- Institution: Universidad de Extremadura y Universidade Fernando Pessoa.
- Country: Spain & Portugal.
- Source: investigation study. Montanero, M. & Madeira, M.L. (2019). Collaborative chain writing: effects on the narrative competence of primary school students. Infancia y Aprendizaje, 42:4, 915-951, DOI: 10.1080/02103702.2019.1650464
- Age of the children: 9-10 years old.
Main characteristics of the practice
Writing is an essentially recursive activity, which involves not only the planning and textualization processes, but also the revision of the text according to the communicative context and, in particular, of the audience to whom it is addressed.
One of the main risks of explicit writing instruction is that activities are conceived as decontextualized tasks, in which students often do not plan what they want to communicate and how they do it based on the audience, nor do they review if the texts really fit those goals.
Although writing is an essentially individual and reflective act, the writer must keep in mind the social context to which the text is directed, since this conditions the writing goals and processes. Collaborative writing tasks facilitate this awareness, providing an active role to the interlocutor in the planning, production and revision of the text. It is about promoting a ‘social way of thinking’ through writing (Mercer & Littleton, 2007): the explicit dialogue between what the writer means and what the potential reader really understands, the dialectic between intentions and meanings.
Despite the benefits of collaborative writing on student’s learning level demonstrated by different investigations, in the case of Primary Education, some studies indicate difficulties for less mature students to effectively engage in collaborative writing tasks, if they are not provided with the appropriate structure and support (Clark, 2003).
General goal of the practice and specific objectives
The research objectives focus on:
- To examine the influence on the narrative writer competence in L1 of the Primary Education students of a method of collaborative writing in chains, compared to individual writing activities.
- compare the influence of different guides/supports in the planning, production and review of narratives in situations of individual and collaborative practice in Primary Education.
Over a period of approximately one month, students underwent an initial assessment (pretest), a sequence of seven sessions of approximately 45 minutes of narrative writing practice distributed over two weeks, and a final evaluation (posttest).
The control group did not perform narrative writing practices during these
sessions Instead, they advanced in the teaching units corresponding to the planning. In the language classes, they mainly carried out grammar, reading and writing activities in dictation (focused on spelling) with texts of other genres (non-narrative).
In the research article, there is no reference to the spatial organization of the different sessions with students.
Description of procedures and methodology
The research has a quasi-experimental nature and is based on a design with a pretest-posttest assessment and a control group. The intervention is aimed at improving the writing of narrative texts considering three independent variables:
- Type of writing: (a) writing practice and individual review; (b) writing practice and collaborative review (in pairs).
- Planning guides: (a) nonspecific support (keywords); (b) script of questions about the narrative structure.
- Review guides: (a) without support (blank paper); (b) quantitative appreciation scale; (c) descriptive rubric.
The assignment of students to each of the resulting experimental conditions was done randomly.
Competence in narrative writing was considered as a dependent variable: each student wrote, individually and without support, a story before the intervention (pretest) and a different one after it (posttest), both stories were balanced. The clarity and organization of the content, grammatical correction and questions related to creativity and style were evaluated.
On the other hand, the verbal interaction generated between partners on the collaborative modality during the co-evaluation activities was also analyzed as a process-dependent variable.
Resources for planning support
As resources to support planning, in an experimental condition the subjects had only a paper with three or four keywords for each text, where students had to write down some ideas before writing. The words simply reflected some data (such as the name of the protagonist or the place where the story took place) and aimed to make it easier for students to spend time planning the text.
Students in the other experimental condition had a script of open questions, grouped around the parts of a narrative and presented as a table.
Resources to support the review
As tools to support the processes of reviewing drafts and re-editing of texts, students were provided with two types of resources: a quantitative assessment scale and a rubric.
- Assessment scale: an instrument of extended use in educational evaluation, consisting of assessing a series of criteria on a quantitative-ordinal scale. In the investigation, students were asked to evaluate seven criteria of narrative quality on a scale: insufficient, sufficient, good, very good. They were also allowed to write observations and suggestions for improvement.
- Rubric: exactly the same criteria as the quantitative scale were reflected, although breaking down each criterion into four levels of execution (from lower to higher quality) in a descriptive-ordinal format. In this condition, students had to identify and mark the corresponding level of execution. (eg criterion 1 – Introduction or framework, was broken down into the following levels of achievement: (1) there is no introduction; (2) only some characters are named, without commenting on any of them. (3) when and where it occurred the story and who the protagonists are, but it is not described how they are; (4) it is told when and where the story occurred, it describes who the protagonists are and how they are physically, psychologically, in terms of their personal situation, etc.)
- Unsupported condition: the students had only a blank paper where they were encouraged to freely record the assessments and needs for improvement of the story they should evaluate.
Initial evaluation (pretest)
Individual writing of a story for 40 minutes, after reading by the researcher (known in the literature as proof of re-narration). Students were encouraged to freely introduce original and creative elements in their texts.
