Research Bites: Implications from Research on Writing from Reading

Grabe, W., & Zhang, C. (2013). Reading and writing together: A critical component of English for academic purposes teaching and learning. TESOL Journal, 4(1), 9-24.

That integrating reading and writing is an essential academic skill has been well-documented (and well-discussed on my blog). Grabe and Zhang (2013) explore the research on reading/writing integration and derive a number of important pedagogical implications all EAP and ESL writing instructors should be aware of.

Integrating reading and writing is a skill that is difficult for native English speakers, and particularly difficult for EAP students. According to the research, factors that make this type of writing difficult for EAP students include lack of practice opportunities, weaker reading skills, limited experience integrating reading and writing, poor grammar and vocabulary, motivation, lack of knowledge of organizational patterns, poor writing fluency, less background to use.

Students are likely to encounter a number of different writing tasks at the university level, and it is likely they will not be prepared for them. All of these tasks require text-responsible writing from reading (p. 12):

  1. Taking notes from a text (both at home and in class)
  2. Summarizing text information
  3. Paraphrasing textual resources
  4. Combining information from multiple text sources in a synthesis task
  5. Comparing multiple points of view from written texts and producing a critical synthesis
  6. Answering essay exam questions in writing (both at home and in class)
  7. Writing an extended research paper or literature review
  8. Responding to assigned texts (summary and then critique)

Grabe and Zhang’s article focuses on summarizing and synthesizing skills. The ability to summarize has been shown to be related to reading proficiency and vocabulary. In addition, ESL students struggle with paraphrasing, especially less proficient students, leading to many problems of plagiarism. Limited research on synthesis writing suggests stronger students mine texts more. Research on argument writing showed that stronger readers often include counterarguments and refutations in their writing. All of this research indicated better reading proficiency is related to better integrative writing.

Like summarizing, a key issue of synthesis writing is plagiarism, often due to not knowing how to use source texts correctly in western universities rather than deceitfulness. The authors, citing research, warn against blanket accusations of plagiarism without explicit instruction in not only how to avoid it but correct usage of source texts.

An experimental study by Zhang looked at the effectiveness of explicit synthesis writing instruction, which was found to outperform the control group in quality, organization, and text-usage.

Implications from Research

  • Students need more practice opportunities to integrate reading and writing, and to build confidence and fluency in this skill
  • Students need a large academic vocabulary
  • Students need explicit reading comprehension activities
  • Students need more explicit instruction for integrated writing tasks
  • Teachers should raise student awareness of tasks and expectations
  • Teachers should include more models of writing that can be analyzed.
  • The entire reading/writing process (reading, evaluation, source selection, citation, etc.) should be modelled and scaffolded
  • Models should put emphasis on text responsibility rather than opinion writing
  • Students should write summaries together
  • Teachers should try to develop more background knowledge
  • Teachers should teach students to “ask about cultural and topical information and reading/writing assumptions hidden in the task and texts” (p. 18)
  • Addressing plagiarism should be proactive
  • There needs to be an explicit focus on organization, including rhetorical signals
  • Teachers can use reading guides or reading journals to help students explore texts in more depth

The authors state that “The best general approach to instruction, therefore, is to begin instruction on reading/writing tasks much earlier, much more explicitly, and with much more iterative practice. Such thinking requires some creativity on the parts of teachers, curriculum developers, and materials writers” (p. 19).

Two practical projects that can help realize implications come to mind. One is a project that is mentioned in the text: learning reading/writing integration from writing and editing Wikipedia projects. This is an especially creative idea, and it is quite useful. For lower-levels, one can even write/edit Simple English pages!

The other idea is an oft-promoted one on this blog: Academic Reading Circles. This project addresses many of the implications mentioned in this article. It is a great place to work with not only academic readings but integrated reading and writing skills.

All in all, teaching reading from writing is an essential skill, one that clearly needs to be done more carefully, explicitly, and often. The ideas in the article hopefully inspire or reaffirm the need for this type of writing and lead to students who are better prepared for academic study and beyond.