Writing development across childhood: Advances across international, conceptual, and digital contexts

Writing development across childhood: Advances across international, conceptual, and digital contexts

First Author: Hope Gerde -- Michigan State University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Gary Bingham--Georgia State University
Keywords: Writing development, Writing Instruction, Assessment, children
Abstract / Summary: 

This dynamic symposium examines writing across childhood by attending to diverse instructional (i.e., home, school) and international contexts (i.e., China, Israel, & United States). Studies offer new ideas and the potential to ignite insightful discussion regarding developmental theoretical writing frameworks, writing processes across orthographies, family support, and electronically-mediated assessment. The works utilize a range of methodologies to answer questions of writing development for diverse students including children living in poverty and speaking varied languages. The symposium begins with an empirical examination of early writing theories with a diverse group of young children, followed by a cross-cultural examination of writing development in US and Chinese children. The next presentation delves into the complexity of home environmental writing supports by examining how parents and siblings support children’s writing development. The finale expands current assessment approaches by examining the utility of a computer-based writing assessment for elementary children, which provides valuable formative guidance for instruction.

Symposium Papers: 

Early writing development across preschool: Attention to transcription and composing processes

First Author/Chair:Xiao Zhang -- Georgia State University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Gary Bingham; Ryan Bowles; Hope Gerde

Theoretical and conceptual notions of writing in childhood emphasize that children must successfully leverage multiple, distinct (yet interrelated) writing processes in order to compose text (see Berninger & Swanson, 1994; Juel, Griffith, & Gough, 1986; Kaderavek, Cabell, & Justice, 2009; Puranik & Lonigan, 2014). A major limitation in preschool writing research is that studies employ correlational designs that limit ability to examine growth. Longitudinal research that examines the nature of writing processes across preschool is severely needed. Thus, the primary goal of this study was to propose a two-factor framework (transcription and composing skills) of young children’s early writing based on previous theoretical models and evaluate the reliability of the model with longitudinal data.
Children (N=496) from 54 preschool classrooms located in two US states were assessed individually by trained researchers three times across preschool on four writing measures: name writing, letter writing, spelling, and story writing. Writing samples were scored for print, orthographic, and compositional writing features.
Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was used to compare the model fit indices of two-factor model (transcription and composing skills) to the one factor model at three time points (Fall, Winter, Spring).
All early writing skills are moderately or highly correlated (rs > 0.30-0.77). Children’s early writing skills show an ascending trend across four writing tasks. CFA demonstrates that at all three time points the two-factor model fits statistically better than the one-factor model. The model indices for one factor model at fall is: χ^2(30) =1613.30, p<.001, CFI=0.554, RMSEA=0.206.The model fit indices improved significantly with the two-factor model, which is χ^2(31) = 1613.30, p<.001, CFI=0.911, RMSEA=0.093. Findings indicated that children’s writing skills in preschool appear adequately captured by attending to transcription and composing processes.

Composing development in preschool: Examining change over time in children’s writing processes

First Author/Chair:Margaret Quinn -- University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Additional authors/chairs: 
Hope Gerde; Gary Bingham; Ryan Bowles

Background: Despite the importance of writing to emergent literacy, little is known about the development of children’s compositional skills (Quinn & Bingham, 2019). This is especially troubling given the rigorous composing demands evident in the Common Core State Standards at Kindergarten entry (Tortorelli et al., under review). It is critical to understand the development of this critical skill over the preschool year. Research often addresses composition by looking at children’s decontextualized writing products, however, preschool-aged children are often writing unconventionally and using a combination of writing, drawing, and oral language. Thus, developmentally, it is more theoretically sound to examine the changes and developments in children’s writing processes in order to understand change over time.
Method: A diverse sample of 472 preschoolers (M age = 55m T1) were assessed three times during the preschool year. The composing assessment asked children to supply oral language outputs in addition to written products. Composition was coded according to the degree to which they were able to ‘match’ oral and written outputs to each other and the task context.
Results: Growth curve modeling was used to determine change over time in children’s approaches to composition. Preliminary results suggest change over time in composition. This growth is impacted by initial concepts of print and transcription skills. Classroom differences will be further examined.
Conclusions: Preliminary analyses provide considerable information about the development of early compositional skills suggesting that most children begin preschool with limited composing skills and develop differentially based on initial related skills and classroom effects.

