The not so simple view of writing

Writing is not simple. It’s probably the most cognitively demanding thing children have to do while they are at school. It is also incredibly rewarding – both emotionally and socially.

This is the problem with the theoretical framework The Simple View Of Writing (Gough & Tunmer 1986; Berninger et al. 2002). In essence, it tells us that writing is about having some ideas and writing them down. While this is interesting to cognitive psychologists, such a common-sense perspective is possibly bordering on the offensive if shared with teachers. We suspect the model comes as little surprise to anyone who teaches children to write.

Others think so too. This model has been continually revised and expanded upon (see Kim & Schatschneider 2017; Graham 2018; Kim & Park 2019; Kim 2020; Kim et al. 2021; Kim & Graham 2022; Young & Ferguson 2022). Indeed, Berninger & Amtmann (2003) revised the model only a year later, producing their still very limited Not So Simple View Of Writing.

This time, executive function was included to acknowledge that writers have to plan, manage and review their writing as they are crafting it. Again, we suspect this doesn’t surprise you. 

The temptation is to say that the Simple & Not So Simple View Of Writing are out-of-date and of little practical use. We wouldn’t go that far. It’s important to know how theoretical models for writing have been developed (see Young & Ferguson 2022 for more details). However, we do think the devil is always in the detail. If details are routinely left out of cognitive models for the purposes of ‘simplicity’ then it can quickly result in bizarre and narrow teaching practices being suggested and used in schools – practices which won’t always align with what children actually need to develop as writers (Harris 2021; Young & Ferguson 2022, 2022b).

The latest understanding around ‘the science of writing’ is that to become great writers, children have to draw on at least 13 cognitive resources simultaneously. This can also be called their writerly knowledge. Our book The Science Of Teaching Primary Writing shares how teachers can develop this writerly knowledge in their classroom and across school.

The 13 cognitive resources children have to draw on to write well (Young & Ferguson 2022)

Our hope is that by sharing a more complete view of writerly development, we can help turn the tide on the pernicious underachievement of writing in schools (Ofsted 2009, 2012; DfE 2012, 2017, 2019, 2021). Indeed, the problem teachers and schools often face is knowing how to develop all these cognitive resources efficiently and effectively (Young & Ferguson 2021, 2022b).


  • Berninger, V. W., Abbot, R.D., Abbot, S. P., Graham, S., RIchards, T. (2002). Writing and reading: Connections between language by hand and language by eye. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 35(1), pp 38-56
  • Berninger, V.W., Amtmann, D. (2003). Preventing written expression disabilities through early and continuing assessment and intervention for handwriting and/or spelling problems: Research into practice. In Handbook of Learning Disabilities, Swanson, H.L., Harris, K.R., and Graham, S. (Eds.) (pp. 345–363). New York: Guilford Press
  • DfE. (2012). What is the Research Evidence on Writing? Education Standards Research Team. London: Department for Education.
  • DfE. (2017). National Curriculum Assessments at Key Stage 2 in England, 2017 (revised). London: Department for Education
  • DfE. (2019). National Curriculum Assessments at Key Stage 2 in England, 2019 (revised). London: Department for Education.
  • DfE. (2021). The reading framework: teaching the foundations of literacy London: Department for Education.
  • Gough, P.B. & Tunmer, W.E. (1986) Decoding, reading, and reading disability, Remedial and Special Education, 7, pp.6-10 
  • Graham, S., (2018) A Revised Writer(s)-Within-Community Model of Writing, Educational Psychologist, 53:4, 258-279
  • Kim, Y.-S.G. (2020) Structural relations of language and cognitive skills, and topic knowledge to written composition: A test of the direct and indirect effects model of writing, Br J Educ Psychol, 90: 910-932
  • Kim, Y.-S. G., & Schatschneider, C. (2017) Expanding the developmental models of writing: A direct and indirect effects model of developmental writing (DIEW), Journal of Educational Psychology, 109(1), 35–50
  • Kim, YS.G., Park, SH. (2019) Unpacking pathways using the direct and indirect effects model of writing (DIEW) and the contributions of higher order cognitive skills to writing, Read Writ, 32, 1319–1343
  • Kim, Y.-S. G., Yang, D., Reyes, M., Connor, C. (2021) Writing instruction improves students’ writing skills differentially depending on focal instruction and children: A meta-analysis for primary grade students, Educational Research Review, 34, 100408
  • Kim, Y.-S.G. (2022) Co-Occurrence of Reading and Writing Difficulties: The Application of the Interactive Dynamic Literacy Model, Journal of learning disabilities, doi:10.1177/00222194211060868
  • Kim, Y.-S. G., & Graham, S. (2022) Expanding the Direct and Indirect Effects Model of Writing (DIEW): Reading–writing relations, and dynamic relations as a function of measurement/dimensions of written composition, Journal of Educational Psychology, 114(2), 215–238
  • Ofsted. (2009). English at the Crossroads. London: Ofsted.
  • Ofsted. (2012). Moving English Forward. London: Ofsted.
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2021) Writing for Pleasure: Theory, Research and Practice London: Routledge
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2022) The Science of Teaching Primary Writing Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2022b) Handbook of Research on Teaching Young Writers Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre

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