Cognitive Strategies That Underlie the Reading and Writing Process
Researchers agree that reading and writing are both complex acts of critical thinking. For example, La Berge and Samuels (1974) note that reading is probably one of the most complex skills in the repertoire of the average adult. Flower and Hayes (1981b) identify writing as "among the most complex of all human mental activities". Underlying these mental activities are powerful cognitive strategies that are fundamental to the construction of meaning. This is the core of the reading/writing connection. Experienced readers and writers select and implement appropriate strategies and monitor and regulate their use in order to construct and refine meaning. Let's look at the strategies that underlie the reading and writing process.Reading and writing are not sequential stage processes in which meaning making progresses in a relatively predictable order. Remember that experienced readers and writers go back in order to go forward and that they have the knowledge and motivation to access their tool kit of cognitive strategies when the need arises without being constrained by any fixed order.
Planning and Goal Setting
Readers and writers begin to plan even before they tap prior knowledge regarding the task they are about to undertake. In fact, tapping prior knowledge occurs as a result of planning. Readers and writers develop two types of plans—procedural plans and substantive plans (Flower & Hayes, 1981a; Tierney & Pearson, 1983). Procedural plans are content-free plans regarding how to accomplish a task. These "how-to" plans provide a continuing structure for the composing process. For example, plans for generating ideas through brainstorming and outlining fall into this category. Substantive plans are content-based plans that focus more directly on the specific topic at hand. The following learning log reflection from one of my students, Frank Ashby, illustrates how he used a procedural plan to determine how he was going to go about meeting the requirements of the prompt and a substantive plan to explore the themes of unrequited love and isolation in two works of literature:
- In writing my comparison/contrast paper about Tennyson's Mariana and Dickens' Miss Havisham, I first got out the prompt, studied it, and then wrote out what I was going to do. Then, I looked in a book of quotations and found a quote from Shakespeare about how one sorrow could lead to another that applied to both characters. In my opening paragraph, I also used the image of a snake and talked about how both women were "bitten by the serpent of unrequited love." I resolved to refer to both the image and the quote whenever it could help to explain the similarities between both women—as long as it wasn't too often or contrived.
Both procedural and substantive plans help a reader or writer to set goals. According to Flower and Hayes (1981a), the most important aspect of goals is that they are created by the learner. Whereas many plans are stored in and retrieved from long-term memory, goals are generated and revised by the reader or writer as part as the composing process. Both planning and goal setting establish a purpose for reading or writing as well as enabling the learner to determine priorities. Experienced readers and writers not only plan and goal-set more extensively than inexperienced readers and writers but also are more flexible about modifying their plans and goals and more apt to elaborate on and revise them as the text evolves (Faigley, Cherry, Jolliffe, & Skinner, 1985; Flower & Hayes, 1981a).
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