Learning to read and write are complementary skills. While in the younger years, writing depends on reading skills, by middle and high school, they are complementary skills: reading is necessary to do writing assignments, while writing about what has read increases comprehension of the reading materials. For this reason, separating reading and writing instruction from content areas is arbitrary and will eventually interfere with the students' progress in those content areas.
From the day children are born, parents are told by doctors, teachers and other experts to read to them, and to read to them every day. They are told to do this because hearing language that contains story lines, rich language and vivid imagery facilitates language development and develops a desire to read. From "The Poky Little Puppy" to Rudyard Kipling, children's literature exists that uses language in exciting and colorful ways. Good children's literature doesn't sound the same as the conversations the child hears around himself, and thus broadens the child's experiences with language.
As a child gets older, he or she learns to read. While adults are still encouraged to read to children at all ages, and good classroom teachers continue to do that, as the child learns to read he has more and more ability to increase his exposure to the many ways language can be used. He gets exposed to a wider circle of knowledge than he could collect if his only source was from other people.
This background of knowledge and familiarity with written language is a necessary foundation for any writing the child does. The child who does not read widely will have a markedly smaller set of information to draw from when writing. This link between reading and writing becomes even more important as the child enters middle and high school and is expected to read new information, digest it, and organize it in a way he (or she) feels demonstrates an understanding of the material. While writing poetry and fiction can be valid assignments as well, well-educated students are expected to be able to produce written reports of what they have read. They are expected to be able to gather new information and share it in written form with others.
One important way to develop the skill of reading content information and using it in written form is to teach reading and writing across the curriculum. Such skills as critical thinking can be applied to subject textbooks as well as extra reading assigned to the students. Erickson (1998) used the example of girls researching the lives of famous scientists. As they put together a timeline, and report, they read critically and realized that women were markedly under-represented. They went back and read their materials critically, looking for details about women scientists, and found information about the struggle of early women scientists for the recognition due them. By applying reading and writing skills in science, they developed skills and information in all three subjects. Erickson calls this "informational literacy."
As Nourie, et. al., say, "Many preservice teachers do not recognize the extent to which content area subjects and language use are correlated. Language is central to all learning, regardless of the discipline." These authors also point out that when reading and writing are incorporated into content learning, instruction becomes multi-modal. In addition to a lecture format, reading critically provides intra-personal learning. Group activities that require the students to read critically and then produce a report allows for inter-personal learning. These reports can be presented to the class in oral form. Hands-on learning can be included in the form of displays illustrating what the student or students have learned.
Nourie, et. al remind their readers that some students will need support throughout the reading and writing process, but when content-area subjects are recognized as classes in reading and writing as well as in the content material, this becomes a natural and important part of the class. Over time, can learn to recognize the reading strategies they use, and why, and become aware of the processes they use while reading - metacognition (Nourie, et. Al., 1998).
Gardill and Jitendra (1999) researched the effectiveness of teaching a specific reading strategy -- story mapping --to reading material, using a population of learning disabled students. While they used fiction, similar strategies could be used to teach critical reading skills,…