Learning across contexts and time in an inclusive classroom: Struggling adolescent writers use an independent learning strategy to improve essay writing
Mercantini, Martha Ann
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Writing essays is an essential skill that is difficult for struggling adolescent writers. Empirical literature suggests that the use of graphic organizers can improve essays when prompted by the teacher, but whether a self-prompting planning strategy called PASTA can improve organization, ideas, the use of conventions, and overall holistic essay scores and be both transferred and maintained in an inclusive classroom of middle school students, was unclear. Student participants ( n = 24) wrote one essay prior to training and six post training essays, each scored using a scoring rubric. Over 11 weeks, six post-training essays were provided in pairs across three contexts, the first on English Language Arts, the next on social studies and the remaining two essays were on personal reflection. Because PASTA training is self prompted, participants choose to either use a planning strategy or not. The mnemonic PASTA strategy represents a five step cueing device that assists students in using graphic organizers as a planning tool prior to writing. PASTA stands for Prompt, Analyze, Sketch, Think, and Add. Students received four weeks of cognitive strategy training in order to learn the PASTA strategy. Post training essays were compared to baseline essays using paired t-tests, and users and non-users were contrasted using between groups ANOVA. Results demonstrated that PASTA training can significantly improve overall holistic essays scores, organizational scores, and idea scores, but not necessarily the use of conventions. Results showed that PASTA training was maintained for two additional post training phases transferred to two additional topics of social studies, and personal reflection. Both students with disabilities and without improved similarly. Importantly, when essays were grouped by whether the student chose to use a strategy or not, essays written using a graphic organization strategy scored higher than essays written without this planning. Interviews with students suggest that student weighed the time needed to employ a planning strategy versus the perceived benefits when making a choice of whether to employ a planning strategy. Together, these findings suggest that PASTA, a self prompted planning strategy can improve essays in struggling adolescent writers.