Preparing to Teach Writing: Research, Theory, and Practice

By James D. Williams | Go to book overview

4
Reading and Writing

OVERVIEW

When children grow up in an environment that provides many encounters with written language, they frequently have an easier time learning how to read and write. Successful reading is a major factor in writing development, so major, in fact, that students who cannot read, or cannot read well, cannot write. Because students learn to read before they learn to write, understanding the mechanisms that underlie reading development is crucial to understanding writing performance.

Two views dominate the field of reading: One advocates that reading is a bottom-up process, the other that it is a top-down process. The first view usually finds application through phonics instruction, which focuses on teaching students decoding skills. Phonics approaches reading from the perspective that textual meaning is merely the sum of its visible parts: letters, syllables, and words. It emphasizes letter recognition, word accuracy, and attendance to form, with repeated error correction as the main pedagogical technique. The second view finds application through sight-vocabulary techniques that link whole-word recognition to context-dependent experiences. It argues that reading involves more than simply decoding letters into words and that reading is a complex activity in which readers use textual cues to generate a mental representation of meaning. Ultimately, however, reading development involves both bottom-up and top-down processes.

Schools teach students reading before writing, but over the last several years increasing numbers of teachers have recognized that reading and writing are reciprocal skills. In a growing number of elementary classrooms, teachers have given up the traditional sequence of instruction. Rather than beginning reading instruction with published texts, children write their own stories and use these as a source of reading materials. Learning how to read is thereby intimately linked with learning how to write, and the children's discourse becomes a vehicle for learning. The availability of microcomputers and printers has

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