Reading and Writing

, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 405–438 | Cite as

Text-based writing in elementary classrooms: teachers’ conceptions and practice

  • Elaine Lin WangEmail author
  • Lindsay Clare Matsumura


Writing analytically about text is a valued skill reflected in current academic standards. The quality of text-based writing opportunities in U.S. elementary schools, however, is generally weak, with variation in the rigor of the writing tasks teachers assign. Previous research suggests that teachers’ beliefs about instruction significantly contribute to their decision-making; therefore, teachers’ conception of text-based writing likely influences the tasks they assign. Yet, teachers’ conceptions of text-based writing have yet to be charted. In the present study, through qualitative analysis of interviews, we identified three such conceptions among 4th and 5th grade teachers (n =17)—text-based writing as application of reading skills and strategies (n =10); as inquiry into text ideas (n =5); and a mixed conception, as both skills-and-strategies-based and affective response tangential to text (n =2). Analysis of assigned text-based writing tasks (n = 102) showed that regardless of their conception, all teachers assigned tasks reflecting the assessment and accountability demands of their policy context. Beyond this, teachers’ assigned tasks were consistent with their conception. Teachers who held the first conception assigned predominantly tasks focused on demonstrating reading skills. The second group of teachers assigned a greater proportion of tasks guiding students to interpret or analyze big ideas than did other teachers. Finally, teachers holding mixed conceptions assigned routine skills-based tasks and personal or creative writing in near-equal proportions. We argue that teachers’ conceptions of text-based writing provide an important leverage point for supporting text-based writing instruction.


Conception Teacher belief Writing assignments Writing about text Writing instruction 



The research reported here was funded through grants from the William T. Grant Foundation and the Spencer Foundation. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, not the sponsors. The authors remain responsible for any errors in the work.


