Teaching and Learning Writing: A Review of Research and Practice


S. Kelly
L. Soundranayagam
S. Grief
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy (NRDC) (UK)
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

This research report is the first phase of a British study that intends to identify principles of effective teaching and learning of writing for adult literacy learners. It consist of three reviews:

  • a narrative review of literature (articles had to be written in English) that conceptualize writing development and contribute to an understanding of how adult learners develop as writers;
  • a systematic review of prior research that considers the factors in adult literacy programs that enable learners to develop effective writing skills;
  • and a review of current practice using observations and interviews with learners and teachers.

The report was reviewed by a panel of research consultants consisting of practitioners, managers, and researchers in the field of adult literacy, which provided feedback on the findings and implications for practice. Key findings indicate;

  • Writing is a process in which the writer interacts with what has been written. Planning and revising are as much a part of this process as actually writing.
  • Writing is intimately connected to the writer’s processes of thinking as well as feelings and self identity and cannot be separated from its social, cultural, and political contexts.
  • There is very little sound research evidence on how adult literacy programs enable learners to develop effective writing skills. Research is needed.
  • Most of the primary research studies were outcome evaluations, but few reported specific causal factors. Use of authentic literacy practices in the classroom was the only variable found to be significantly and positively related to changes in learners’ skills and practices.
  • Responsiveness to the needs of individual learners and the use of a variety of tasks and approaches are held to be important by the teachers interviewed.
  • Learners place value on the mastery of spelling and punctuation and identified these as aspects of writing that cause the most difficulty.
  • Classroom observations indicated a heavy use of exercises that focus on sub-skills of writing, which may reflect teachers’ responsiveness to learners’ needs.

Results from Phase 1 will inform Phase 2 which will study authenticity of materials and communication, collaborative approaches to writing, making the practice of writing explicit, and contextualizing writing tasks to make them relevant to learners’ lives.

The report indicates the need for strong writing skills, in that writing is a vital skill in society and a concern that writing has received far less attention than reading from both researchers and practitioners. The report includes substantial references, identifies the keywords used to locate resources for review, includes summaries of the studies and an analysis for inclusion or exclusion from the report, interview questions, and a summary of the responses from the research consultants.

What the experts say

Expert 1:

The most useful section for teachers will probably be the first section on recent theory of composition teaching which outlines several principles for teaching writing. However, some of these should have been qualified and might have been had the researchers looked at research outside their fairly narrow perspective of the ”post-compulsory” level. For example, studies outside that level demonstrate clearly that the study of traditional school has no effect on the quality of writing including “correctness.”

The presentation of individual studies presents many studies which are not well designed and have very small sample sizes, no control groups, and so forth. The authors also do not trust the secondary and college freshman level research to provide useful information for “post compulsory” level students. In my opinion, this was a bad decision as a good deal of it refutes the statements about such ideas as free writing and journal writing and indicates the value of traditional grammar study about which this review has much to say.

I found the third section on the observation of classes interesting but I doubt that it would pass muster for publication in a refereed journal.

Expert 2:

This is an excellent resource for those interested in writing research for adults. This resource would also serve has a wonderful text for a graduate level class on adult literacy.

The authors refer to multiple theoretical frameworks beginning with Flower and Hayes' early models of the writing process through later models that incorporate social environment. In addition, they note theories that address the relationship between reading and writing.

The need for adult writing is clearly established; theory is nicely summarized. Few studies were located; the authors describe what was found in sufficient detail. A wonderful resource for resources and the reference list is comprehensive. The discussion section was interesting reading and provides wonderful insight into writing and adult literacy.

I will certainly use it in both my teaching and research.

Methods the resource used to collect and
analyze the data for the research:
 Literature review
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