that students should literally enroll in teacher education courses, but that they should
then bring their learning back to either their own classroom or classrooms with
students who demonstrate more language learning needs than their own.
Finally, they propose that learners become language researchers, in the
sense that they are provided access to the tools necessary to measure language
learning in an experimental environment. This would provide them access to a
deeper knowledge about the overall process of language acquisition, and then would
help them deeper reflect upon their own processes of language acquisition. This
could take various forms. For example, teachers could work through research texts
with students that they could access on their own level (Pinkers The Language
Instinct (2007) comes to mind).
This approach seems like an audacious one to take on, but underlying the
recommendations is the nature of learning on a cognitive and a social level. First, we
memorize, then we work towards independence, then we move to an understanding
that language involves discourse, and finally transition into a global understanding of
how all peoples brains work towards learning language.
The Community-Based Approach
Another approach to incorporate research is the Community-based approach.
This approach is an extension of the idea of inquiry learning. Inquiry learning puts
investigation of issues at the forefront of learning. Students must identify a focused
question that they are interested in answering. Teachers use reading to supplement
and encourage students prior background information before generating a question
that guides their learning. Once students identify questions that guide their inquiry,
they continue reading in order to learn more about possible solutions to their question
through research. Finally, students use writing to answer the question that they began
their inquiry with.
The Community-Based Approach takes Inquiry Learning to another level,
addressing the place that students live in as a focus. Students are asked to identify
problems in their community and learn how to solve them using a combination of
literacy-centered instruction combined with work in all subject matters to understand
the problems and to drive forming plausible solutions. What the Community-based
approach emphasizes is the focus on problems that affect the local community. They
do this through investigationscalled popular research projectsof the issues that
affected their lives and their positioning in society (Riviera 1999).
The way that L2 students learn language is by using their language as a
terrain of knowledge and a field of possibilities that linked students experiences to
collective action. This approach focuses on encouraging transfer by starting with the
languages that are spoken in the community (and, ultimately by the students) as a
basis to transfer learning to the common language conventions in the society.
The Content-Area Approach
Another approach, based on the idea that language is learned most effectively
for communication in meaningful, purposeful social and academic contexts, is the
Content Area Approach. This approach segments language learning and teaching
needs into the various classes that a student attends. This may seem like an approach
that unnaturally separates language learning into certain boxes, which we know isnt
the way that language functions, but this would be a misconception. What this
approach works to understand is the different outcomes in language learning that fit
the demands of classes. This approach attempts to discuss the school register that
language learners need to learn.
Before you can demonstrate your learning, you must be able to talk, and to
some extent, think like a professional. Working with the complex web of technical
terms, rhetoric, and modes of thought that come along with a higher level class
requires a lot of work for someone who struggles with the language that they are
learning in. Researchers have referred to this linguistic cocktail of understandings the
register of content and learning. Linguistic researchers have claimed that learning
the school register or specific subject-area registers may be a prerequisite to mastery
of specific content or to academic development in general (Snow, Met, and Genesee
This is an approach to the changing context that a child goes through when
they move from Elementary school learning to Secondary (Middle and High) School
learning contexts. This theory proposes that teachers in Secondary and Post-
Secondary schools with many language learners need to present specific language
objectives to assist learners in success in their classroom work.
This is another approach that requires teachers to plan together across
curriculums by creating common objectives and learning. This approach has
difficulties, especially when considering the role of English content teachers. Since
English teachers have the most exposure to Literacy training, those teachers would be
required to not only present Literature Learning, but to support the language learning
across other contents as well. One solution to the issue of time and roles that an
English teacher would have to assume in this approach would be to allow the English
teachers to teach their content (if that is the overall goal of the educational institution)
and to have a Literacy support person that would help each content-area teacher to
meet the language goals of the institution.
Research into Reading and Writing Connections, and making it work for ESL
students has many gaps to fill at this point. There are three basic approaches that
should be the next step for researchers. One approach is to map out comprehensive
models of the process of reading and writing, and the mutual interactions between the
two processes of reading and writing. Two approaches to research have shown a lot
of promise to be able to map the processes: MRI research, and Specific Language
Impairment research. Another important move that research needs to undertake is to
move the focus of research efforts into Primary and Secondary classrooms, and to
give teachers the tools that they need to conduct workable research in their own
The emerging move of research takes the move that Tans research has. Tan
has taken research out of the classroom setting, and worked with the approach of
Psycholinguistics. Tan works with MRI imaging to identify parts of the brain that are
activated by certain types of learning, and compares the skills as they relate to reading
and writing. This work is important because it shows what parts of the brain people
use when they think.