  1. Anagnostopoulos, D. (2003). Testing and student engagement with literature in urban class-rooms: A multi-layered perspective. Research in the Teaching of English, 38(2), 177–212.Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., Airiasian, W., Cruikshank, K. A., Mayer, R. E., & Pintrich, P. R. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational outcomes (Complete ed.). New York: Longman.Google Scholar
  3. Applebee, A. N., & Langer, J. A. (2011). A snapshot of writing instruction in middle schools and high schools. English Journal, 100, 14–27.Google Scholar
  4. Basturkmen, H. (2012). Review of research into the correspondence between language teachers’ stated beliefs and practices. System, 40(2), 282–295.Google Scholar
  5. Bloom, B. S. (1965). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification for educational goals. New York: David McKay Company.Google Scholar
  6. Blumenfeld, P. C., & Meece, J. (1988). Task factors, teacher behavior, and students’ involvement and use of learning strategies in science. The Elementary School Journal, 88(3), 235–250.Google Scholar
  7. Borko, H., Davinroy, K. H., Bliem, C. L., & Cumbo, K. (2000). Exploring and supporting teacher change: Two third-grade teachers’ experiences in a mathematics and literacy staff development project. The Elementary School Journal, 100, 273–306.Google Scholar
  8. Boscolo, P., & Carotti, L. (2003). Does writing contribute to improving high school students’ approach to literature? L1-Educational Studies in Language and Literature, 3(3), 197–224.Google Scholar
  9. Brindle, M., Graham, S., Harris, K. R., & Hebert, M. (2016). Third and fourth grade teachers’ classroom practices in writing: A national survey. Reading and Writing, 29(5), 929–954.Google Scholar
  10. Chai, C. S., Teo, T., & Beng, C. L. (2009). The change in epistemological beliefs and beliefs about teaching and learning: A study among pre-service teachers. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 37(4), 351–362.Google Scholar
  11. Cheng, M. M., Chan, K. W., Tang, S. Y., & Cheng, A. Y. (2009). Pre-service teacher education students’ epistemological beliefs and their conceptions of teaching. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25(2), 319–327.Google Scholar
  12. Cimbricz, S. (2002). State-mandated testing and teachers’ beliefs and practice. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 10(2), 2.Google Scholar
  13. Coburn, C. E. (2001). Collective sensemaking about reading: How teachers mediate reading policy in their professional communities. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 23(2), 145–170.Google Scholar
  14. Coburn, C. E. (2004). Beyond decoupling: Rethinking the relationship between the institutional environment and the classroom. Sociology of Education, 77(3), 211–244.Google Scholar
  15. Correnti, R., Matsumura, L. C., Hamilton, L. S., & Wang, E. (2012). Combining multiple measures of students’ opportunities to develop analytic, text-based writing skills. Educational Assessment, 17(2–3), 132–161.Google Scholar
  16. Correnti, R., Matsumura, L. C., Hamilton, L., & Wang, E. (2013). Assessing students’ skills at writing analytically in response to texts. The Elementary School Journal, 114(2), 142–177.Google Scholar
  17. Crosson, A. C., Matsumura, L. C., Correnti, R., & Arlotta-Guerrero, A. (2012). The quality of writing tasks and students’ use of academic language in Spanish. The Elementary School Journal, 112(3), 469–496.Google Scholar
  18. DeFord, D. (1985). Validating the construct of theoretical orientation in reading instruction. Reading Research Quarterly, 20, 351–367.Google Scholar
  19. Delpit, L. (2006). Lessons from teachers. Journal of Teacher Education, 57(3), 220–231.Google Scholar
  20. Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (2003). The discipline and practice of qualitative research. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Collecting and interpreting qualitative materials (2nd ed., pp. 1–45). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  21. Doyle, W. (1983). Academic work. Review of educational research, 53, 159–199.Google Scholar
  22. Doyle, W., & Carter, K. (1984). Academic tasks in classrooms. Curriculum Inquiry, 14(2), 129–149.Google Scholar
  23. Duffy, G. G., & Anderson, L. (1982). Conceptions of reading project. Final report. Google Scholar
  24. Duffy, G. G., & Anderson, L. (1984). Guest commentary: Teachers’ theoretical orientations and the real classroom. Reading Psychology: An International Quarterly, 5(1–2), 97–104.Google Scholar
  25. Fang, Z. (1996). A review of research on teacher beliefs and practices. Educational Research, 38(1), 47–65.Google Scholar
  26. Fives, H., & Gill, M. G. (Eds.). (2015). International handbook of research on teacher’s beliefs. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  27. Gay, G. (2010). Acting on beliefs in teacher education for cultural diversity. Journal of Teacher Education, 61(1–2), 143–152.Google Scholar
  28. Gilbert, J., & Graham, S. (2010). Teaching writing to elementary students in grades 4–6: A national survey. The Elementary School Journal, 110(4), 494–518.Google Scholar
  29. Glaser, B., & Strauss, A. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies of qualitative research. London: Wledenfeld and Nicholson.Google Scholar
  30. Graham, S., Capizzi, A., Harris, K. R., Hebert, M., & Murphy, P. (2014). Teaching writing to middle school students: A national survey. Reading and Writing, 27, 1015–1042.Google Scholar
  31. Graham, S., Harris, K. R., MacArthur, C., & Fink, B. (2002). Primary grade teachers’ theoretical orientations concerning writing instruction: Construct validation and a nationwide survey. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 27(2), 147–166.Google Scholar
  32. Graham, S., & Hebert, M. A. (2010). Writing to read: Evidence for how writing can improve reading. A Carnegie Corporation Time to Act Report. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.Google Scholar
  33. Hess, K., Jones, B., Carlock, D., & Walkup, J. (2009). Cognitive rigor: Blending the strengths of Bloom’s taxonomy and Webb’s depth of knowledge to enhance classroom‐level processes. Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) publication ED517804.Google Scholar
  34. Koretz, D. M., & Hamilton, L. S. (2006). Testing for accountability in K-12. In R. L. Brennan (Ed.), Educational measurement (4th ed., pp. 531–578). Westport, CT: Praeger.Google Scholar
  35. Ladson-Billings, G. (1997). It doesn’t add up: African American students’ mathematics achievement. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 28(6), 697–708.Google Scholar
  36. Ladson-Billings, G. (2009). The dreamkeepers: Successful teachers for African American children. San Francisco, CA: Wiley.Google Scholar
