Hodges, T. S., Feng, L., Kuo, L.-J., & McTigue, E. (2016). Discovering the literacy gap: A systematic review of reading and writing theories in research. Cogent Education, 3(1), 1228284.

Note: All pull quotes below are from this paper. The additional comments and questions are my own, unless otherwise attributed

Salient Details


Practitioners benefit from knowing the theory (theoretical framework) behind literacy practices and interventions, however many practitioner-focused research articles omit or minimally address theory.


To determine what major theories of literacy, both reading and writing, guide the research, practices and interventions reported in articles published in the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (JAAL).

Conceptual Framework:


  • Systematic Review of articles published in JAAL
    • chosen for its impact factor (.627)
    • influence in the field
    • emphasis on research-based educational interventions
  • An overview of published theories of reading and writing
  • Coded theories found in a sample of 94 intervention articles written for a practitioner audience.


There is more research on reading than on writing.

Sociocognitive and sociocultural theories were addressed most often. But research often isn’t explicit about the type of theory being used and theories were occasionally misapplied.

“By not acknowledging and describing the theoretical framework, researchers make it more difficult for teachers to understand those theories and implement them into their own practices. Additionally, if teachers do not understand the theories that define the practice, teachers might use the instructional practice ineffectively (Wright, Franks, Kuo, McTigue, & Serrano, 2015).”

There is some evidence that reading and writing should not be taught separately because one supports skills development of the other.

My Notes With Quotes:

Researchers and teachers know that literacy includes both reading and writing; however, research consistently focuses on reading while leaving writing behind.

Observation: Is this perpetuated by a social/power dynamic that sees students as content consumers? Rather than creators?

While the overarching term “literacy” encompasses both reading and writing, theoretical perspectives still treat the two as dichotomies (Goatley & Hinchman, 2013; Tracey & Morrow, 2012; Unrau & Alvermann, 2013). As a result, while most literacy journals for practitioners offer innovative pedagogies, rarely have the theoretical rationales, frameworks, or platforms supporting the instruction been explicated.

Observation: “Dichotomies” is an interesting word choice here. Opposites? Entirely different things? Mutually exclusive? Neither can contain properties of the other? The word is often chose to suggest a chasm between two things. Is that what’s meant? Or are reading and writing just two sides of the same coin, sharing common properties?

Social construction theory is unique in that the theory assumes knowledge is socially constructed and dependent on culture and society, yet it is not a dominant theory in writing research. 

Consideration: There is an implication that writing research is discomforted by the notion that “entities we normally call reality, knowledge, thought, facts, texts, selves and so on are construct” and that there is perhaps a reliance on / need for rules of literacy to be neutral. But what if the rules themselves aren’t the issue? What if the reason some rules are made and supported, and some aren’t is the issue?

Writing is a social construct that is culturally based and individualized. Currently, sociocultural theory is the dominant framework for writing research (Prior, 2006), which posits that an activity such as writing happens in specific situations and is governed by the rules of a culture or society but can also be individualized to the specific individual…builds on Vygotsky…. Therefore, sociocultural theory views writing and reading as modes of social collaboration and cognitive processing (Prior, 2006). In the studies that championed this theory, reading and writing were seen as collaborations among students and teachers as well as tools for learning in other content areas.

Observation: This is very helpful. If this is the dominant view, then it should be a natural extension to build reading and writing skills and proficiencies that support social collaboration with people who currently experience accessibility barriers.

sociocultural theory views writing as a mode of social action and not simply a means of communication (Prior, 2006).

Observation: as noted above.