Monday, March 25, 2024

This blog post is part of our Research Article of the Month series. For this month, we highlight “Relations Between Reading and Writing: A Longitudinal Examination From Grades 3 to 6,” an article published in the journal Reading and Writing in 2018. Important words related to research are bolded, and definitions of these terms are included at the end of the article in the “Terms to Know” section.

Why Did We Pick This Paper?

Reading and writing are foundational skills that facilitate learning of academic content and participation in everyday activities like applying for jobs, understanding the news, and reading instructions. Many tasks inside and outside of school require using both skills in tandem. For example, students might need to write a summary of a book chapter or read written notes from a lecture. Given the interaction between writing and reading skills, some scholars believe that teaching writing and reading together could be beneficial in order to facilitate the transfer between the two related skills.

Do reading skills facilitate and reinforce the development of writing skills and vice versa? This study examines the patterns of development in reading (i.e., word reading and reading comprehension) and writing (i.e., spelling and written composition). The researchers also examined the relations between these skills and whether these relations vary depending on the specificity level of the skills—word-level skills like word reading and spelling or discourse-level skills like reading comprehension and written composition.

What Are the Research Questions or Purpose?

The study aimed to shed light on how reading and writing skills develop over time and the interrelationships between these skills by addressing the following questions:

  1. What are the patterns of development of reading (i.e., word reading and reading comprehension) and writing (i.e., spelling and written comprehension) from Grades 3 to 6?
  2. How are growth trajectories in reading and writing interrelated over time from Grades 3 to 6?

What Methodology Do the Authors Employ?

The researchers analyzed data from a longitudinal study of students’ reading and writing development. They examined data from two cohorts of children in the same district. The total sample size in each grade varied across years and measures, ranging from 269 in sixth-grade word reading to 359 in third-grade spelling. Students’ abilities with word reading, reading comprehension, spelling, and written composition were assessed using the following assessments:

  • Word reading: Children’s word reading was assessed using the Letter Word Identification task of the Woodcock Johnson-III. For this assessment, students read aloud words of increasing difficulty. 
  • Reading comprehension: Reading comprehension was assessed using the passage comprehension task of the Woodcock Johnson-III. This is a cloze task in which students read sentences and short passages and fill in blanks with the missing information.
  • Spelling: Spelling was assessed using the spelling task of the Woodcock Johnson-III. In this task, the teacher dictates a word by itself, in a sentence, and then by itself again, and the student spells the word.
  • Written composition: Written composition was measured using two tasks. First, students completed the essay composition task of the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test-3rd. In this task, students write about their favorite game and provide three reasons explaining why they like it. The second task was designed by the researchers. In this task, the students were asked to write about something interesting that happened after they got home from school one day. 

To analyze the patterns of development for the four tested skills, the researchers employed latent growth curve modeling. Next, they used structural equation models to compare pairs of skills. This approach allowed the researchers to assess whether a student’s performance in one skill predicted their performance in another skill. 

What Are the Key Findings?

Research Question 1: What are the patterns of development of reading (i.e., word reading and reading comprehension) and writing (i.e., spelling and written comprehension) from Grades 3 to 6?

  • For word-level skills (i.e., word reading and spelling), linear growth models described the data best, meaning that students’ word reading and spelling skills increased steadily over time from Grades 3 to 6. The most significant growth in word reading took place between Grades 3 and 4 (45%). There was less growth between Grades 4 and 5 (26%) and between Grades 5 and 6 (29%). A similar pattern of growth was observed in spelling skills.
  • For discourse-level skills (i.e., reading comprehension and written composition), nonlinear trajectories described the data best, indicating changing rates of growth over time. These skills are characterized by initial strong growth that gradually slows down or plateaus. 
  • For word reading, students’ status in third grade was negatively associated with their rate of growth, meaning that students with higher reading skills in third grade had a slower growth rate through the grades.
  • For spelling, students’ status in third grade was strongly positively related to their rate of growth, indicating that students with a higher spelling skill in third grade developed faster through the grades. 
  • For reading comprehension and written composition, the relationship between initial skill level and rate of growth was not measurable, indicating that initial skill level in these skills does not necessarily predict future growth.

Research Question 2: How are growth trajectories in reading and writing interrelated over time from Grades 3 to 6?