  37. Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  38. Lipson, M. Y., Mosenthal, J., Daniels, P., & Woodside-Jiron, H. (2000). Process writing in the classrooms of eleven fifth-grade teachers with different orientations to teaching and learning. The Elementary School Journal, 101(2), 209–231.Google Scholar
  39. Maggioni, L., Fox, E., & Alexander, P. A. (2015). Beliefs about reading, text, and learning from text. In H. Fives & M. G. Gill (Eds.), International handbook of research on teacher’s beliefs. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  40. Marx, R. W., & Walsh, J. (1988). Learning from academic tasks. The Elementary School Journal, 88(3), 207–219.Google Scholar
  41. Matsumura, L. C. (2005). Creating high-quality classroom assignments. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Education.Google Scholar
  42. Matsumura, L. C., Correnti, R., & Wang, E. (2015). Classroom writing tasks and students’ analytic text-based writing. Reading Research Quarterly, 50(4), 417–438.Google Scholar
  43. Matsumura, L. C., Garnier, H., Pascal, J., & Valdés, R. (2002a). Measuring instructional quality in accountability systems: Classroom assignments and student achievement. Educational Assessment, 8(3), 207–229.Google Scholar
  44. Matsumura, L. C., Garnier, H., Slater, S. C., & Boston, M. B. (2008). Measuring instructional interactions ‘at-scale’. Educational Assessment, 13(4), 267–300.Google Scholar
  45. Matsumura, L. C., Patthey-Chavez, G. G., Valdés, R., & Garnier, H. (2002b). Teacher feedback, writing assignment quality, and third-grade students’ revision in lower-and higher-achieving urban schools. The Elementary School Journal, 103(1), 3–25.Google Scholar
  46. Matsumura, L. C., Wang, E., & Correnti, R. (2016). Text-based writing assignments for college readiness. The Reading Teacher, 70(3), 347–351.Google Scholar
  47. McCarthey, S. J., & Mkhize, D. (2013). Teachers’ orientations towards writing. Journal of Writing Research, 5(1), 1–33.Google Scholar
  48. McCarthey, S. J., Woodard, R., & Kang, G. (2014). Elementary teachers’ negotiating discourses in writing instruction. Written Communication, 31(1), 58–90.Google Scholar
  49. Miles, M. B., Huberman, A. M., & Saldana, J. (2013). Qualitative data analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  50. Monte-Sano, C., & De La Paz, S. (2012). Using writing tasks to elicit adolescents’ historical reasoning. Journal of Literacy Research, 44(3), 273–299.Google Scholar
  51. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers (NGAC/CCSSO). (2010). Common core state standards english language arts standards. Washington, DC: NGAC/CCSSO.Google Scholar
  52. Newell, G. E., VanDerHeide, J., & Olsen, A. W. (2014). High school English language arts teachers’ argumentative epistemologies for teaching writing. Research in the Teaching of English, 49(2), 95–119.Google Scholar
  53. Newmann, F. M., Bryk, A. S., & Nagaoka, J. (2001). Authentic intellectual work and standardized tests: Conflict or coexistence. Chicago: Consortium on Chicago School Research.Google Scholar
  54. Pajares, M. F. (1992). Teachers’ beliefs and educational research: Cleaning up a messy construct. Review of Educational Research, 62(3), 307–332.Google Scholar
  55. Paris, S. G., Wasik, B., & Turner, J. C. (1991). The development of strategic readers. In R. Barr, M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, & P. D. Pearson (Eds.), Handbook of reading research (Vol. 2, pp. 609–640). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  56. Poulson, L., Avramidis, E., Fox, R., Medwell, J., & Wray, D. (2001). The theoretical beliefs of effective teachers of literacy in primary schools: An exploratory study of orientations to reading and writing. Research Papers in Education, 16(3), 271–292.Google Scholar
  57. QSR International. (2011). NVivo qualitative data analysis software: Version 9.2. Doncaster: QSR International Pty Ltd.Google Scholar
  58. Richards, J. C., Gipe, J. P., & Thompson, B. (1987). Teachers’ beliefs about good reading instruction. Reading Psychology: An International Quarterly, 8(1), 1–6.Google Scholar
  59. Richards, S., Sturm, J. M., & Cali, K. (2012). Writing instruction in elementary classrooms: Making the connection to Common Core State Standards. Seminars in Speech and Language, 33(2), 130–145.Google Scholar
  60. Richardson, V., Anders, P., Tidwell, D., & Lloyd, C. (1991). The relationship between teachers’ beliefs and practices in reading comprehension instruction. American Educational Research Journal, 28(3), 559–586.Google Scholar
  61. Rubin, H. J., & Rubin, I. S. (2012). Qualitative interviewing: The art of hearing data (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  62. Shanahan, T. (2015). Common core state standards: A new role for writing. The Elementary School Journal, 115(4), 464–479.Google Scholar
  63. Spillane, J. P., Reiser, B. J., & Reimer, T. (2002). Policy implementation and cognition: Reframing and refocusing implementation research. Review of Educational Research, 72(3), 387–431.Google Scholar
  64. Theriot, S., & Tice, K. C. (2008). Teachers’ knowledge development and change: Untangling beliefs and practices. Literacy Research and Instruction, 48(1), 65–75.Google Scholar
  65. Troia, G. A., Lin, S. J. C., Cohen, S., & Monroe, B. W. (2011). A year in the writing workshop. The Elementary School Journal, 112(1), 155–182.Google Scholar
  66. Van den Bergh, L., Denessen, E., Hornstra, L., Voeten, M., & Holland, R. W. (2010). The implicit prejudiced attitudes of teachers: Relations to teacher expectations and the ethnic achievement gap. American Educational Research Journal, 47(2), 497–527.Google Scholar
  67. Wang, E., Matsumura, L. C., & Correnti, R. (2018). Student writing accepted as high-quality responses to analytic text-based writing tasks. The Elementary School Journal, 118(3), 357–383.Google Scholar
  68. Webb, N. L. (2002). Depth-of-knowledge levels for four content areas. Language Arts.Google Scholar
  69. Westwood, P., Knight, B. A., & Redden, E. (1997). Assessing teachers’ beliefs about literacy acquisition: The development of the Teachers’ Beliefs about Literacy Questionnaire (TBALQ). Journal of Research in Reading, 20(3), 224–235.Google Scholar
  70. Wiley, J., & Voss, J. F. (1999). Constructing arguments from multiple sources: Tasks that promote understanding and not just memory of text. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91(2), 301–311.Google Scholar
  71. Wyse, D., Hayward, L., & Pandya, J. (Eds.). (2015). The SAGE handbook of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  72. Yin, R. K. (2017). Case study research and applications: Design and methods (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.RAND CorporationPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Learning Research and Development CenterUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

Personalised recommendations