Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 13: 183–196, 2000.
© 2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Is graphic activity cognitively costly? A developmental approach
& MICHEL FAYOL
University of Picardie Jules Verne, France;
University of Clermont-Ferrand, France
Abstract. The present experiment was carried out to test the hypothesis that the use of the
written mode increases the working memory load. Second and fourth graders were orally
presented with series of unrelated words which they were required to recall in sequence. Each
subject had to recall ﬁve different lists in the following conditions: oral alone, written, oral
with a concurrent task (tapping, categorization, drawing). Participants recalled more words in
the oral condition than in either the written mode or the ‘oral and categorization’ conditions.
Moreover, second graders performed better in the oral mode than in the ‘oral and drawing
condition’. This trend was not signiﬁcant with older children. Finally, the tapping task did not
affect children’s performance. The results are consistent with our cognitive load hypothesis.
Keywords: Automatic and controlled processes, Cognitive load, Language production, Oral
and written modes, Working memory
Several researchers have reported a Mode (oral vs. written) × Age interaction
effect in language production (Applebee 1978; Chafe 1982; Drieman 1962;
Fayol 1985; Groff 1978; Scardamalia & Bereiter 1986; Simon 1973; Stahl
1977; Tannen 1982). Young children (from 6 to 9 years of age) produce more
coherent and elaborate texts in the oral than in the written mode. Their oral
texts are also of higher quality. In contrast, after the age of 9 or 10, written
texts become more coherent and elaborate than oral ones.
Most authors have attributed poor writing performance to a lack of plan-
ning (Bereiter & Scardamalia 1987; Burtis, Bereiter, Scardamalia & Tetroe
1983; Stahl 1977). For example, Scardamalia and Bereiter (1986) found plan-
ning to be much more limited in children than in adults. Young children
appear to use a ‘knowledge telling strategy’: They produce an idea, write
it down, go on to another idea, and so on (Fayol 1991; McCutchen 1994),
without planning the whole text before beginning to compose it (Chanquoy,
Foulin & Fayol 1990). However, if the lack of planning explains the poor
writing performance of young children, it should be observed both in the
oral and in the written production modes. Scardamalia and Bereiter (1986)
suggest an explanation of the differences in planning as a function of the