Writing to Read

It turns out there is a large body of evidence on how writing can improve reading. Three closely related instructional practices are continually effective when used to improve students’ reading comprehension. Graham & Hebert (2010) grouped these best practices in order of effectiveness. It should be noted that these effects were all positive and that social science researchers generally interpret effect sizes as small = .20; medium = .50; and large = .80.

Graham Effect Sizes

  1. Have students write about the texts they read. (Student comprehension of social studies is improved when they write about what they read).
    1. Respond to a text in writing, perhaps by writing personal reactions, or by analyzing and interpreting texts. How do students apply the material that was read, or covered in class? What can be created from this passage? Write the Russian response to the Long Telegram. Make six points from this passage. Give me three reasons why? Extended writing has a strong and consistent positive impact on reading. Why did Kennan write the Long Telegram? Analytic essays: Describe three inventions that drove industrial growth during the 19th century. Provide reasons and/or examples for each choice.
    2. Write summaries of texts (six word memoirs/definitions, Collins 10% summaries). This technique has a stronger effect on elementary students than on middle and high school students.
      1. Identify main information
      2. Delete trivial information
      3. Eliminate redundant information
      4. Write a short synopsis of the main and supporting information for each paragraph.
      5. Teachers need to explain each step, model the strategy, and allow students time to practice applying these new skills.
      6. Summarization of longer texts requires a skeleton outline, thesis, main idea subheadings each containing 2-3 important details. Later a student should convert the outline to a written summary of the entire text.
    3. Write notes about a text (paraphrasing, dual column close reading with primary sources). Consistently has a positive impact on reading comprehension.
      1. Structured note-taking (alpha-numeric, Cornell)
      2. Concept mapping
      3. 15 minute history example. Divide class into 4 groups.
    4. Answer questions about a text in writing, or create and answer written questions about a text (Kahoot Kompetitions, effective questioning)
  2. Teach students the writing skills and processes that go into creating text
    1. Teach the process of writing
    2. Text structures for writing
    3. Paragraph or sentence construction skills.
    4. (All of these improve reading comprehension).
  3. Increase how much students write
    1. Reading comprehension is improved by increasing how often students produce their own texts.
    2. NWP (2003) study asked teachers to double the amount of writing they assign in class.

It is essential to vary these techniques in order to keep students from falling into routines where they may become bored with note-taking and writing. Social Studies teachers have a larger burden than other content teachers when preparing writing tasks that help students understand what they read, as disciplinary reading within our field makes up the majority of a student’s academic vocabulary (See below).

Marzano 55%

Future Research Should:

  1. Focus on low-achieving students.
  2. Cross-comparisons on the effects of different writing practices.
  3. Comparisons on different aspects of performance.
  4. How to bring writing practices to scale.
  5. Combining writing practices. Do more complex, multi-component practices yield stronger reading gains?
  6. Establish a greater range of writing about texts strategies.
  7. What are the long-term effects of writing and writing instruction on reading?
  8. Do students become better readers due to increased instruction in planning and revising?


Graham, S., & Hebert, M. (2010). Writing to read: Evidence for how writing can improve reading: A report from Carnegie Corporation of New York. Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Graham, S., Harris, K., & Hebert, M. (2011). Informing writing: The benefits of formative assessment. A Report from Carnegie Corporation of New York. Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Reading Next

Biancarosa & Snow (2004) outline 15 elements of effective literacy interventions. RN Cover Subsequent research should focus on identifying an optimal mix that will increase the literacy of middle and high school students while simultaneously building their knowledge base. The following fifteen elements are research-based best practices aimed at improving middle and high school literacy achievement:

  1. Direct, explicit comprehension instruction, which is instruction in the strategies and processes that proficient readers use to understand what they read, including summarizing, keeping track of one’s own understanding, and a host of other practices
  2. Effective instructional principles embedded in content, including language arts teachers using content-area texts and content-area teachers providing instruction and practice in reading and writing skills specific to their subject area
  3. Motivation and self-directed learning, which includes building motivation to read and learn and providing students with the instruction and supports needed for independent learning tasks they will face after graduation
  4. Text-based collaborative learning, which involves students interacting with one another around a variety of texts
  5. Strategic tutoring, which provides students with intense individualized reading, writing, and content instruction as needed
  6. Diverse texts, which are texts at a variety of difficulty levels and on a variety of topics
  7. Intensive writing, including instruction connected to the kinds of writing tasks students will have to perform well in high school and beyond
  8. A technology component, which includes technology as a tool for and a topic of literacy instruction
  9. Ongoing formative assessment of students, which is informal, often daily assessment of how students are progressing under current instructional practices
  10. Extended time for literacy, which includes approximately two to four hours of literacy instruction and practice that takes place in language arts and content-area classes
  11. Professional development that is both long term and ongoing
  12. Ongoing summative assessment of students and programs, which is more formal and provides data that are reported for accountability and research purposes
  13. Teacher teams, which are interdisciplinary teams that meet regularly to discuss students and align instruction
  14. Leadership, which can come from principals and teachers who have a solid understanding of how to teach reading and writing to the full array of students present in schools
  15. A comprehensive and coordinated literacy program, which is interdisciplinary and interdepartmental and may even coordinate with out-of-school organizations and the local community

Lit Ach Elements

Since educational research has not identified an overall strategy for directing and coordinating remedial tools for students at risk of academic failure, teachers are encouraged to experiment with these elements and report out any effective combinations. The authors recommend that three specific elements: professional development, formative assessment, and summative assessment be included in order to ensure instructional effectiveness and measuring effects.

