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Scaffolding English language learners' academic writing with the "STEPS+G" planning and curricular approaches and speech recognition technology

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2009
Dissertation
Author: Karen Pauline Kaun
Abstract:
This study, based on neo-Vygotskian sociocultural theory, explores and assesses the potential of certain curricular tools and speech-recognition software to aid in the scaffolding of English Language Learners' (ELLs) or more appropriately "emergent bilinguals" (Garcia, Kleifgen, & Falchi, 2008) academic writing. In this study, five ELL eighth-graders from a New York City public, middle-school, whose oral and written skills in English were generally close in ability, were selected for case study research. The question: How can oral language and other "mediating tools" (Vygotsky, 1981) such as the STEPS+G mnemonics and speech recognition technology (SR) be harnessed to enhance ELLs' academic writing? These students received whole group and one-on-one instruction for writing that was scaffolded with three tools: a novel approach for analysis of curricular materials called STEPS+G, a planning mnemonic for writing (STEPS+G+P), and the support of speech-recognition software. STEPS+G shows students how to examine and critically understand curricula material at hand and evaluate events through multiple perspectives (S ocial, T echnological, E conomic, P olitical, S cientific and G eographic). STEPS+G+P helps students plan and organize these perspectives and generate essays that richly support a thesis. And both STEPS+G mnemonics, for analysis and evaluation and planning, ultimately were designed to support student achievement as measured by the New York State Education Department (NYSED) document based-questions DBQ scoring rubric. Finally, speech recognition software was included in order to help students transcribe their oral language to written text. The findings demonstrate that students used the STEPS+G, STEPS+G+P and SR software in combination with other semiotic resources (language, the DBQs and other curricular material) to produce longer and more complex essays and their writing became more aligned with the NYSED examination expectation, which scores students' essays for how they utilize higher level thinking skills in their composition and the extent to which they support their ideas with facts, examples, and details. The speech recognition software focused the students on word pronunciation, at times caused them to paraphrase words. Its potential as a scaffold for writing increased over the instructional sessions, with students' use and familiarity, and could further expand with students' mastery of spoken language and literacy.

9 Chapter I INTRODUCTION Writing is an "unnatural" act for everyone and when it comes to academic writing, it is an exercise that requires juggling complex sociocultural and cognitive processes. Furthermore, it is a technology that does not "spring from consciousness" (Ong, 1982, p. 82), but is often developed from contrived rules, which are embedded in Western school practices (Street, 1984). The "autonomous literacy" model, with which school-based writing has often been associated, is based on an "essay-text" form of literacy and is "a narrow, culture-specific literacy" (Street, 1984, p. 1). While these rules both constrain and provide opportunities for all students in U.S. schools, they may disadvantage over 14 million language-minority students (August & Shanahan, 2006) whose languages are not the language of instruction, English, and who must write in English in order to pass state exams. How then can educators help English Language Learners (ELLs) or more appropriately "emergent bilinguals" (Garcia, Kleifgen & Falchi, 2008) to become more proficient academic writers? Statement of the Problem The "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) Act of Congress (2001) mandates that states use annual assessments aligned to their current academic standards in subject matter content including math, English language arts, and science to track achievement and progress over students' K-12 career. All students including English Language Learners

