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Competence in written expression : interactions between instruction and individual differences among junior high school students Jeroski, Sharon


This study explored the relative contributions of individual differences, instructional strategies and aptitude-treatment-interactions (ATI) to the writing performance of 600 grade eight and nine students in two British Columbia school districts. Two experimental schools were identified in each district. Participating classes within a school were randomly assigned to Treatment A, a skills-based approach to descriptive writing, or to Treatment B, a workshop approach to expressive and personal writing, for eighteen to twenty hours of instruction over ten weeks. Both treatments emphasized prewriting and peer editing activities; they differed principally in the degree of structure provided. Treatment A activities were teacher-directed, and designed to provide instruction and practice in specific skills. Treatment B offered less guidance; students selected and defined their own writing activities. Control classes in a third school received only literature instruction. Prior to instruction, measures of writing ability (a linear composite of seven performance scales), attitude toward writing, reading comprehension, field independence and cognitive complexity were obtained. Posttreatment, students completed an extended narrative and three Directed Writing tasks, and two affective scales. Seven performance scales — one holistic, two analytic and four Directed Writing -- were used to evaluate student writing. series of within-district multiple regression analyses simultaneously examined the contributions of aptitudes, treatments and ATI to each outcome variable. Where predictors caused a significant increase in explained variance for only one outcome or in only one district, these were dismissed as chance results. Sex, writing ability, attitude and reading comprehension demonstrated consistent effects on outcomes. Directed Writing scales showed significant effects for experimental over control groups; holistic and analytic scales did not. Treatment B students responded more favourably to the affective scales than did Treatment A, but there were few differences between these treatments for writing outcomes. Four ATI's showed a consistent pattern over three or more equations for performance outcomes: 1. Sex-by-attitude-by-treatment (Experimental versus Control) . Girls with negative attitudes performed better under the control condition; those with positive attitudes, under experimental treatments. The reverse was true for boys, although differences were not large. 2. Reading-by-treatment(A versus B). Students with high reading scores performed better under B; those with low scores, under A. 3. Complexity-by-treatment(A versus B). Students with high complexity scores attained higher performance scores in Treatment A; those with low complexity scores, in B. 4. Sex-by-reading-by-treatment(A versus B). Boys with high reading scores performed better under B; those with low scores, under A. The reverse was true for girls, although the Treatment B advantage for low scores was slight. Sex-by-field independence-by-treatment (A versus B) contributed to three of four affective outcomes. For boys in Treatment A, the association between field independence and affective scores was positive; for all other groups, the association was negative. The full model, incorporating aptitudes, treatments and ATI, explained a surprisingly low proportion — generally less than 50 percent — of the variance in writing performance.

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