#SSchat on RoboReaders

Rise of The Robo-Readers

July 13 @ 4pm PST/7pm EST #sschat
co-mods: @scottmpetri & @DavidSalmanson

A primer on auto essay scoring


Q1 What is your definition of AES, robo-reading, or robo-grading? #sschat

Q2 What is greatest hope and/or your worst fear about technology-assisted grading? #sschat

Q3 When is it ok for a computer to assign grades on student work? #sschat

Q4 How can classroom teachers test & evaluate a robograder without disrupting learning? #sschat

Q5 What would parents think if Ts required Ss to use robo-graders before submitting work? #sschat

Q6 What would school admins say if you used a robograder in your classes? #sschat

Q7 How would you use a robograder in your History-Social Science class?

Q8 How could robo-readers help teachers gamify the art and process of writing?

Shameless plug: https://www.canvas.net/browse/ncss/courses/improving-historical-writing has a module on writing feedback & AES. Course is free and open til Sept. 22. #sschat

Teaser Tweets (to promote the chat after Monday – 7/6).

Are robo-graders the future of assessment or worse than useless? http://wp.me/4SfVS #sschat

Robo-readers are called Automated Essay Scorers (AES) in education research. http://wp.me/4SfVS  #sschat

In one study, Ss using a robo-reader wrote 3X as many words as Ss not using the RR. http://wp.me/4SfVS #sschat

Robo-readers produce a change in Ss behavior from never revising to 100% revising. http://wp.me/4SfVS #sschat

Criticism from a human instructor has a negative effect on students’ attitudes about revisions. http://wp.me/4SfVS #sschat

Comments from the robo-reader produced overwhelmingly positive feelings for student writers. http://wp.me/4SfVS #sschat

Computer feedback stimulates reflectiveness in students, something instructors don’t always do. http://wp.me/4SfVS #sschat

Robo-graders are able to match human scores simply by over-valuing length compared to human readers. http://wp.me/4SfVS #sschat

None of the major testing companies allow open-ended demonstrations of their robo-graders http://wp.me/4SfVS #sschat

Toasters sold at Walmart have more gov. oversight than robo-readers grading high stakes tests. http://wp.me/4SfVS #sschat

What is the difference between a robo-reader & a robo-grader? http://wp.me/4SfVS #sschat

To join the video-chat follow @ImpHRW, sign into www.Nurph.com. Enter the #ImpHRW channel. Note you will still need to enter #sschat to your tweets.









Promo Video for a forthcoming Turnitin.com product


A longer paper by Shermis & Hamner

Perelman’s full-length critique of Shermis & Hamner


If you are really a hard-core stats & edu-research nerd




National Council of Teachers of English Statement


For Further Research

Williamson, D. M., Xi, X., & Breyer, F. J. (2012). A framework for evaluation and use of automated scoring. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 31(1), 2-13.

Role of Robo-Readers


I have increased the amount of writing in my high school World History classes over the last five years. At first, I required two DBQs per semester, then I increased that to four DBQs per semester. Next, I added a five-page research paper at the end of the school year. Now, I assign research papers during each semester. If I were to allot ten minutes of reading/grading time for each DBQ that would be 80 minutes of grading per student, multiplied by last year’s total student load of 197 for a total of 263 hours of reading and grading. Assuming I spent 30 minutes correcting each research paper, an additional 197 hours of  grading would be added to my workload. Where do I find those extra 460 hours per year? Do I neglect my family and grade non-stop every weekend? No. I use a combination of robo-readers, or automated essay scoring (AES) tools and structured peer review protocols to help my students improve their writing.

Hemmingway App

As AES has matured, a myriad of programs has proliferated that are free to educators.  Grammarly claims to find and correct ten times more mistakes than a word processor. The Hemmingway App makes writing bold and clear. PaperRater offers feedback by comparing a writer’s work to others at their grade level. It ranks each paper on a percentile scale examining originality, grammar, spelling, phrasing, transitions, academic vocabulary, voice, and style. Then it provides students with an overall grade. My students use this trio of tools to improve their writing before I ever look at it.


David Salmanson, a fellow history teacher and scholar, questioned my reliance on technology. The purpose of these back and forth posts is to elaborate on the continuum of use that robo-readers may develop in the K-12 ecosystem. Murphy-Paul argues a non-judgmental computer may motivate students to try, to fail and to improve more than almost any human. Research on a program called e-rater confirmed this and found that students using it wrote almost three times as many words as their peers who did not. Perelman rebuts this by pointing out robo-graders do not score by understanding meaning but by the use of gross measures, especially length and pretentious language. He feels students should not be graded by machines making faulty assumptions with proprietary algorithms.

Both of these writers make excellent points, however, classroom teachers, especially those of us in low SES public schools are going to have a difficult time improving their discipline-specific writing instruction, increasing the amount of writing assigned, not to mention providing feedback that motivates students to revise their work, prior to a final evaluation. We will need to find an appropriate balance for giving both computerized and human feedback to our students.

Mayfield maintains that automated assessment changes the locus of control, making students enlist the teacher as an ally to help them address the feedback from the computer. I have found that students in my class reluctantly revise their writing per the advice of a robo-reader, but real growth happens when students have discussions in small groups in regards to what works and what doesn’t. Asking students to write a revision memo detailing the changes they have made in each new draft helps them see writing as an iterative process instead of a one and done assignment.

Read David’s post and participate in our #sschat on this topic on July 13th at 7pm EST/4pm PST.