The developing "because" in young adolescents’ post-reading responses to diverse perspectives on a controversial topic

The developing "because" in young adolescents’ post-reading responses to diverse perspectives on a controversial topic

First Author: Ziyun Deng -- Harvard Graduate School of Education
Additional authors/chairs: 
Katie Wingert McArdle; Qihan Chen
Keywords: Writing, Adolescent, Argument Writing, Literacy development, reading and writing relationship
Abstract / Summary: 

Causal connectives such as "because" indicate higher language complexity and coherence (Kleijn, Maat & Sanders, 2019). Research often assumes that "because" production matures by adolescence (Duggleby, Tang & Kuo-Newhouse, 2015). The current study, however, questioned the assumption by examining young adolescents’ performance in a post-reading response task. We investigated:

RQ1) Did all 4th or 6th graders accurately produce "because"?
RQ2) Did the accuracy of "because" production differ between 4th and 6th graders?

Within a literacy intervention (Snow, Lawrence & White, 2009), students read three blogs endorsing different positions on a controversy (e.g. Should we wear school uniforms?) and wrote responses. Seventy 4th graders and Forty-three 6th graders produced 325 instances of "because" in total. Pilot analysis focused on one sentence structure, “I agree with BlogX because….”, yielding 47 "because" instances in 4th grade and 23 in 6th grade. Three researchers coded each "because" instance as Accurate (preceding reasoning), Inaccurate (not preceding reasoning), or Unclear.

1) Only 38% "because" instances in 4th grade are Accurate (e.g. I agree with BlogA because I don’t like picking out my clothes everyday); 57% are Inaccurate, typically preceding preceding reiteration of the blog, not reasoning (e.g. I agree with BlogB because kids should not wear uniform). In 6th grade, 61% of "because" instances are Accurate and 35% are Inaccurate.
2) The Chi-square test found that the accuracy difference between 4th (38%) and 6th grade (61%) is statistically significant (p<.001).

Young adolescents continue developing competence in producing "because" in writing. Next, we will analyze “because” in other sentence structures and include other causal connectives. Future research should explore possible associations between students' “because” development and their reading comprehension of argumentative texts.