The two stories that students had to re-narrate in writing (pretest and posttest), were selected from one of the books of the National Reading Plan of Basic Ensino in Portugal (Ducla Soares, 2007) and were similar in terms of subject matter, familiarity, attractiveness, realism, syntactic complexity and extension.
The writing practice sessions were conducted individually or in pairs, depending on the experimental condition. The couples of the second condition were randomly formed. Each group held seven practical writing sessions of approximately 45 minutes.
- Session 1. Common to all conditions. The teacher introduced the concept of narration and the importance of learning to write stories. Then, taking a text from the book as a model, he taught the students to identify the parts of a story (introduction, initial event, plot and resolution or outcome). It also provided basic guidance on how to write each part and exemplified the evaluation of each part, using as a guide the criteria of the supporting materials.
- Session 2. Individual planning of a narrative, with some thematic and extension restrictions. In this phase, half of the students were simply provided with a list of keywords and they were suggested to write a scheme with the elements of the narrative. The other half was provided with the script of questions and encouraged to schematically complete a table with the content of the story they intended to write.
- Session 3. Drafting of the narrative. Half of the students did it individually, while the other half worked in pairs previously organized by the teacher. In this second condition, after a brief discussion to choose the narration scheme, each couple wrote the draft through a reciprocal mentoring procedure (collaborative writing chained): a student wrote a sentence or a paragraph and immediately after the partner proposed corrections and wrote another phrase or paragraph; and so on. Couples who finished earlier were suggested to review the resulting full text together.
- Session 4. Review of narratives and record of assessments (blank/unsupported paper, the scale of quantitative or rubric appreciation, depending on the experimental condition). The students of the individual writing groups self-assessed their own drafts and also re-wrote the second version of the narrative individually. In the condition of collaborative writing, couples exchanged their drafts and co-evaluated them, recording their valuations or suggestions for improvement in the assigned instrument. They were also encouraged to ask the teacher for help when they did not agree. Subsequently, each couple jointly writes the final version of the story, following the same collaborative procedure of chained writing.
- Sessions 5-7. A week later, the three previous sessions were repeated with a new story that the students had to plan, write and review (with the same support they had in the previous sessions).
Final evaluation (posttest)
The posttest evaluation was carried out one week after the end of the intervention, following exactly the same procedure as in the initial evaluation.
Finally, a blind evaluation of the stories written by the students was carried out in the pretest and in the posttest. The researchers applied the standardized tests (PROESC and RER) and scored the students’ compositions without knowing the experimental or control condition to which each text belonged.
On the other hand, an expert teacher, oblivious to the research and who did not know the conditions of the study, also evaluated the overall quality of the narratives according to a conventional scale: 1 (‘Insufficient’), 2 (‘Enough’), 3 (‘ Good ‘), 4 (‘ Very good ‘).
The study does not directly mention the use of technological materials by students, although these could be used as a writing tool (computer/word processor).
Audio recorder/camcorder for recording interactions between students in cooperative work.
Standardized instruments for assessing writing competence: PROESC and RER.
Standardized texts for all students, in the case of this study, the material was used from one of the books of the National Reading Plan for Basic Education in Portugal (Ducla Soares, 2007).
Description of the final product
Narratives and evaluations of the stories elaborated by the students in the different experimental conditions.
Regarding the type of writing, collaborative writing practices produced greater gains compared to exclusively individual writing; and the latter, older than the control group, who did not receive specific training.
The chained collaborative writing incorporates a reciprocal mentoring procedure during the drafting of the draft, in which each student must read what was written by the partner and discuss possible corrections, before writing the following excerpt. This dynamic could make it easier for couples to make a more equitable and symmetrical contribution to the processes of writing the text than other forms of joint writing.
The research results conclude that collaborative writing practices are not necessarily advantageous in themselves, but that their benefits on learning are manifested when certain supports are provided to students.
The effect of the script and the rubric seems, in addition, a joint effect, that is, the students obtained more benefit from the co-evaluation activities with the rubric, when they had practised planning their text with a script of open questions (about similar contents). On the contrary, the collaborative writing group that did not have any of these supports obtained significantly worse results, similar to a control group.
Regarding the analysis of verbal interactions during the co-evaluation activities, a clear difference in the quantity and quality of the evaluation messages is highlighted, in favour of the couples who used a rubric.
The results clarify the conclusion about the presumed benefit of collaborative writing practices: working in pairs in Primary Education does not have to have an influence on the learning of writing competence (Clark, 2003). Only if the interaction between students is sufficiently supported and structured, with adequate resources, does collaborative learning prove to be more beneficial than individual work.
The limitations of the investigation indicate the sample size and the extent of writing practices. Likewise, a more detailed analysis of the reflection and negotiation processes involved in chained writing is considered relevant, compared to other types of free collaborative writing, in which student participation is less structured.
INCLUDED – Digital Storytelling for Inclusion