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A longitudinal study of the use of syntax and text forms in children’s narrative and report writing Martin, Jennifer J.

Abstract

The purpose of this longitudinal study was to examine the use of syntax and text forms in the narrative and report writing of a select group of early intermediate grade children using a descriptive case study approach. Writing samples were obtained during weekly writing sessions conducted by the researcher as participant observer with a group of 49 students in two and latterly, three classes. Using a writing process approach (Graves, 1984), the students alternated writing narratives and reports from November to May in each of three years. While all students submitted their writing to the researcher for perusal and comment, only the writing of 14 randomly selected students was used to provide the data for analyses of syntax and text forms. Additionally, a closer examination of the writing of a subset of three writers selected by the researcher provided the opportunity for detailed comparison of the three writers and the means to speculate as to factors which may affect use of syntax and text forms. The analysis of data was twofold: an analysis of the complexity of syntax based on mean T-unit length and frequency counts of extended noun phrases, subordinate clauses and verb phrases and an analysis of text forms including the complexity of beginning and ending statements based on a classification system designed by Langer (1986) and overall length of writing samples. Results indicated the students had more diverse and complex use of syntax in their writing in successive years. Further, use of these forms varied in the two genres. Students had a wider variety of more complex syntax in their narrative writing in Grades 4 and 5than in their report writing, however, by Grade 6, there were higher frequencies of more complex forms of syntax in report writing than in narrative writing. Beginning and ending statements were more complex in narrative writing than in report writing in each year. Also, overall length increased in both genres over time and narratives were approximately three times longer than reports. Results from the profiles of three writers indicate there appear to be several factors which may affect the use of syntax and text forms in the writing of these students. These factors include forms of language, stylistic preferences, types of writing, maturation and motivation. The results indicating observable differences in students' use of syntax and text forms in narrative and report writing have important pedagogical and methodological implications and present some interesting directions for further study.

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