Reading and Writing are like Running and Jumping
By: Mia Daucourt
From a mobility perspective, running and jumping are a lot alike. They draw on many of the same capabilities, requiring ankle, hip, and knee extension, and they can also work interactively, with most people who can jump well also being able to run well, and vice versa. In fact, a running start is key for a long jumper or a pole vaulter to get the “umph” they need to make a big jump. Also, you often see sprinters propel forward off one leg, in a hop-like motion to get the “umph” they need to launch into their sprint. On the other hand, running and jumping also require some specific strengths that don’t overlap. For example, while sprinting relies more heavily on the hamstrings, jumping vertically requires more work from the quadriceps and plantar flexors. Thus, it would not be surprising to find a basketball player who dominates at dunking but has deficient hamstring development, making him or her a not-so-great runner (www.higher-faster-sports.com
In the same vein as running and jumping, reading and writing also have a lot in common. They draw on many of the same underlying skills, and, overall, they complement one another. For example, some people may find it helpful to read other people’s work or their own past writing in order to find inspiration for new writing. Furthermore, a lot of study skills, like taking notes to summarize a textbook chapter, require both reading and writing ability. However, just like running and jumping, reading and writing skills are also different in the strengths they draw upon, as well as the way they develop. Recently, Kim and colleagues (2018) conducted a study examining the reading-writing relationship, in order to figure out how different kinds of reading and writing skills develop and overlap in children from third to sixth grade.
Overall, the researchers found that simpler reading and writing skills, like the ability to read a single word or spell accurately had a lot of overlap and developed quickly. They seemed to draw on the same underlying abilities. Specifically, they found that how a third-grade student started off in early reading, as well as how much students’ early reading improved through sixth grade could help us figure out how much that student was expected to grow in writing, too. That means that children’s basic early reading skills had a lot of overlap with children’s basic early writing skills, when writing was measured as spelling. So, at the basic level, reading and writing seemed to be closely-related. However, when looking in the other direction, children’s basic writing skills did not give us any indication of what to expect for children’s basic reading skills. Indeed, it seemed that although the skills needed for early reading may also be useful for early writing, early writing-specific skills were not as useful for early reading needs as early reading skills were for writing needs.
The researchers also found some differences between early reading and writing skills. For reading, they found that most of the improvement in early reading skills was happening early on, with 45% of children’s improvement in reading single words captured from third to fourth grade. They didn’t find the same for writing. In terms of how reading and writing develop, they found opposite patterns. Specifically, better early readers tended to grow slower than readers that didn’t start off as strong, whereas, the better spellers were more likely to get better in spelling than kids that didn’t start off as strong in spelling. So overall, the kids who start off strong in early writing, get stronger, and although the kids who start off strong in early reading also get stronger, they don’t improve as quickly as the kids who start off weaker in reading.
As reading and writing got harder, the researchers found that the reading-writing relationship changed. The more advanced reading and writing skills of reading comprehension and writing composition had a lot less overlap, meaning that they mostly drew on different sets of underlying skills and knowledge. Although the researchers did find that where children started off in their ability to understand what they read (aka, reading comprehension ability) did relate to where those kids started off in their ability to write, the skills were not related in the opposite direction. The more complex reading and writing skills also developed differently. Instead of just growing continuously, the more advanced reading and writing skills showed a pattern where they grew quickly at first, and then the growth slowed way down. This translates to kids being able to improve in advanced reading and writing skills early on, but as they get older, seeing it become harder and harder for kids that are struggling in reading and/or writing to improve.
Overall, these findings are meaningful for how we approach reading and writing education and intervention. Given that reading and writing draw on a lot of the same skills early on, they should be taught and practiced together, in order to benefit from their overlaps from an early age. However, since they don’t overlap completely, it’s also important to explicitly teach the underlying skills that are specific to each domain separately too. Then, since it gets harder and harder for kids to improve in reading and writing as reading and writing get more challenging, it’s also important to intervene on kids’ reading and writing difficulties from an early age, because the more time that goes by, the harder it will be for them to catch up and improve their reading and writing skills.
Citation: Kim, Y. G., Petscher, Y., Wanzek, J., & Al Otaiba, S. (2018). Relations between reading and writing: A longitudinal examination from grades 3 to 6. Reading and Writing, 31