What Tan found was that in Chinese readers and writers the robust and
unique predictive power of writing was clearly seen when the effects of general
processing speed and phonological awareness were partialed out (Tan 2005).
Whereas other researchers focused on the product of reading and writing, which is
basically anchored to the text, brain research can look deeper at the process inside of
the brain that could be considered extra-lingual. This is important because some of
the factors that impede reading and writing research, like comprehension issues, can
be removed to a point. This research also takes into account the interaction of reading
and writing on different types of memory in the brain.
Olives work supported the work of Tan. Olive focused on working memory
during reading and writing to discuss issues with comprehension: The present
experiments depicted a clear pattern of results. First, visual interference was
surprisingly as large as the verbal interference observed. Second, distinguishing
between the visual and spatial working memory tasks revealed differential visual and
spatial demands of text composition. These two findings therefore support the view
that visual WM plays a larger role in text composition than previously thought
This all leads to the research occurring right now. Most of it is based on
figuring out how reading and writing work in the mind of the learner. One way that
researchers have been mapping this out is through the empirical research that I have
already mentioned, but there are new approaches that people have been taking.
Along with traditional classroom research (most of which is happening at the college
level), brain researchers have put their hats in the ring to help. One of the most
promising models is Perfettis Documents Model of Comprehension (Perfetti 1997;
Perfetti, Rouet, and Britt 1999). This work is based on constructing a mental map, or
representation, of the areas of the brain that activate when a reader reads various
texts, and how that readers brain activations change as they change the text that they
are reading. Research that has assisted in helping construct this map comes from
Gradwhol, Nash, Schumacher, and Carlson (1993). They found that students build
understanding from one text to the other, comparing the first text to the second that
they have read, using the similarities and differences in style and content to expand
their comprehension of the genre they are reading.
Stahl et al.s research (1996) complicated further research. They discussed
how students built their understanding when reading multiple history texts, but found
that students dont learn much from reading more than two texts. Their conclusion
was that students needed more direct instruction from teachers about how to read
history texts. This complicates matters because researchers need to formulate a
better, more complex approach to conducting cross-textual studies, as well as creating
a general idea of what it means to be a successful reader in various contents and texts.
This research points out that if readers arent successful in their reading, the areas of
the brain that are activated will not be conclusive in any way.
Specific Language Impairment Research
Another promising lead in discovering the relationship between
reading/writing connections is current research into Specific Language Impairment
(SLI). SLI research deals with researching learners who have, in one way or another,
limited cognitive skills because of damage to one area of their brain or another. This
work is similar to earlier Psychological studies with emotion and location in the brain.
Basically, researchers find a person who cant use a certain area of their brain
because of physical damage or trauma. They identify the areas that are affected by
the damage, and then measure the unique effects that the damage has on certain
cognitive tasks that the individuals perform. This approach has been brought to the
study of reading/writing connections. Researchers look at the area that has been
impaired, and study the effect that the impairment has on reading and writing skills of
the individual. This work is then compared to other people that share the same areas
of the brain that have been affected, which allows researchers to draw conclusions
about areas of the brain that are involved in reading and writing tasks.
Very little work has been done in this field so far, because it is hard to
generalize amongst such a small population of learners, and because of the
complexity of reading and writing processes in the brain, but Paradiss work (2004)
has begun to demonstrate that we can make connections between people with SLI and
English language learners.
As Paradis explains, all studies to date have documented parallels between
these two populations with respect to various aspects of morphosyntax and verb
lexical diversity. Many people with SLI show the same problems as L2 learners in
relation to putting words together to make understandable sentences, and in recalling
a diverse amount of words in a certain language. He goes on to explain that the
results of this study point to the usefulness of children with SLI as a monolingual
comparative group for L2 acquisition research.
While this idea is intriguing, it is a long-term solution to the research. But
these approaches have found success in improving the understanding of relationships
between the physical spaces of behavior and learning, which is an important next step
to forming an understanding of reading and writing processes. If we want to make a
physical map of reading and writing processes, we need to discover where learning
and the cognitive work happens.
