The Science of Reading: Writing in Literacy Instruction

science of reading writing instruction

"The Science of Reading" emerged as a comprehensive field of study rooted in decades of research across multiple disciplines. It draws upon insights from cognitive psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, and education to understand the intricate processes involved in how individuals learn to read and comprehend text. This interdisciplinary approach delves into various aspects of reading, including phonemic awareness, decoding skills, fluency, vocabulary acquisition, and comprehension strategies. This research has led many teachers to ask, what does "The Science of Reading" say about writing instruction? 


The Neglected Element: Writing in Literacy Instruction

Writing, as an essential means of communication, stands alongside reading as a pillar of literacy. Yet, it often finds itself overshadowed by the spotlight on reading. The emphasis on decoding, fluency, and comprehension in reading instruction sometimes leads to the neglect of writing, particularly in the early years. While reading receives dedicated blocks of instruction, assessment, and intervention, writing tends to be relegated to the sidelines.

This neglect of writing is evident in various aspects of literacy instruction. In elementary classrooms, writing is often an afterthought without dedicated instruction. As a result, students may not fully grasp the reciprocal relationship between reading and writing—that they are two sides of the same coin, each supporting and enhancing the other. Quality instruction in writing supports success in reading and vice versa.

Writing is often not assessed as frequently as reading, leading to a lack of accountability and measurement of students' writing progress. Principals, under pressure to improve reading exam scores, may direct teachers to prioritize reading instruction at the expense of writing. This imbalance not only undermines the importance of writing but also overlooks its potential to enhance overall literacy development.


Current Challenges in Writing Instruction

Despite the fact that we know the importance of writing, educators face numerous challenges in providing effective instruction. While some teachers excel in implementing writing programs, many struggle to integrate writing instruction seamlessly into their day. 

One major challenge is the lack of time allocated to writing instruction within the school day. With competing demands and priorities, teachers may prioritize other subjects over writing, leading to insufficient instructional time dedicated to developing students' writing skills. Additionally, limited resources and professional development opportunities in writing instruction contribute to educators struggling to provide effective writing instruction.

At Simplify Writing®, we work to help teachers overcome these challenges. We're fierce advocates for explicit and systematic writing instruction that provides skills our students can apply in their writing in the other subject areas. 


What the Research Says

The "Science of Reading" research takes a deep dive into literacy instruction, including where writing fits into the puzzle. The following are best practices supported by the research, which are foundational pillars of the Simplify Writing® program.

  • Integration with Reading: The research emphasizes the importance of integrating writing instruction alongside reading, as it enhances overall literacy skills and promotes deeper comprehension and critical thinking abilities. To address this, we include both mentor texts and reference texts in our writing units, and we encourage application of the writing skills they learn during reading and the other subject area blocks.
  • Explicit Instruction: Studies show that providing explicit instruction in writing mechanics, including spelling, grammar, and sentence structure, is crucial for supporting students' writing development. We often see ELA curriculum that only includes application of writing, missing the systematic instruction students need to build their writing skills.
  • Meaningful Writing Experiences: The research underscores the significance of offering students meaningful writing experiences across various genres and content areas to promote engagement and skill acquisition. Our lessons incorporate a variety of genres and content areas, including reading, science, and social studies. 
  • Structured Literacy Approach: Overall, the "Science of Reading" research advocates for a structured literacy approach that incorporates both reading and writing instruction to effectively support students' literacy development and foster lifelong learning. Writing should be taught in a way that is explicit and systematic, which helps students build transferrable skills. 



Integrated Writing Instruction: What Does it Mean?

Unfortunately, there's a lot of confusion around what the research says about integration. Many people have interpreted this research to mean that writing needs to only be embedded into the reading block. This has led to ELA curricula focusing on reading and including writing integration that misses the direct, systematic instruction that is required for students to acquire the skills. As a result, students are applying the skills they have instead of learning or growing as writers.

Integrated writing instruction involves explicit writing activities, bridging the gap between reading and writing instruction. For example, teachers can incorporate writing tasks that require students to apply and extend their reading comprehension skills, such as summarizing texts, analyzing characters, or synthesizing information from multiple sources.

Quality writing instruction means also having a dedicated time for explicit instruction in the writing skills. This doesn't mean that the writing doesn't include the interaction that the research emphasizes. During direct skill instruction, students should be working in units that bridge the gap between writing and the other subject areas.


Ways we integrate reading into our writing instruction using Simplify Writing®

  • Using the phonics skills students are learning during their direct, systematic reading instruction into our writing lessons by teaching them to encode. Encoding is the practice of breaking down a word into its individual sounds while spelling and writing.
  • Incorporating quality text for students to interact with. This involves both the teacher's modeled mentor text and reference texts. We include a lot of engaging text in our writing units.
  • Encouraging authentic output activities that allow for others to read what students write.


By prioritizing integrated instruction with explicit writing lessons, teachers can create a supportive learning environment where students feel empowered to express themselves creatively and effectively through writing. This holistic approach to literacy instruction acknowledges the interconnectedness of reading and writing and equips students with essential skills for writing.


Looking to dive deeper into the writing instruction research that created a foundation for Simplify Writing®? Click here.



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