Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Story Composition Skills of Middle-Grade Students with Learning Disabilites

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Story Composition Skills of Middle-Grade Students with Learning Disabilites

Article excerpt

Story Composition Skills of Middle-Grade Students with Learning Disabilities

Recently researchers have begun to characterize the composition skills of youngsters with learning disabilities, particularly concerning their knowledge of text structure. Outcomes from several investigations suggest that individuals with learning disabilities lack a sensitivity to various patterns of textual organization and to the relative importance of major and minor ideas (Englert, Raphael, & Anderson, 1986; Graham & Harris, 1986; Thomas, Englert, & Gregg, 1987; Wong & Wilson, 1984). Moreover, students with learning disabilities tend to rely on a "knowledge-telling" strategy of writing, rather than on a strategy driven by an understanding of text structure (Thomas et al., 1987). According to Scardamalia and Bereiter (1984), such an approach to a writing task lacks goal-related planning and is primarily concerned with what to say next rather than how ideas are related to the major premise.

Relatively little is known about learning disabled students' knowledge related to specific types of text structure, but a few studies have provided some insight. In one such investigation, students with learning disabilities were found to have greater difficulty generating compositions that could be classified as stories than did their reading-disabled and nondisabled peers (Nodine, Barenbaum, & Newcomer, 1985). Their compositions were also found to be shorter and to reflect more problems related to coherence than were those of controls, suggesting that learning disabled students' story schema is less well developed than that of their peers. Barenbaum, Newcomer, and Nodine (1987) reported similar outcomes.

Several other investigations concerned with learning disabled students' knowledge of the story form have yielded somewhat conflicting results. For instance, MacArthur and Graham (1987) found that although learning disabled students' compositions generally contained many of the elements common to the story form (i.e., main character, time, setting, action, and ending), other important elements were consistently omitted, including starter events, goals for the characters, and reactions (i.e., internal responses of story characters to consequences or emphatic closing statements). Similar findings were reported by Montague, Maddux, and Dereshiwsky (1988). Outcomes from these investigations suggest that students with learning disabilities have a basic understanding of the story form, but that this understanding is not fully developed.

Although a knowledge base relative to learning disabled students' understanding of the story form is emerging, there is a need for additional research in this area. Relatively few studies have addressed this concern, nor have results from existing investigations been adequately replicated. The present study was designed with this in mind. It is a replication of an investigation conducted by Nodine et al. (1985) and addresses the following questions: (a) Does the performance of young adolescents with learning disabilities on a story-writing task differ from the performance of non-learning-disabled youngsters as indicated by measures of writing category, coherence, and fluency? and (b) How does the story-writing performance of both groups compare with the performance of younger students?

METHOD

Subjects

Subjects included 46 sixth- and seventh-grade students, ranging in age from 11 to 14, who were enrolled in the same urban public school setting. Two groups were formed in the following manner. Two of four regular language arts classes operating in the school were randomly selected, as were two of four resource room classes. All learning disabled (LD) students for whom parental permission was received and whose academic difficulties included problems in the areas of reading or written language were included in Group 1 (N=23). A second group of 23 students was selected from the pool of non-learning-disabled (NLD) respondents to match the LD group in terms of IQ, age, grade level, race, and socio-economic status. …

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