10 (ELLs), also referred to as Limited English Proficient (LEP) by NCLB, who have been enrolled in an English Language School System one year or more must take the state English Language Arts exam - which involves not only reading and answering multiple choice questions, but also requires writing essays in their non-native language. This policy is not in accord with research findings on ELLs who depending on their individual learning needs and programs of instruction, can take three to five years to develop oral proficiency and four to seven years to develop academic English proficiency (Hakuta, Goto, Butler, & Witt, 2000).L The language in NCLB's policy further compounds the problem. Garcia, Kleifgen and Falchi (2008) argue that the mere labeling of children as English Language Learners (ELLs)2 or limited-English proficient (LEP) connotes a misunderstanding that is critical to the teaching of these students who are in fact "emergent bilinguals" and would benefit from cognitively complex instructional practices that harness their first language capabilities. Yet policy that ignores empirical research has produced a number of different teaching practices that either do not contribute to or sometimes even hinder ELLs' school success. For example, while ELLs are often taught word-level skills (e.g. decoding, word recognition and spelling) well enough to attain ability levels equal to those of native English speakers, ELLs rarely achieve the same levels of proficiency in 1 In 2000, Hakuta et al. collected and analyzed data on ELL students to determine how long it takes them to develop oral and academic language proficiency in English, or what Cummins (1981) terms Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills (BICS) and Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP). Oral proficiency was tested using the Idea Oral Language Proficiency Tests, which assess vocabulary, comprehension, syntax and comprehension. Academic literacy proficiency was tested through instruments that included the Woodcock Language Proficiency Battery, which assesses not only students' academic oral skills, but also reading and writing. 2 Because the term ELL is prevalent in the literature, and this research is focused on student writing in English, I use it with the proviso that the label is inadequate. It erases the ethnolinguistic identity of students who are emergent bilingual writers.

11 text-level skills as do native English speakers (August & Shanahan, 2006). Writing involves successfully managing a set of activities that require a certain level of competence. ELLs need grammatical competence, discourse competence (e.g. knowledge of genre and rhetorical patterns that create them), sociolinguistic competence, and strategic competence (e.g. the ability to use a variety of communication strategies) to effectively write in the target language (Canale & Swain, 1980). ELLs are in urgent need of instruction and tools to support their academic writing, which is a predictor of school success (Nagin, 2006) and young people's overall life chances. Literacy in English is essential to achievement in every academic subject and to overall school success (August & Shanahan, 2006). The facts illustrate the need: • For the 41 states reporting, only 18.7% of English Language Learners scored above the state-established norm for reading comprehension (Kindler, 2002). • 31 % of language-minority students who spoke English and 51 % of language- minority students who spoke English with difficulty failed to complete high school (National Center of Education Statistics, 2004). • In New York City alone, there are 148,000 students who are classified as English Language Learners and another 30,000 are projected to enroll in the city school system by the end of 2009 (Zehr, M.A., 2009). Of the 55,335 ELLs, in grades 3-8 who took the English Language Arts test in 2007, 16% achieved the learning standards. In order to graduate from New York City high schools, all students are required to pass five Regents exams in various subject matters, including English Language Arts. In 2006, the percentage of ELLs who passed the New York State Regents was 36.5% (NYCDOE, 2009). According to the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (2002), of students who failed to complete high school or receive a General Educational Development (GED) diploma, 55% report no earnings in the 1999 Current Population Survey of the U.S. Census compared to 25% of those with at least a high school degree or GED. The median

12 income for those without a high school diploma or GED is about half of those who have a high school degree or GED. In addition, students who fail to graduate high school are also significantly more likely to become single parents and have children at young ages, and are more likely to rely upon public assistance or be in prison. In summary, literacy is a powerful instrument, at times defining our very lives with its facility. And writing ability, particularly in the academic settings of the United States, can open or close doors for a child. Purpose and Theoretical Basis of the Research This research, based on Vygotskian sociocultural theory, explores and assesses the potential of certain curricular tools and speech-recognition software to scaffold and improve English Language Learners' academic writing (to be elaborated in Chapter 2). Vygotsky is "one of the central figures in the melding of sociocognitive and sociocultural perspectives on learning" (Hicks, 1996, p. 3). Exhaustive literature has been published around his theories of language and learning. Recent research focuses on how technology can be used as a scaffolding tool for literacy instruction (Erickson, 1996). A major contribution by Vygotsky to educational research is the concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), which is the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers. (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86)3 3 Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society. Boston: Harvard University Press.

