Struggling Learners Left Behind: An Analysis of Written Discourse Data from Selected Fourth Grade Classrooms in the Writing Intensive Reading Comprehension Study
Phelps, Diane Rose
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The purpose of this dissertation is to answer two main research questions: are struggling learners making writing gains that are undetected on standardized English Language Arts (ELA) assessment tests, and how might we strengthen and improve evaluation rubrics to better measure the writing gains of all learners? For this data analysis, I define struggling learners as striving students who do not perform well on the required tests at the required time and are therefore considered to be less able (Zhao, 2009). To date, my research with the WIRC team has had an ideational and interpersonal focus. In order to thoroughly evaluate the development and assessment of the writing of struggling learners, I propose to add this textual component of the linguistic system to prior case study analyses. My research design has a three stage gradually focusing construct: first the large scale holistic categorization of the levels of writing development of 418 fourth grade pretest and posttest writing samples from eleven experimental WIRC study classrooms, next a detailed textual analysis of pretest and posttest patterns of cohesion and coherence in the essay writing of two representative struggling writers for each of the eleven experimental fourth grade classrooms, and finally I hone in my discourse analysis on three forms of text samples (pretest short response writing, posttest short response writing, and thinksheet extended writing) produced by eleven selected struggling students--one each from all eleven of the WIRC experimental classrooms of this study. This last stage of my discourse analysis is triangulated by the use of three different data sources (Creswell, 2007). This design expands upon the methods and findings of a similar mini-study I conducted in the Spring of 2008. This methodology involves the use of descriptive statistics resulting from manually coding and analyzing the corpus of fourth grade experimental and control WIRC pretest, posttest and thinksheet extended-writing data. The nature of the ELA assessment writing task may constrain student writing; however, by also taking into consideration thinksheet writing I provide insight into the possibility of assisted writing for enhancing higher cognitive processes of struggling learners.