Reading to Learn and Writing to Teach: Literacy Strategies for Online Writing Instruction
by Beth L. Hewett, 2015

The front cover of Beth Hewett's book: Reading to Learn and Writing to Teach
Figure 1. Beth Hewett's 2015 book Reading to Learn and Writing to Teach


In this book Beth Hewett drew on her eight years as chair of the Conference on College Composition and Communication's (CCCC) Committee for Effective Practices in OWI to argue that instructors in online composition courses need to focus more on student reading and on thorough, nuanced instructional writing. After creating a foundation in part one by interrogating underlying concepts—such as who students are, what reading is, and how online settings affect their learning—Hewett concentrated the bulk of her book on specific techniques for helping students read to learn (in part two) and teachers write to teach (in part three). While her description of teachers and students and their needs at times relied on generalities she acknowledged as problematic in early chapters, her wealth of specific practical teaching ideas and support by a broad range of research provide worthwhile material for educators interested in improving their instruction in online environments. This book will be most helpful for teachers interested in an example-oriented, pragmatic analysis of reading and writing, especially in online settings, and less helpful for teachers looking for specific online tips and tools.

white woman with short dark hair, a white shirt, and a blue blazer
Figure 2. Beth Hewett
Rather than looking to scrap the analog for the digital, educators need to consider the values of each and begin to build universities that symbiotically take advantage of these strengths in light of students' current and future needs. (2015, p. 6)


Although Hewett's book surprisingly lacked images, tables, and visually interesting formatting for a book about engaging students in online settings, her reliance on text, especially clearly worded and labeled text, resonated with her argument for the preeminence of writing. Her table of contents, consisting of five pages with descriptive headings that covered every two-to-three pages of the book, demonstrated that she practiced what she preached—if it were the first impression of an online class it would come across as clear, thorough, and friendly.

Part of the table of contents of Beth Hewett's book: Reading to Learn and Writing to Teach
Figure 3. Photo of part of the table of contents for Reading to Learn and Writing to Teach

One of the first things Hewett established in the introduction is the argument that teaching online requires the exact same skills and work as face-to-face classes (what she terms onsite classes), only more of it. She compared this to a farmer who's accustomed to farming tomatoes needing to upgrade tools and muscles when switching to planting and harvesting from peach trees. This early emphasis appeared to be geared towards reassuring instructors who are hesitant, or even overenthusiastic, about technology, but the second idea she addressed definitely is for an unsure and tech-focused audience: she acknowledged the misgivings teachers have about teaching online, especially the increased rates of attrition in online writing courses (OWCs) and why that might be. Her specific reasons, supported by a plethora of studies, include non-cognitive difficulties, systemic struggles of certain populations, potentially skewed data, and the increased literacy load of OWCs. Rather than outlining and defending how this book is organized (which she briefly did in the preface), she worked instead to emphasize the needs of students and teachers that this book can help meet.

Continue to Part One: OWI and Literacy Needs