Adolescent writing

Adolescent writing

First Author: Penelope Collins -- University of California, Irvine
Abstract / Summary: 

Writing is an important skill for all students, and one that is not being mastered. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES, 2012d), only 27% of 8th grade students performed at or above the criterion proficiency level in writing on recent national tests in the United States. The development of effective writing skills is challenging because writing, particularly argumentative writing, is a complex, multidimensional task. This symposium explores writing development through adolescence, with a focus on the specific skills and use of digital tools to support effective argumentative writing. The first paper examines the influence of instructional time devoted to digital writing on student writing achievement. The second paper explores the development of argumentative writing, and the linguistic skills that contribute to effective writing, from middle school through high school, for native English speakers and language minority students with varying levels of proficiency in English. The third paper examines the development of argumentative structures, argumentative strategies, and lexical sophistication in middle school students’ argumentative essays. The fourth paper explores the role of perspective taking in student writing. These are followed by discussion of the implications for theory and practice.

Symposium Papers: 

Digital writing across the curriculum: A look at one district over four years

First Author/Chair:Tamara Tate -- University of California, Irvine
Additional authors/chairs: 
Sandra Simpkins; Mark Warschauer

Purpose. Writing is an essential skill for academic and career success, and most writing for professional and academic purposes now takes place using digital media. This study analyzes the time spent digitally writing by students in grades 4-11 in an urban district over 4 years and the relationship between writing time and annual state assessment measures. 


Method. We descriptively analyze digital writing data overall, by grade, and by school. We then run fixed effects regression models to determine the correlation between device access and time spent writing digitally.  We used structural equation models to understand the full relationship of our digital writing and achievement variables. We examined heterogeneity in each of these models to understand the differences for English learners and other demographic groups.


Results. Students are doing very little digital writing across the curriculum, but the amount is growing rapidly. In 2014, most students in the district did no digital writing for school, increasing to 1.67 hours for the 50th percentile in 2015, 3.24 hours in 2016, and 4.41 hours in 2017.  We found that time spent writing digitally predicted increased ELA and writing scores on year-end standardized tests. Digital writing minutes predicted between 0.04 and 0.06 (p < 0.001) of the overall annual English language arts achievement. 

Conclusions. Although the amount of digital writing may be disheartening to some, it also represents an untapped opportunity. Even in the 2017-18 school year, there were students who did no digital writing (5th percentile) or less than half an hour during the entire year (10th percentile). Students can become better digital writers, gaining important college and career proficiency, with more practice. This practice will also reap benefits in increased annual state assessment scores, even on distal measures such as overall ELA scores. 


Linguistic diversity and the development of argument writing among secondary students

First Author/Chair:Penelope Collins -- University of California, Irvine
Additional authors/chairs: 
Tamara Tate; Young Suk Kim; Carol Booth Olson

Purpose: Argumentative writing may be considered a particularly challenging genre for students to master due its complex linguistic and cognitive demands. Acquiring skill in writing argumentative essays may vary developmentally not just in quality, but also in the formality, vocabulary, syntax, and coherence in student writing. Students’ proficiency in English may affect the development of these skills.

Method: A total of 1200 argumentative essays written by students in grades 7 to 12 (200 at each grade level, including native English speakers, English learners, and students redesignated as proficient in English) were drawn from the Pathways Project. Essays were scored for overall quality on a 6-point scale by trained raters, and linguistic characteristics were coded using Coh-Metrix. Multiple regression will be conducted to examine how students’ proficiency in English and grade independently and interactively predict argument writing holistically and on linguistic subskills.

Results: Coding is under way and is expected to be completed by December 2019. Although the results are not available yet, we expect variations in writing development based on English proficiency and variations in that development across the linguistic skills.

Conclusion: Findings will provide insight on the development of the linguistic skills involved in argumentative writing for linguistically diverse students.

Middle school argumentative writing: An analysis of argumentative structures and strategies across multiple topics

First Author/Chair:Karen Taylor -- Stanford University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Carol Connor; Joshua Lawrence; Rebecca Silverman; Catherine Snow

Purpose: Our study examines argumentative structures, argumentative strategies, lexical sophistication, and topics in 6th through 8th grade students’ argumentative essays, and explores relations with overall persuasiveness of the essays.


Method: Essays were written on contestable topics in the 24-week Word Generation academic vocabulary program. Essay argument measures follow Ferretti, Lewis, and Andrews-Weckerly’s (2009) method: graphical representation of argument structure, identification of argument strategy(s), and evaluation of overall persuasiveness. Lexical sophistication measures will be computed by hand (e.g., clause to T-unit ratio) or by the Tool for the Automatic Analysis of Lexical Sophistication (e.g., academic word frequencies; Kyle & Crossley, 2015; Kyle, Crossley, & Berger, 2018). Twenty-five students in each of 6th – 8th grades from urban schools in the US wrote an essay on six separate topics (N=450 essays). Descriptive statistics and pairwise comparison of means will be used to compare argument measures and lexical sophistication by grade, sociodemographic characteristics, and topic. Multiple linear regression will be used to test for relations among argument variables, topic, lexical sophistication, and demographic variables with overall essay persuasiveness.


Results: Ferretti, Lewis, and Weckerly (2009) analyzed one essay per student. We can compare multiple essays from each student to evaluate within-writer variability and effects of topic. Initial analyses confirm the value of an extended sample of essays.  


Conclusion: We review and evaluate Ferretti, Lewis, and Weckerly’s (2009) integrative method of argument analysis as an alternative to holistic or analytic assessment of argument quality. Implications for practice, assessment, and future research will be discussed.

Does perspective-taking matter for writing?

First Author/Chair:Minkyung Cho -- University of California, Irvine
Additional authors/chairs: 
Young Suk Kim

Purpose:  In this study, we examined the relation of perspective taking, one’s knowledge of and inferences about others’ mental and emotional states, to writing (written composition). To this end, we examined the extent to which secondary students incorporate perspective taking in their argumentative writing, how it differs by students’ demographic backgrounds, and how it relates to overall writing quality.

Method:  A total of 200 argumentative essays written by grade 7 students were randomly selected and coded for perspective taking, following a coding scheme built upon previous literature (i.e., no perspective, single perspective, dual perspective, and integrative perspective). The students were from diverse backgrounds in terms of their ethnicity, socio-economic status, and English Learner status. Essays were also scored holistically on a 6-point scale by trained raters. Multiple regression will be conducted to examine how students’ demographic backgrounds predict their perspective taking scores and how perspective taking is related to overall essay quality score.

Results:  Perspective taking coding is under way and is expected to be completed by December 2019. Although the results are not available yet, perspective taking is expected to be correlated with the overall writing quality score, after controlling for demographic backgrounds.

Conclusions: Findings will reveal the importance of students’ perspective taking ability in writing skill.


First Author/Chair:DISCUSSANT Jennifer Fletcher -- California State University, Monterey Bay