13 Vygotsky (1987) argued that the zone of proximal development is more significant to the success of instruction than the actual level of development, as determined by tests or mental stage of the child. Furthermore, the ZPD does not exist outside of learning, but is created during learning when a variety of developmental processes are activated through the children's interaction with people in their environment including their peers (Vygotsky, 1987).4 Children internalize the processes that occur during interactions with peers, yet this is not "purely mechanical operation" (Vygotsky & Luria, 1994, p. 153) or imitation. The internalized knowledge is transformed on the basis of their own experiences, orientations and existing knowledge. These higher mental functions which develop through social interaction are meditated by semiotic resources (Vygotsky, 1981) which include language, writing and mnemonic techniques. Scaffolding is a technique that grew from ZPD conceptions of learning and development. It was first used by Wood, Bruner and Ross (1976) in their studies of parent-child talk. They defined scaffolding as: a process that enables a child or novice to solve a problem, carry out a task, or achieve a goal that would be beyond his unassisted efforts. (Wood, et al., 1976, p. 90) Because Vygotsky's ZPD and subsequent conceptualizations of scaffolding have powerful implications for education, much has been written about scaffolding over the years. Indeed, so much has been written that the term "scaffold" or "scaffolding" has become somewhat fuzzy (Pea, 2004). For the purpose of this dissertation, a scaffold refers to instructional processes mediated by semiotic resources such as certain curricular 4 Vygotsky, L.S. (1987) The collected works of L.S. Vygotsky: Vol.1, Problems of general psychology. Including the volume Thinking and speech. New York: Plenum. (N. Minick, Trans.)

14 and technological tools designed to help learners navigate their ZPD. Below in "context of the study" I will describe the precise semiotic resources and instructional techniques to which this study pays particular attention. Context of the Study This research builds on a previously conducted pilot project entitled STEPS to Literacy. STEPS to Literacy was a "proof of concept" project that was developed by the Center for Multiple Languages and Literacies at Teachers College, Columbia University to help Latino middle school students in New York City to improve their academic writing. The pilot was conducted between 2005 and 2006 in a middle school in the Bronx, New York. STEPS to Literacy evolved from The STEPS+G model developed by Charles Kinzer (2000) and colleagues at Vanderbilt University. STEPS+G shows students how to look through to critically understand curricula material at hand and evaluate events through multiple perspectives (Social, Technological, Economic, Political, Scientific and Geographic). It also provides a scaffold that integrates these knowledge domains to build a cohesive academic essay. The project provided students with multimodal and multilingual content to support their understanding and offered online work spaces to write and receive input from their instructors. The team which included myself developed a Web-based writing environment (pictured below) which provides access to 5 The Center for Multiple Languages and Literacies at Teachers College, Columbia University received a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to develop and pilot the program.

15 tools, materials in the English and Spanish languages on social studies topics such as Civil Rights and guidelines that assist ELL students in using STEPS+G for their writing. Figure 1. The STEPS Online Workspace ;'**!» K L 1* '>» y-. Sati al Tessiffi*f>s$$ie*i Eos nam is; f%litiS3Bl SdNBtriiNc * €*e»irMptsi£ s fit *•& INe^-K « ' * *- ;" "l i'i": - * maHqjk J f i;( t i "'^f ^l ^*1 ** » Introciycirig Civil ,.,^ * , * ' Rl ghts/l ntrDduci on a las Derectes Clvlles !a"§uS§e-TOO* & 1-1 "^14r f et *i ^ KRiflfcn** tf * &j * #fciWitiwtt Mi*/**««j^ii. *m# i fw m$j©f g^i wi s *s^ it** -r^t! n^fto mowrmrR, HOfctqSMUS ^±J Qui son iferectios ci vi l e*^ I BI S SNPS&M #teairir*s I* In the testing phase of the STEPS to Literacy pilot project, the team worked with ten eighth graders from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Ecuador, who spoke Spanish as a first language and who were in various stages of English writing proficiency. Six instructional sessions on how to use the computer software and STEPS+G elements were delivered in the school's computer lab; the sessions integrated topics from the eighth grade New York State Education Department (NYSED) social studies curriculum on civil rights. I worked with team members to develop the curriculum (Kaun, Arora & Bucavalas, 2007). Students were provided online materials that gave background information on the civil rights movement of the late 1950 and

