While many reviews already examine the impact of either reading or writing interventions, a recent meta-analysis took an alternative approach by analyzing studies focused on programs balancing writing and reading instruction to determine if these programs had greater success in developing these skills. Including 47 studies, Graham and colleagues analyzed 46 unique programs, each with no more than 60% of instruction dedicated to either reading or writing, arguing that programs focused on both skill sets could improve skills in both reading and writing, and that while research shows that reading instruction improves writing and vice versa, studies had not determined the impact of balanced programs.
The included programs were divided into 9 categories: cooperative learning, content literacy, early literacy, home based, literature based, remedial, strategy instruction, whole language, and IBM’s Writing to Read (a computer-based program). Of these, cooperative learning approaches were the most common type of program, followed by Writing to Read, remedial programs, and early literacy approaches. The majority of studies included in the analysis were quasi-experimental studies, included assessments of both reading and writing performance, were conducted in typical classrooms, and focused on native English speakers (15% of studies included English learners as the predominant focus group). Graham and colleagues found that:
- There were generally positive and statistically significant results, with a total reading average weighted effect size (ES) of +0.33, compared with a total writing ES of +0.37.
- When considering specific skill areas, statistically significant effect sizes were found for reading comprehension (+0.39), reading decoding (+0.53), reading vocabulary (+0.35), writing quality (+0.47), writing mechanics (+0.18), and writing output (+0.69).
- When breaking down reading programs by type, positive and significant effect sizes were found for cooperative learning (+0.48), early literacy (+0.46), remedial programs (+0.28), and Writing to Read (+0.16).
- Writing programs using a cooperative learning approach (+0.37) and remedial learning (+0.32) were also found to be statistically significant.
- In contrast, reading/writing instruction programs using content instruction contexts were not found to have significant effects on reading, while Writing to Read, whole language approaches, and cooperative learning programs were not found to have a significant improvement on writing.
The researchers argue that the programs with insignificant effect sizes for writing may have to do with the form of writing instruction included in the programs, which may not be as overt or systematic enough to build stronger effects for students in writing skill areas, or that teachers may place greater value on developing reading skills than writing ones, impacting how the programs are implemented, regardless of their stated intent or structures. Ultimately, programs with a balanced reading and writing instructional approach (ES=+ 0.66) demonstrated larger effects on reading skills than those emphasizing either reading (ES = +0.37) or writing (ES =+ 0.27) independently.
Source: Graham, S., Liu, X., Aitken, A., Ng, C., Bartlett, B., Harris, K. R., & Holzapfel, J. (2018). Effectiveness of literacy programs balancing reading and writing instruction: A meta‐analysis. Reading Research Quarterly, 53(3), 279-304.