During my teaching years, I have come to the conclusion that writing is the most difficult skill for students. The first questions I have asked myself are ‘Why does it happen?’ and ‘What caused that?’ The two questions are more or less linked to each other, because students consider writing difficult either because of their anxieties about their handwriting, spelling, or their ability to build sentences or paragraphs, or because of their lack of ideas, they do not know what to write, even if they manage the writing skill. Due to the fact that they are unable to complete writing tasks successfully, students’ attitude to writing is likely to become more and more negative. I believe that this phenomenon is in correlation with the main causes that make it happen.
Therefore, I have started this research from the hypothesis that reading, in general, and using reading texts as models, in particular, improve students’ writing skills. Reading texts provide good models for improving writing skills, because students need models of what we encourage them to do. Moreover, reading texts provide opportunities to study language: vocabulary, grammar, punctuation and the way structures, paragraphs and texts are constructed. Due to the topics of interest, that the texts ensure, students gain their willing participation in more creative or extended writing activities. The primary focus of this paper is to show that reading and writing are connected and they influence each other in developing students’ language competences, and, especially, the experience and knowledge that is shared between reading and writing can strengthen the students’ abilities to read and write. When reading and writing are taught separately, as they are usually taught, students do not receive all the benefits. Moreover, the combination of these two skills is not assumed as one influencing the other. This paper is an attempt to show that reading contributes to the improvement of students’ writing skills and that, during writing, students use reading in order to write their drafts, to review their plan while writing, to check whether the style is appropriate, or to correct their work.
The main purpose of this research was not to make statistics, it was meant to give an analysis of a particular classroom situation. I used a methodology which is representative for the qualitative type of research. I started off the study throughout the academic year 2021-2022. The data was collected by direct observation of the students during classes, by comparing students’ results in the last year, and by applying a questionnaire to the students at the end of the school year. The questionnaire included questions referring both to the reading and the writing skill. As subjects, I chose two different groups of students aged 10-11 (5th grade) and 17-18 (11th grade). I have been teaching the 5th graders for five year and the 11th graders for seven years.
From the analysis of my observations, I found out that the students respond positively to both reading and writing skills as means to develop their ability to be effective communicators in the foreign language. Reading gives them the opportunity to improve their communicative competences and makes them more self-confident in writing. Reading texts offer a model of what they are asked to develop.
Students prefer using reading texts before writing as the texts give an overall perspective of the way the text is constructed, thus writing becomes easier. What is more, good reading texts introduce students to interesting topics and lead to better writing results. They prefer creative writing more than functional writing, due to the fact that functional writing is more rigorous and less personal and fluid. Creative writing gives them the freedom to create and to express themselves as they wish, to develop their imagination through an engaging context.
Therefore, students are keen on writing poems or stories rather than writing descriptive essays. Further on, the hypothesis is verified through a questionnaire.
The questionnaire I set for my students at school was applied to both secondary and high-school students. Based on the findings resulting from the questionnaires analysed, I divided students into three categories: advanced, intermediate and beginners. I was particularly interested in the influence of the students’ reading and writing habits onto their general level of English and in the correlation between reading and writing levels of competence.
1. Advanced students
a. The first category refers to the students that assessed themselves as excellent readers. The majority of students that evaluate themselves as advanced in reading, consider their writing as excellent or very good. They state that they like reading and writing activities and that they find the activities extremely useful or generally useful for their progress with English. As many of the students admit, they read something in English every day, but most important is what they read. Among their favourite types are social media messages, articles about the latest news and emails from foreign friends. They also read various information that they browse on the Internet and Wikipaedia entries. Some of them are keen on reading short stories and jokes, while a few students read interviews with famous people and poems. Their main reason for reading is related to the fact that they like reading in English, but they also read because it helps them with schoolwork. In what concerns the benefits of reading a text before doing a writing task, students’ answers reveal that, for most of them, the text is a source of inspiration. It also helps with vocabulary and it makes writing easier. Some students appreciate it as being a model that helps them improve their writing.
b. Most of the students write something in English every day. The majority of them write sentences, paragraphs, social media chat messages and emails, and some of the students write stories, compositions, essays and poems. The main reason for writing is to communicate with friends who cannot speak Romanian. On the second place is their willingness to express themselves in English. For some students the main reason is to get better at it, while for others the main purpose is to pass an exam with a good grade.
