PROOF: Teaching Essay Structure Improves Students’ Writing Skills

Title: Investigating a Text Structure Intervention for Reading and Writing in Grades 4 and 5
Author: Strong, J.Z.
Source: Reading Research Quarterly, 55(4). September, 2020

Abstract: Although it has been proven that the teaching of informational text structures (such as compare/contrast, problem/solution, cause/effect, sequence, and description) leads to better reading comprehension among young students, it does not play a big role in literacy instruction. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effects and validity of a text structure intervention for literacy in upper elementary grade levels. Text structure instruction involves teaching students to identify how ideas in texts are organized and to use text structures as outlines to organize and produce ideas in written summaries.  The components of effective text structure interventions in improving reading comprehension (according to meta-analyses) include explicit instruction, signal words, graphic organizers, and summary writing. Quantitative results in this study proved that students who went through the text structure intervention performed better overall than the students who received the comprehension strategies intervention on a measure of text structure awareness, a graphic organizer task, and use of ideas and details in informational writing. Qualitative results indicated that teachers found the goals, procedures, and effects of the text structure intervention to be successful.

Participants/Studies Included: Eleven fourth and fifth grade teachers from three elementary schools in the South-Atlantic U.S. were assigned to either a text structure intervention or a comprehension strategies intervention. Five teachers led the former intervention, and six teachers led the latter intervention. The study consisted of 351 fourth and fifth grade students, 160 of which received the text structure intervention and 191 of which received the comprehension strategies intervention.

Research Design: Mixed-methods experimental study/randomized control trial. Both the teachers and students involved in the study were randomly assigned to an intervention group. Quantitative results involved comparing pretest and posttest scores using the criteria of text structure awareness, reading comprehension, and writing quality, while qualitative results involved analyzing teacher interviews to identify patterns and themes within three areas: goals, effects, and procedures.

Methods: Two interventions were developed in the study: a text structure intervention (Read STOP Write) and a comprehension strategies intervention (RARE Reading & Writing). “The instructional routine in Read STOP Write entailed reading a passage, summarizing the main idea and details, identifying the text structure, organizing details using a graphic organizer, and planning and writing an informational paragraph about the topic using the same structure. The instructional routine in RARE Reading & Writing entailed reading a passage, answering comprehension questions, reviewing questions and answers, rereading the passage, restating the main idea and details using a graphic organizer, and explaining the topic of the passage in a written summary.”

The study took place over 12 weeks: the first week consisted of teacher training for the goals, procedures, and materials of their respective intervention; in the second week, teachers administered five pretests; for weeks 3-10, teachers implemented their assigned intervention four days per week for 30 minutes per day; in the 11th week, teachers administered five posttests, and teacher interviews were conducted in the 12th week.

Quantitative Results:

Implications: Due to the success of the text structure intervention, instruction focused on the identification and use of text structure in literacy warrants further research as an alternative to traditional instructional practices (such as question answering). This study also may also be used to guide literacy instruction by upper elementary teachers tasked with meeting state standards and the learning needs of their students.

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