16 1960s and on the immigration rights protests of early summer 2006. Questions prompted students to analyze facts about the movements from social, technological, economic, political, scientific and geographic perspectives. One team member led the instruction and discussions in Spanish and English. Other team members assisted the students with the technology and with the videotaping6. After these sessions, the team conducted a group interview asking the students for their impressions about the STEPS+G activities and multimodal resources and software design. The videotapes from these sessions were revealing. Most students quickly learned how to use the STEPS+G framework to analyze the given curricula and materials. Students also applied their 'funds of knowledge' (Moll, Amanti, Neff & Gonzalez, 1992) - knowledge and skills that students gain from their households and communities - to the sessions. For example, in the early summer of 2006, immigration law and immigrant rights were hotly debated topics in the news as hundreds of thousands of immigrants took to the streets in protest. We were able to link students' first-hand knowledge of the circumstances surrounding these events with examples and anecdotes about the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Students used the multimodal and multilingual (English/Spanish) resources to support their understanding of the topics. They particularly liked an online dictionary/translation tool that was built into the Web site. Students spoke in English and Spanish during the sessions, but mostly wrote in English. Kleifgen, Curinga and Kaun (2007) note that some students displayed a preoccupation with the mechanics of their writing such as spelling and grammar, "which 6 Team members included in alphabetical order: Payal Arora, Abby Bucavalas, Matt Curinga, Aaron Hung, Karen Kaun, Dr, Charles Kinzer and Dr. Jo Anne Kleifgen.

17 stifled their ability to get good ideas into text" (p. 16). Kleifgen et al. (2007) present a sample from a session's transcript where "Lisa is struggling as she used Political in STEPS to take notes on material in the STEPS website" (p. 16). The researcher is discussing Lisa's note-taking as she looks at the computer screen and the workspace where Lisa is typing her notes: Table 1. Lisa Taking Notes R Lisa R Lisa R Lisa R Lisa R Lisa R Lisa R Lisa R Lisa R These are notes, right? So you don't have to do a whole sentence yet. So do the key things that you have in mind there... that you found in your reading. (paraphrasing the text) That African Americans long range from the attorneys to challenge the segregation in the United States. Support for black communities. The Black community supported who? Because they said (reading) "their decades-long campaign demanded a powerful strategy, support from black communities." The first part, (pointing to paragraph on screen) Oh, the attorneys. So why don't you just say, just put in your notes.. just say 'attorneys make long-range plans' that's one thing, right? (types and begins to correct her writing) You don't have to do a whole sentence, (helps her spell 'attorneys') And then just put 'make'... (types) 'long... range.. .plans.' (types) xxx? To change? To change the United States. OK, put that in (begins typing) You got it. (starts to type out "United States") Just put "the U.S." You don't have to perfectly spell it because you're not writing it. You're just taking notes.

18 Some students, like Lisa, were preoccupied with surface-level structures, spelling, and mechanics and had difficulty with note-taking. Others, who were lively participants in the oral discussions had difficulty getting their ideas on paper. This finding became the inspiration for the present research. The central question: How can oral language and other "mediating tools" (Vygotsky, 1981) particularly the STEPS+G mnemonic and speech recognition technology (SR) be harnessed to enhance ELLs' academic writing? More specifically, how can these mediating tools help support students' essay writing skills on the New York State Education Department 8th Grade Social Studies Examination? To explore this question, I developed an enhanced instructional approach to build on the successes of the original STEPS+G framework and Web-based curricular model. It includes two additional semiotic resources (mediating tools) for essay writing: a planning strategy to organize the structure of essays and the support of Dragon NaturallySpeaking speech recognition software to help students transcribe their oral language to written text. More detail about these tools is provided in the methodology section, Chapter 3. Finally, I selected five ELL eighth-graders from the same New York City public, middle-school, who had varying degrees of oral and literacy competence in English, for case study research. These students received whole group and one-on-one instruction for writing that was scaffolded with the mediating tools. The next chapter will provide a review of Vygotskian theory and underscore the importance of semiotic mediation in supporting students' learning within their zones of proximal development.