2. Intermediate students
a. The second category refers to the students that regarded themselves as intermediate, according to their reading level. Most of them admit that their writing is at the intermediate level as well. Only two students praise their writing level as excellent, and one as very poor. There are some reasons that support their assessment. The main part of the students have a reserved attitude towards reading and writing and more than half of the students do not really like reading and writing activities. A large number of students admits that they read something in English once or twice a week, while others confess that they only read something once a month. Still, there are a few students that read every day. Surprisingly, all of them consider reading and writing extremely or generally useful for their progress with English. All of them read social media messages, followed by articles about their favourite stars and interviews with famous people. They also read English newspapers and various information they browse on different websites for homework. Students say that they read because they like it, and some students admit that they read for the reason that it helps them with schoolwork. Few of them read either because friends recommended it, or teachers demanded that they do it.
b. As far as their writing habits are concerned, more than half of them agree that they write something in English once or twice a week, while the others admit that they only write when teacher says so. The large majority declare that they write stories, essays, diary entries and poems. I have been surprised to find out that more students that evaluate themselves as intermediate write stories, essays, diary entries and poems than those who assess themselves as advanced. Most of them write social media chat messages and emails as well. Their basic motivation for writing is that they have to do it for school. Another argument for writing is that they want to get better at it. Some students motivate that they love expressing themselves in English, while others say that they write in order to communicate with friends who cannot speak Romanian. This group of students consider that reading a text before doing a writing skill helps, as for most of them the text is a source of inspiration, it helps with vocabulary, and it makes them more creative. Some students regard the text as a model and they also consider that it makes writing easier.
3. Beginner students
a. The third category refers to the students that evaluated themselves as beginners, according to their reading level. They prefer answers that are vague or average (“My reading is ok”), but some of them admit that their level of writing is not good. Most of them do not really like writing, but they do not mind reading as much. Reading and writing are regarded as generally useful activities for their progress with English. Nearly all of the students read something in English once or twice a week, while the others read something every day. On top of their preferences for reading are social media messages and articles about the latest news in the world. Some other students read emails from foreign friends, interviews with famous people, novels and poems. The main reason for reading is the fact that they like it.
b. Most of these students agree that they write in English once or twice a week, some students do it every day and some only when teacher says so. Essays and short stories are top of the list of things they write. They also write sentences, paragraphs, emails, diary entries, and social media chat messages. Nearly all of them write because they have to do it for school and because they love expressing themselves in English. Getting better at English is also a reason for writing. According to the questionnaire, reading a text before writing provides some benefits, as it is a model for what they are going to write, it helps with vocabulary, it is a source of inspiration, and it makes students more creative.
Comparing answers given by all the three groups, it can be concluded that, regardless of their reading and writing levels of competence, all the students consider reading and writing useful for their language progress. While most of them read in English at least twice a week, the variety of the sources and the length of the text increases with the level of linguistic competence. The vast majority of students prefer digital materials and functional texts. Advanced students mostly read as a matter of personal choice (because they like it or they consider it important in their future career) while less skilled students’ motivation is rather external – for schoolwork or directed by the teacher. As far as writing is concerned, most students consider it a more difficult skill and, although they are aware of its importance, they focus on schoolwork and getting information and less on writing for pleasure. Interestingly enough, functional writing is preferred by advanced students, while creative writing is not directly related to the level of language. Creative writing seems more like a matter of personal interest and skill (in direct relation to imagination and creativity) rather than a programmatic aim in the classroom.
All the students believe that reading helps to improve writing, as it provides useful ideas and it is a good source of advanced vocabulary and structure. It remains to be seen in what way and to what extent this influence is truly useful on the long term – whether the structures they have integrated in their writing, as a result of reading a text, will be used in other tasks as well.
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