One of the major changes that needs to occur to ensure that reading/writing
connections research is used in the classroom is to invite teachers to collaborate more
closely with researchers. Teachers need to become more active in collecting their
own evidence about the mutually beneficial processes in reading and writing. While
researchers continue to hone in on mutually beneficial cognitive tasks that will help
both reading and writing learning, teachers need to be able to better assess the needs
of their students in order to make the research work for their own classes.
Clarkes discussion of the discourse between theory and practice provides
many insights into the problems with separating research-created theories, and the
implementation of these theories in classroom practices (Clarke 1994): the
profession continues to cast teachers as implementers of dicta rather than as agents in
the process of theory construction, curriculum planning, and policy development.
We as teachers need to set up our own classrooms as ground zero for the testing out
of theories presented by researchers. We need to provide this material to researchers
as feedback for their theories. Just as teachers should create a classroom that is
learner-centered, a place where students can experiment with their knowledge to
improve upon it, so do researchers need to make their research learner-centered.
This discussion can be made about almost any theoretical research whose end
is to improve the understanding and application of learning. What is especially
interesting about the application of reading/writing connections to this discussion is
the need for enormous population sizes of research. A general rule of qualitative
research is that when you study more people using a given research topic, you can
more easily generalize positive results to entire populations in general. The weak
correlation of variables in studies because of population size is one of the greatest
impacts on the success of research, and has been a problem with reading/writing
connections research for as long as it has been studied.
If this research was communicated to teachers in a way that they could
incorporate it into their own classroom practice, researchers could tap into a huge
population of students to study. Unfortunately, this work would do nothing less than
turn the hierarchy on its head, blurring the distinction between teachers and
researchers. This work will almost certainly require the use of narratives (Clarke
There are many identifiable problems with this approach that need to be
considered. First of all, most teachers dont have much training in teaching language.
At the school I currently work, new teachers are required to take a series of college
courses upon being hired that certify them to teach L2 learners. This is a brand new
mandate as of last year, and so a large percentage of the teachers working in my
school have not had sufficient training in teaching L2 learners. The discussion of
theory and practice in reading/writing connection research is an import from language
acquisition, which makes the need to create a practical theoretical map of reading and
writing processes even more important. Another important consideration is that
turning classrooms into laboratories could possibly divorce students and teachers
even more from the emotional and social benefits of classroom instruction. Some
would claim that without a proper balance, we would be turning students into data, as
opposed to human beings.
So what does the research mean for teachers? Is there any way to wade
through this complex interaction that leads to student learning? How do teachers
take into account their students not-yet-native knowledge of the structure and use of
written English, not to mention the possibility of transfer and non-transfer of LI
literacy skills into L2 performance (Ferris and Hedgcock 1998)? Five things we
need to think about when we are teaching are separating reading tasks, creating the
proper reading context, the interaction between LI and L2 processes, motivation, and
that we focus on finding good research (Belcher and Hirvela 2001).
This also means that learners need explicit instruction, especially when
accessing reading and writing strategies and background knowledge (Devine 1993,
Hudson 1988). My school district has mandated that we teach a Workshop approach
to reading and writing. Unfortunately, the push and pull of direct instruction needs to
be incorporated into this use of the workshop model, which hasnt been addressed for
the most part. Many studies focus on strategies, but instruction on implementation of
the strategies in the classroom has not focused on clearly identifying important
strategies, and how to teach them. This is in part because of the standards-based
assessment system put in place by the No Child Left Behind Act, which addresses
what children should know, but doesnt provide clear instructions on how to get
learners to proficiency in the standards.
Researchers and teachers need to think about vocabulary and grammar
(Auerbach 2005). What background knowledge is the most essential to greasing the
reading and writing wheels? Much more explicit instruction is necessary to teaching
second language students how to learn their second language. Teachers and
researchers need to work together to create a map of learning for the learners to
follow. This would be a moot point if teachers had an infinite amount of time for
students to achieve their desired results. Then it would be merely having students sit
down and read and write until they understand it. Unfortunately, we dont have that
Carrells work has focused on comparing different types of L2 reading, and
also interviewing the students. He found that it is important for students if we
distinguish academic level from level of language proficiency, and implement
different and multiple measures of reading and writing. The genre of reading was
also considered in the study: descriptive texts are easier than persuasive texts, but
this evidence was primarily for reading, not writing. Finally, Carell used interview
research to discuss with student about the emotional aspect of learning a second
language. Students said they could not feel when they read in English (Carrell
and Connor 1991).