19 Chapter II REVIEW OF THE RESEARCH Vygotskian Theories of Language and Learning Lev Vygotsky is best known for his work in the area of psychological development in children and especially for his ideas about the relationship between language and thought in children's development (Cole, 1993). In Vygotsky's view, speech and thinking develop independently of each other, but at a certain point in development they converge where "thinking becomes verbal and speech becomes intellectual" (Vygotsky, 1987, p. 112). In other words, language serves as a vehicle of thought (Vygotsky, 1987, p. 112). He disagreed with Piaget's view that a child's egocentric speech is speech for the sake of the child's own satisfaction and does not change "anything significant in the child's activity" (Vygotsky, 1987, pg. 69). Rather, through his research, Vygotsky (1987) demonstrated that egocentric speech was often related to complex activity, or a way for the child to reason through a problem and was often "goal-directed" and a "means for forming intentions and plans" (Vygotsky, 1987, p. 78). According to Vygotsky (1987), cognitive development appears first in the interpsychological (e.g. between or among individuals; social) plane and it is then appropriated by the individual (John-Steiner, Panofsky, & Smith, 1994). Internalization occurs when symbol systems that arise from social, historical and cultural settings are appropriated by the individual and transformed into inner speech and further verbal

20 thinking (John-Steiner, 1996). Human development begins with the infants' dependence on caregivers who transmit their experiences to the child. The interactions between children and caregivers provide children with numerous opportunities to observe and participate in the "skilled activities of their culture" (John-Steiner, 1996, p. 193). All human activity is mediated by cultural tools (Cole, 1993) which arise from social interaction. For Vygotsky, semiotic mediation, which is the connection between the individual and the social, the internal and the external, is the key to all aspects of knowledge co-construction (John-Steiner, 1996). Semiotic resources (Vygotsky, 1981) include: language; various systems for counting; mnemonic techniques; algebraic symbol systems; works of art; writing; schemes, diagrams, maps, and technical drawings; all sorts of conventional signs, and so on. (p. 137) Unlike Piaget, who posited that development is a process of the child's thoughts gradually being replaced by those of the adult or "one form of thought is gradually and continuously being forced out by another" (Vygotsky, 1987, p. 175), Vygotsky (1987) stated that "spontaneous concepts" (or "scientific" thought) arise at any given stage of a child's development through his or her own effort. Development is a continual emergence of new characteristics of thought, which are more complex representations, and developed forms of thought that arise from foundations of "primary" thinking (Vygotksy, 1987, p. 175). However these more complex or "scientific" concepts can only arise only when a foundation exists and cannot "simply be introduced to a child's consciousness from the outside" (Vygotksy, 1987, p. 177).

21 In Vygotsky's view, learning is not equivalent to development, but creates the possibility of development (John-Steiner, et al, 1994) "through culturally organized, specifically human, psychological functions" (Vygotsky, 1987, p. 90). His notion of the zone of proximal development was motivated by his claim that intrapsychological (personal) functioning grows out of interpsychological (between or among individuals) functioning (Wertsch & Stone, 1985). Vygotsky (1987) maintained that the zone of proximal development (ZPD) has "more significance for the dynamics of intellectual development and for the success of instruction than does the actual level of development" (p. 209). Instruction will be different for children of the same ages because their zones of proximal development are different. Therefore, it is important for "more knowledgeable others" to determine both the lower and upper threshold of instruction. Productive and possibly even optimal instruction can only occur within the limits of these two thresholds (Vygotsky, 1987). Furthermore, instruction is maximally productive only when it occurs at a certain point in the zone of proximal development, sometimes referred to as a "sensitive period" (Vygotsky, 1987, p. 212). During sensitive periods, a child is more sensitive to certain kinds of influences and these influences may "elicit profound changes" (Vygotsky, 1987, p. 212) in the development of an individual. Sensitive periods are associated with social processes, which lead to higher mental functions and these mental functions have their source in collaboration and instruction (Vygotsky, 1987).

