The Effects of a Reading-to-Write Instruction in History

Johan van Driel (Universiteit van Amsterdam):

In order to understand the discipline of history, students need to master their abilities to read historical accounts and disciplinary writing. The community of historians have their own methods and standards in order to judge the quality of historical accounts in which historians describe, explain, evaluate and justify their debatable interpretations. This public display of evidence enabled historians to convince their audience of the significance of a historical agent, event of development. Significance is always assigned from a particular frame of reference and might develop over time (Cercadillo et. al., 2017; Chapman, 2011; Monte Sano, 2010).

The reading to write construct is based on the assumption, as Fitzgerald & Shanahan (2000) have pointed out, that reading, and writing requires a common knowledge base. Although both authors acknowledge the differences between reading and writing, there is reason to believe that reading has a unique contribution to writing performance. However, little is known about how knowledge of writing is affected by a reading to write instruction (Graham et. al., 2018).

Our research questions are: 1. What is the effect of a domain-specific reading to write instruction on domain-specific knowledge of reading and writing? And: 2. Do students write more elaborated essays about the changing interpretation of historical significance following a reading to write instruction compared to students without this instruction?

In a randomised pre- post design (N = 92) with a treatment and a control condition, this study examines the effect of an explicit reading instruction on knowledge of (a) reading, (b) writing and (c) the quality of written texts.

Knowledge of reading and writing was measured with a test in which students provided recommendations for reading historical accounts and writing (adapted from Schoonen & de Glopper, 1996). All pre-and post-tests were analyzed (inter rater reliability: .81) on (domain-specific) reading, historical reasoning and (domain-specific) writing. All Dutch students (10th grade, higher secondary education) were asked to write a text in which they explained how the assigned significance to Columbus was developed over time and whether Columbus is significant in our time. After the intervention, students filled in a learner report.

The intervention is based on proven principles such as authentic task, social interaction and explicit instruction (e.g. Goldman & Snow, 2015; van Boxtel & van Drie, 2018) and focused on how historians, living in different centuries, (a) provide a message to their audience; (b) involve arguments and counterarguments in their accounts, and (c) were influenced by their own historical context while interpreting Columbus.

Results show that students in the experimental condition scored significantly higher on knowledge of reading and wrote significantly higher scoring essays compared with students in the control condition (Wilcoxon test: pretest: Z: -.830, p: .406; posttest: mean exp. group: 55.62, control group: 38,92, Z -3.075, p: .002). The differences in the written essays between both conditions were found with respect to body (ηp2: .090), coherence (ηp2: .097), involving perspectives (ηp2: .408) and using historical context (ηp2: .127). We found no effects on knowledge of writing (pretest: Z: -1.053, p: .291; posttest: Z -1.117, p: .264). Self-report on learning gains indicate that students in the experimental condition were more aware of the interpretative nature of historical knowledge. Approximately 60% of the students in the experimental condition wrote that history is an interpretation of the past, while students in the control students wrote that historians write about their own opinions in accounts.

Future researchers are recommended to investigate the long-term effects of the reading to write construct by repeating this instruction and to make comparisons with writing strategy instruction.


Cercadillo, Lis/Chapman, Arthur & Lee, Peter. (2017). Organizing the past: historical accounts, significance and unknown ontologies. In Mario Carretero/Stefan Berger & Maria Grever (eds.), Palgrave handbook of research in historical culture and education. Palgrave Macmillan, London

Chapman, Arthur. (2011). Historical interpretations. In Ian Davies (ed.), Debates in history teaching. London: Routledge.

Fitzgerald, Jill & Shanahan, Timothy. (2000). Reading and writing relations and their development. Educational Psychologist, 35(1), 39-50.

Goldman, Susan R. & Snow, Catherine E. (2015). Adolescent literacy: development and instruction. In Alexander Pollatsek & Rebecca Treiman (eds.), The oxford handbook of reading (pp. 463–478). New York, NY: Oxford University

Graham, Steve/Liu, Xinghua/Bartlett, Brendan/Ng, Clarence/Harris, Karen R./Aitken, Angelique/ … Talukdar, Joy (2018). Reading for Writing: A Meta-Analysis of the Impact of Reading Interventions on Writing. Review of Educational Research, 88(2), 243–284.

Monte-Sano, Chauncey. (2010) Disciplinary literacy in history: An exploration of the historical nature of adolescents’ writing. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 19(4), 539–568.

SSchoonen, Rob & De Glopper, Kees. (1996). Writing performance and knowledge about writing. In Rijlaarsdam, Gert/Huub Van den Bergh & Michel Couzijn (eds.), Theories, models & methodology in writing research (pp. 87-107). Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Amsterdam University Press.

van Boxtel, Carla & van Drie, Jannet. (2018). Historical reasoning: conceptualizations and educational applications. In Scott Alan Metzger & Lauren McArthur Harris (eds.), The Wiley international handbook of history teaching and learning (pp. 149-176). Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell.