Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Enhancing Argumentative Essay Writing of Fourth-Grade Students with Learning Disabilities

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Enhancing Argumentative Essay Writing of Fourth-Grade Students with Learning Disabilities

Article excerpt

Abstract. A within-subject pretest-posttest comparison design was used to explore the effectiveness of a planning and writing intervention in improving the argumentative writing performance of five fourth-grade students with learning disabilities. Students were taught to collaboratively plan and revise their essays and independently write their essays using procedures articulated by Wong, Butler, Ficzere, and Kuperis (1996). Results demonstrated notable increases in students' written protocols on the quantitative criteria (e.g., number of words written, prewriting and composing times). However, only three of the five students made gains related to writing clarity and cogency. Students' performance improved from "below basic" to "basic" or "proficient" levels with respect to qualitative criteria (i.e., focus, content, and organization) on the statewide writing assessment. Although transfer effects to a different writing task, person, and setting were evident for all students on the quantitative criteria, these effects were mixed on the qualitative criteria. Social validity data indicated student and teacher satisfaction with the planning/writing intervention. Implications of the study for argumentative essay writing instruction are discussed.


Writing is a fundamental skill that allows us to communicate with others. Today's technology-based society increasingly emphasizes the ability to write clearly, which is also a requirement in many states for students to graduate from school. Unfortunately, many students in elementary, middle, and high schools evidence difficulties in writing, a central form of discourse in school curricula. Thus, results of the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) indicate that while average scores in writing increased at grades 4 and 8 from 1998 to 2002, only 28% of fourth graders, 31% of eighth graders, and 24% of twelfth graders performed at or above the "proficient" level (National Center for Education Statistics, 2004).

Students with learning disabilities (LD) especially have difficulty processing and organizing written information (Graham & Harris, 1997). As a result, these students' written products are often short, provide few details, demonstrate a lack of awareness of the audience, and indicate what they know rather than what is required (Gleason, 1999; Gleason & Isaacson, 2001; Graham & Harris, 1989, 1997; Graham, Schwartz, & MacArthur, 1993).

Although students with disabilities have trouble with writing tasks (e.g., narrative, informative, persuasive styles) in general, they experience persistent difficulties with persuasive writing (Gleason, 1999). Unlike narrative and informational writing that describes familiar information (e.g., writing about a person who has the greatest influence on one's life) in a familiar text structure (e.g., introduction, body, and conclusion), the text structure for persuasive writing is more complex (Englert & Raphael, 1988; Gleason, 1999). For example, a persuasive essay might entail developing structured paragraphs that validate both sides of an opinion or argument, choosing a particular side, and persuading the reader to one's side (Englert & Raphael, 1988; Gleason, 1999; Wong, 1997). Specific difficulties that students with LD demonstrate when writing persuasive (argumentative or opinion) essays include writing in a narrative style, using unsupported or nonexistent evidence, disregarding an opposing view, or presenting an argument that agrees with the other side (Gleason, 1999).

Instructional recommendations to enhance the writing performance of students with disabilities include allocating more time to writing, integrating reading and writing, and exposing students to a variety of writing tasks (Graham & Harris, 1988). While these recommendations are important in creating an environment that promotes writing, explicit instruction in the genre of the writing task (e. …

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