22 The Notion of Scaffolding As noted in Chapter 1, Wood, Bruner and Ross (1976) were influenced by Vygotskian (1987) views on the Zone of Proximal Development when they conceptualized scaffolding as a process that enables a child to carry out a task or achieve a goal beyond his unassisted efforts. The term scaffolding was and still is used interchangeably as a noun and a verb. It is a "structure, guided in a specific form by tacit assessment of a child's independent capabilities" (Pea, 2004, p. 425). It is also a process carried out and adjusted over time until a child is able to successfully complete the task him/herself. While scaffolding, as originally conceived by Wood et al. (1976), described child development as a series of informal social interactions, at-home, between mother and child, the notion of scaffolding was in time embraced in formal education settings. It is now more broadly applied to curricular structures and materials and technology. Pea notes that the "seeds for diffusion" (p. 429) for the notion of scaffolding are inherent in Vygotsky's writings. Pea (2004), who has been researching how information technologies can support learning has developed a framework for the description of scaffolding. The framework includes an explanation of how scaffolding functions for a learner. "Channeling" (p. 432) places constraints around the task, thereby increasing the potential for its completion. "Focusing" (p. 432) points the learner's attention to relevant steps of a task, again increasing the potential for its completion. "Modeling" (p. 432) provided by an expert, can demonstrate a more advanced solution to the task. The scaffolds do not make the task

Full document contains 197 pages
Abstract: This study, based on neo-Vygotskian sociocultural theory, explores and assesses the potential of certain curricular tools and speech-recognition software to aid in the scaffolding of English Language Learners' (ELLs) or more appropriately "emergent bilinguals" (Garcia, Kleifgen, & Falchi, 2008) academic writing. In this study, five ELL eighth-graders from a New York City public, middle-school, whose oral and written skills in English were generally close in ability, were selected for case study research. The question: How can oral language and other "mediating tools" (Vygotsky, 1981) such as the STEPS+G mnemonics and speech recognition technology (SR) be harnessed to enhance ELLs' academic writing? These students received whole group and one-on-one instruction for writing that was scaffolded with three tools: a novel approach for analysis of curricular materials called STEPS+G, a planning mnemonic for writing (STEPS+G+P), and the support of speech-recognition software. STEPS+G shows students how to examine and critically understand curricula material at hand and evaluate events through multiple perspectives (S ocial, T echnological, E conomic, P olitical, S cientific and G eographic). STEPS+G+P helps students plan and organize these perspectives and generate essays that richly support a thesis. And both STEPS+G mnemonics, for analysis and evaluation and planning, ultimately were designed to support student achievement as measured by the New York State Education Department (NYSED) document based-questions DBQ scoring rubric. Finally, speech recognition software was included in order to help students transcribe their oral language to written text. The findings demonstrate that students used the STEPS+G, STEPS+G+P and SR software in combination with other semiotic resources (language, the DBQs and other curricular material) to produce longer and more complex essays and their writing became more aligned with the NYSED examination expectation, which scores students' essays for how they utilize higher level thinking skills in their composition and the extent to which they support their ideas with facts, examples, and details. The speech recognition software focused the students on word pronunciation, at times caused them to paraphrase words. Its potential as a scaffold for writing increased over the instructional sessions, with students' use and familiarity, and could further expand with students' mastery of spoken language and literacy.