Early writing environments in Chinese preschool classrooms: Associations with children’s early reading and writing skills

First Author/Chair:Chenyi Zhang -- Georgia State University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Gary Bingham; Xiao Zhang; Melody Kung; Liying Zhang

The importance of quality classroom writing environments to children’s early writing development has been established in English learning settings (Gerde, Bingham, & Pendergast, 2015) but, less so for environments in different orthographic contexts. This study examined Chinese early childhood classrooms and their contribution to Chinese preschoolers’ reading and writing skills. Research questions: 1. What is the nature of writing environments in Chinese early childhood settings? 2. What are the associations between early writing environment and children’s early reading and writing skills?
Preschoolers (N=180) and their teachers in 18 classrooms from Baoding, China participated. Classroom writing environment was observed with the Writing Resources and Interactions in Teaching Environments (WRITE, Gerde et al., 2015). Chinese children’s early reading (e.g., Chinese character recognition, phonological awareness, vocabulary and orthographic knowledge) and writing (e.g., name, word, and composing) skills were assessed. Data collection occurred in early Spring semester. Hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) was used to examine the associations between classroom writing environment and children’s early reading and writing skills.
Analyses demonstrate that Chinese preschool children had access to relatively rich classroom writing environments, as evidenced by the presence of many writing materials. Despite access to environmentally rich environments, teachers rarely provided explicitly instructional opportunities or strategies (i.e., modeling or scaffolding) aimed at supporting children’s writing or pre-reading skills. Unlike US contexts, Chinese classrooms did not have a designated writing center for children’s learning, but did have materials in multiple learning centers in classrooms. HLM analyses are currently ongoing to examine associations between classroom environments and children’s reading and writing skills (i.e., Research Question 2).

Writing development in the family context: The nature of writing interactions game between preschoolers and their mothers and older siblings

First Author/Chair:Kholod Zabaneh -- Tel Aviv University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Dorit Aram; Margalit Ziv

Acquisition of early literacy skills in Arabic is complicated due to the diglossic nature of the language (gap between the spoken and written language). Interactions surrounding games at home between parents and children and between older and younger siblings serve as a natural learning context (Gordon, 2014). Studies show that siblings tend to play with each other more freely and with greater enjoyment than parents, and that older siblings teach their younger siblings a variety of academic and social skills (Howe & Recchia, 2014). Purpose. The study compares the nature of writing support of mother-child dyads as well as older-younger sibling dyads during a writing game with preschoolers. Method. Participants included 80 Arabic-speaking preschoolers, aged 5-6-years-old (55% girls), their mothers, and their older siblings (45% sisters), aged 7-9-years-old. We videorecorded the dyads playing a bowling game that included an activity of writing short words. Results. Mothers’ support was more focused and didactic and included separating the words into their syllables and naming letters (grapho-phonemic support). Mothers also provided their children with greater independence in constructing the words (printing support). There was large variability in the nature of older siblings’ support. Those who provided greater support demonstrated a similarity between their support style and that of their mothers. The study’s findings demonstrate the importance of recognizing the family structure, characteristics, and central supporters as a basis for constructing home-based intervention programs for promoting literacy. Additionally, the study notes the possibility of integrating play as a means for learning the writing system.

Pragmatic computer-based formative and summative writing assessments

First Author/Chair:Debra McKeown -- Texas A&M University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Kausalai Wijekumar; Julie Kate Owens; Karen Harris; Steve Graham

Purpose – The goal of We-Write is to improve persuasive writing skills of upper elementary students using the evidence-based self-regulated strategies development (SRSD) model. We-Write is a teacher-led/computer-supported intervention using two types of computer tools for assessment: formative assessments to inform instruction and scoring of outcome measures.

Method – A large-scale cluster randomized controlled trial is being conducted to study the efficacy of We-Write. In this analysis we carefully document the computer-based formative assessments including their usability and outcomes. We also present results from a natural language process (NLP) system designed to score pre and posttest writing quality from student essays.

Research questions guiding this inquiry are:
1. How do students perform on computer-based formative writing assessments in We-Write?
2. What is the reliability of NLP scoring of student essay holistic quality?

Materials include structured SRSD lessons covering all six stages of SRSD writing instruction, computer-based reinforcement activities and formative assessments linked to each teacher-led lesson, and computer logs of student performance on each task. Outcome measures include a standardized and researcher designed writing prompts. The NLP scoring system was designed using tagging of each idea unit and training the scoring system with 100 human scored essays.

Results –Preliminary results indicate mean student performance of 64% (SD=28.24) on the first attempt on computer assessments. Results from the computer scored essays show a 93% match to human scores.

Conclusions –Both the formative and essay quality assessments used in the We-Write system are robust and the formative assessments provide valuable information for the instruction.