Academic journal article The Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education

Learning to Write and Get School Success: A Quasi-Experimental Study among 9th Formers

Academic journal article The Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education

Learning to Write and Get School Success: A Quasi-Experimental Study among 9th Formers

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

"What is now proved was once, only imagin'd" William Blake, "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell - Proverbs of Hell" (Erdman 1998:36)

Portuguese is the 6th most spoken language in the world (Ethnologue, 20141) and it is one of the official languages in the European Union2. As such there is a deep concern by Portuguese authorities to assess language skills in the mother tongue so as to promote individuals' language fluency in a plurilingual and multicultural context. The results of the 2001 International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), conducted every five years since 2001, has shown poor results Portuguese students have in national assessment. Poor writing skills were further flashed out in the Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA), as reported in the study by OECD (2004, 2007). On a national level school achievement and literacy skills have been at the core in the agenda in the educational policy, particularly at the time the case study addressed in this paper was designed, i.e., 2007-2008. Seventh and eighth formers have been singled out in several studies for their poor writing skills. National assessment of educational progress implemented every year since 2000 has indicated that Portuguese fourth graders have difficulty with bridging the gap between literal meaning and referential meaning, with making inferences, interpreting texts and writing cohesive and coherent texts (Ministério da Educação 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004). Later on, the study undertaken in 1700 Portuguese schools, by the Secretary of Education (GAVE/IAVE 2010, 2012), also indicated that students from the 8th to the 12th forms have shown poor lexical and syntactic competence as well as poor writing skills, particularly concerning writing a coherent and cohesive text3 (2012). Students' poor writing skills are correlated with low achievement and, in many cases, with high early school dropout rate4 along with poor basic qualifications (CNE - Conselho Nacional de Educação 2011).

In the 1991 Reading Literacy Study, conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, Portuguese students were reported to have performed below the international average in writing (Elley 1992). PIRLS 2001, 2006 might have provided further reliable longitudinal data necessary to assess students' progress and to identify areas of strength and weaknesses. However, these studies did not cover the Portuguese context in 2001, 2006. The few indicators available then only considered the fourth form. PISA results (2006) drawing on fifteen year-old informants' written output suggest that Portuguese students have specific difficulties with interpreting and writing cohesive and coherent texts. For example, PISA 2003 and PISA 2006 results show that most students are able to retrieve explicit information and to develop textbased interpretations, but have difficulties with relating textual information to extratextual data, notably, background information (and schemata at large), with an impact on poor writing skills (OECD, 2004, 2007). In fact, this case study intends to focus on the group of students not addressed in the previous national/international reports, but having been broadly assessed as poor writers. For this purpose, and in order to narrow down the scope of analysis for reliability issues, the current paper covers the 9th formers having been identified in 2006-2007 by a group of teachers of Portuguese as mother tongue under the auspices of the Regional Board of Education in Madeira (Portugal) in 2006. At the core of stands out the research question: how can Portuguese students, particularly, 9th formers, improve their writing skills and school achievement and thus prevent school failure?

2 Literature Review

"Dumber than We Thought"i (1993) and "Adding-Up the Under-Skilled"5 (1993) raised public awareness in many countries two decades ago6. According to the US Department of Education, it is not enough to learn the basic R's ( i. …

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