To understand the complicated position that researchers and teachers must
take in order to work towards improving the relationship between all these variables,
we must look at segmenting the research into its parts, while at the same time having
a body of review and synthesis of the research that works to summarize the
relationships between the parts to look at the whole of research. This work is being
done, mostly by a handful of researchers. Teachers havent been a part of the
discussion, however. It is important to involve teachers in the discussion because of
their experience in implementing ideas, as well as their need to actually make these
ideas work in the classroom, not just in the journals.
In his research, Hirvela reached some general conclusions about what research
describes, and what approaches to teaching reading and writing that seem to work.
One of his conclusions is that research needs to move towards comparing the same
types of reading and writing as they occur across the curriculum in order to compare
the success of certain genres of reading and writing (Belcher and Hirvela 2001). This
research should be tied to interviews that are conducted at the same time that
quantitative data is collected. They look closely at the application of reading/writing
connections to Literature especially. This focus is important because most of the
explicit reading and writing instruction happens in classrooms where Literature is
taught in high school, and is a rich resource of such pedagogy (Belcher and Hirvela
2001). He states that the deviant language of literature is an important key for the
learner to use as a tool to compare texts. Literature, then, is often seen as a prompt
for authentic language practice (Belcher and Hirvela 2001).
Hirvela has focused on the attempts to re-imagine the present theories of
reading/writing connections. For a theory of reading/writing connections to be
effective, we must make sure that we better describe not only a theoretical position
on reading abilities and their development, but also a theory of writing abilities and
their development. Finally, we need to look more deeply at the interactions of the
two theories as they are learned (Hirvela 2004).
He also sees a need for researchers to consider the social uses of language as
well as its formal features. It should be discourse-oriented in its analysis rather than
sentential in its primary orientation (Hirvela 2004). Another important study was
Just and Carpenters (1987), that stated the important tasks that a learner needs to take
into account during the act of reading: what information in the text starts the process,
how long the process takes, what information what used during the process, the likely
source of mistakes, what the reader has learned when the process is finished. The
final component, what the reader has learned when the process is finished, is widely
believed to be the basis of how learners become writers (Ferris and Hedgecock
Towards a Theory of Reading/Writing Connections
When it comes to discussing these theories of relationships between reading
and writing, current theories dont explain enough for connections between reading
and writing to be described correctly. It is difficult at best to teach students if
teachers dont know how language works in the first place. According to Gebhard,
Many teachers.. .readily acknowledge that analyzing and specifically teaching the
linguistic features of the genre that they routinely ask students to read and write in is
an unfamiliar and difficult task, particularly at the secondary level (2008).
According to Hirvela, anyone putting together a theory about the interactions
of reading and writing must take these things into account:the coordinated
processing demands of reading and writing together; the need for considerable
practice in writing from texts and reading to write; appropriate levels of language
skills and background knowledge; an awareness of strategic goal setting and strategy
use, supporting social contexts and instruction for learning; and appropriate (and
motivating) tasks. (2004) These are all factors that I have already discussed in one
form or another, but more work needs to be done to not only describe patterns in each
process that can be generalized for all learners, but also to begin to trace the
connections in operation of all these factors with one another.
Most research undertaken to describe these processes has been quantitative in
nature, meaning that the response results from individuals can be considered to be
quantifiable by numerical data. Much of the new avenues for research will require
researchers to delve into other types of methodologies like narrative, historical, or
survey inquiry; various techniques to plan or evaluate language programs or policies;
and ways of validating specific linguistic theories or psychological models (2004).
If we want to better understand the brain and its complexities, as well as the
processes of reading and writing, we cannot continue to assume that pure numerical
data will be sufficient to describe a process that is very human, and non-numerical, by
nature. Many non-quantifiable factors enter into the processes of reading and writing.
We could conceivably map out a physical process behind reading and writing through
highly quantified research, just to find that it doesnt work without considering many
different extraneous factors to not only learning reading and writing, but also to
producing reading and writing by the individual.
What researchers should be attempting is not to work towards a model that
describes how someone learns their primary language, and a model that describes
how someone learns a secondary language, Ideally, rather than seeking separate
theories of first and second language learning, I should perhaps be pursuing a unified
theory of language learning (Carroll 1981). We need not to propose a new method,
it is rather to explore the requirements for a general theory of second language
learning by examining the conditions under which languages are learned (Spolsky
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