  • There were strong bidirectional correlations between word reading and spelling across grades, indicating that word reading skills were correlated with spelling skills and vice versa. This may be because both abilities rely on a relatively limited number of highly related skills. 
  • The relationship between reading comprehension and written composition was weak, suggesting these skills are, to a large extent, unique and independent. This may be because reading comprehension and written composition depend on a relatively large number of complex skills.
  • Initial skill status in word reading strongly predicted initial skill status and growth rate in spelling, but spelling did not predict growth in word reading. In other words, children with higher initial word reading ability also had higher spelling ability and experienced a faster rate of growth. Growth rate in word reading also predicted growth rate in spelling. These findings indicate that development of word reading facilitates development of spelling, but not the other way around.
  • Initial status in reading comprehension strongly predicted written composition, but not the other way around. These findings contradict previous research, potentially suggesting that, for written composition skills to transfer to reading comprehension, explicit and targeted instruction may be necessary. 

What Are the Limitations of This Paper?

This longitudinal study investigated the growth pattern and relationships between the reading and writing skills of students in Grades 3 to 6.  The findings suggest that reading influences writing more than the reverse at both word and discourse levels during these grades. However, this study did not consider several factors that could significantly affect the development of reading and writing skills, such as quality or dosage of instruction, quality of instructional materials, and variations in classroom environment. These factors could play critical roles in forming a student’s reading and writing trajectory. Additionally, socio-economic factors such as access to additional educational resources and support at home were not examined, and these factors could inform the strength and nature of the relationship between reading and writing skills as well. Further studies are needed to investigate these variables in depth in order to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the complex dynamics that contribute to reading and writing development.

In future research, multilevel modeling can also be used to further estimate the relationships between reading and writing skills. Given the nature of reading and writing data, with students nested within classrooms, grades, and schools, this approach allows researchers to explore how the relationships between reading and writing at the student level might vary depending on factors at the classroom level or the grade level. With deeper insight into the dynamics of literacy skills development, more targeted and effective educational interventions can be designed to enhance reading and writing proficiency simultaneously.

Terms to Know

  • Longitudinal: In research, a longitudinal study involves multiple measurements or observations of the same group of people over a long period of time. 

  • Cloze: A cloze task is a test of reading comprehension in which a reader reads a sentence or short passage while supplying words that have been systematically deleted from the text, like a “fill-in-the-blank” task.

  • Cohort: In research, a cohort is a group of research subjects who share some characteristic, such as grade level or language background. A cohort study follows a group of people over time, tracking how certain factors affect them.

  • Latent growth curve modeling: Latent growth modeling is a statistical technique used to estimate growth trajectories over time. Latent growth models represent multiple measures of a dependent variable as a function of time. For example, if the dependent variable is a student’s score on a spelling assessment, a latent growth model would represent how a student’s score would be expected to change over time (e.g., whether it increases gradually over time or whether it increases rapidly at first and then slows down and plateaus).

    • Dependent variable: A dependent variable is a factor that may change in response to another variable. For example, a student’s composite reading score (dependent variable) may change in response to the length of reading intervention they receive in total minutes.
  • Structural equation modeling: Structural equation modeling refers to a number of statistical methods that are used to model variables that are causally related. 

  • Causation: When variables have a causative relationship, change in one variable triggers change in another variable.
  • Correlation: When variables are correlated, it means that they tend to vary or occur together in a way not expected by chance. If variables are positively correlated, it means that an increase in one variable is associated with an increase in another. If variables are negatively correlated, it means that an increase in one variable is associated with a decrease in another. 

  • Dosage: Dosage, measured in minutes or hours, is the product of the dose (the number of minutes per instructional session), the dose frequency (the number of instructional sessions per week), and duration (the total number of weeks of instruction). For example, if an intervention occurred for 30 minutes twice a week for eight weeks, it would have a dosage of eight hours.

  • Multilevel modeling: Multilevel modeling is a statistical technique used when data is organized hierarchically—when observations at one level of analysis are nested within observations at a higher level of analysis. For example, multilevel modeling is often used when examining student performance because individual students are nested within classrooms, and classrooms are nested within schools. In this example, multilevel modeling sheds light on how context (e.g., classroom differences or school differences) influences student outcomes. 

    • Nested data: When data are collected from multiple individuals in a group (e.g. individual students in a classroom), those data are considered nested within that group.


Grace Kim, Y., Petscher, Y., Wanzek, J., & Al Otaiba, S. (2018). Relations between reading and writing: A longitudinal examination from grades 3-6. Reading and Writing, 31, 1591-1618.