1887

Interventions for Supporting and Assessing Science Writing Communication: Cases of Asian English Language Learners

    Authors: Beverly L. Smith-Keiling1,*, Lidia K. Swanson1, Joanne M. Dehnbostel2
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    Affiliations: 1: Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Biophysics, Medical School and College of Biological Sciences; 2: University of Minnesota Minneapolis, MN 55455
    AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION
    • Received 07 November 2017 Accepted 13 December 2017 Published 30 March 2018
    • ©2018 Author(s). Published by the American Society for Microbiology.
    • [open-access] This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/ and https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/legalcode), which grants the public the nonexclusive right to copy, distribute, or display the published work.

    • *Corresponding author. Mailing address: Beverly Smith-Keiling, University of Minnesota Medical School and College of Biological Sciences, Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Biophysics, 6-155 Jackson Hall,321 Church Street, Minneapolis, MN 55455. Phone: 612-625-6100. Fax: 612-625-2163. E-mail: [email protected].
    Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. March 2018 vol. 19 no. 1 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v19i1.1522
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    Abstract:

    In seeking to support diversity, one challenge lies in adequately supporting and assessing science cognitions in a writing-intensive Biochemistry laboratory course when highly engaged Asian English language learners (Asian ELLs) struggle to communicate and make novice errors in English. Because they may understand advanced science concepts, but are not being adequately assessed for their deeper scientific understanding, we sought and examined interventions. We hypothesized that inquiry strategies, scaffolded learning through peer evaluation, and individualized tools that build writing communication skills would increase confidence. To assess scientific thinking, Linguistic Inquiry Word Count (LIWC) software measured underlying analytic and cognitive features of writing despite grammatical errors. To determine whether interventions improved student experience or learning outcomes, we investigated a cross-sectional sample of cases within experimental groups ( = 19) using a mixed-methods approach. Overall trends of paired t-tests from Asian ELLs’ pre/post surveys showed gains in six measures of writing confidence, with some statistically significant gains in confidence in writing skill (=0.025) and in theory (0.05). LIWC scores for Asian ELL and native-English-speaking students were comparable except for increased cognitive scores for Asian ELLs and detectable individual differences. An increase in Asian ELLs’ cognitive scores in spring/summer over fall was observed ( = 0.04), likely as a result of greater cognitive processes with language use, inquiry-related interventions, and peer evaluation. Individual cases further elucidated challenges faced by Asian ELL students. LIWC scores of student writing may be useful in determining underlying understanding. Interventions designed to provide support and strengthen the writing of Asian ELL students may also improve their confidence in writing, even if improvement is gradual.

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2018-03-30
2019-03-19

Abstract:

In seeking to support diversity, one challenge lies in adequately supporting and assessing science cognitions in a writing-intensive Biochemistry laboratory course when highly engaged Asian English language learners (Asian ELLs) struggle to communicate and make novice errors in English. Because they may understand advanced science concepts, but are not being adequately assessed for their deeper scientific understanding, we sought and examined interventions. We hypothesized that inquiry strategies, scaffolded learning through peer evaluation, and individualized tools that build writing communication skills would increase confidence. To assess scientific thinking, Linguistic Inquiry Word Count (LIWC) software measured underlying analytic and cognitive features of writing despite grammatical errors. To determine whether interventions improved student experience or learning outcomes, we investigated a cross-sectional sample of cases within experimental groups ( = 19) using a mixed-methods approach. Overall trends of paired t-tests from Asian ELLs’ pre/post surveys showed gains in six measures of writing confidence, with some statistically significant gains in confidence in writing skill (=0.025) and in theory (0.05). LIWC scores for Asian ELL and native-English-speaking students were comparable except for increased cognitive scores for Asian ELLs and detectable individual differences. An increase in Asian ELLs’ cognitive scores in spring/summer over fall was observed ( = 0.04), likely as a result of greater cognitive processes with language use, inquiry-related interventions, and peer evaluation. Individual cases further elucidated challenges faced by Asian ELL students. LIWC scores of student writing may be useful in determining underlying understanding. Interventions designed to provide support and strengthen the writing of Asian ELL students may also improve their confidence in writing, even if improvement is gradual.

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Figures

Image of FIGURE 1

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FIGURE 1

Demographics and sampling process from fall control and spring/summer interventions for representative cases. Biochemistry lab courses fall, spring, and summer, 2016–2017 ( = 186), pre-course confidence and demographic surveys measured all students’ confidence in theory and skill, matched to skill test measures. Demographics identified 12% who identified as both Asian and ELL. Writing sample BQA1 and 2 drafts identified those with greatest need in scientific writing in English. From potential cases, six cases were selected from those who came to office hours or discussed writing. LIWC analysis of LLR ranges: word count 566 (low) – 2,297 (high); analytic formal scientific 83.8–98 (reflective 18–50 not shown); cognitive processes 8.5–18.2%; comparison 3–7%; quantifier 2–5%; “I” words 0 to pronouns <1% (not shown). Free-response range: anxiety words 0–6.25. Representative quotes from 3/22 Asian-ELL various communications including a post-course written free response prompt: Consider a time in lab that you felt stress, or a challenge. Write about it, how you felt and what you wish you had heard/experienced/done instead to reduce your stress or to overcome your challenge.” ELL = English language learner; LIWC = linguistic inquiry word count; LLR = large lab report; BQA = biochemical question and answer.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. March 2018 vol. 19 no. 1 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v19i1.1522
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Image of FIGURE 2A and 3A

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FIGURE 2A and 3A

Pre/post confidence trends measured confidence in knowing theory and confidence in doing skills in three writing skills. From ( = 19) pre/post-confidence measured, those who completed both pre- and post-student competency responses were used to compare the fall control group with the spring/summer with interventions. Student self-reported responses (Likert Scale 1 to 5) for confidence in theory and confidence in skills for writing showed positive trends in both semesters; fall showed higher overall incoming confidence than spring/summer (not significant); reading and searching primary literature higher than writing; greater increases measured in fall for theory ( ≤ 0.05); and greater gains seen in scientific writing skills for spring/summer students ( = 0.025).

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. March 2018 vol. 19 no. 1 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v19i1.1522
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FIGURE 2B and 3B

Frequency graphs of student responses to confidence in theory and confidence in skill in writing. The upward trends represented with stacked graphs show frequency patterns of responses for nine fall students and six spring/summer students who answered all survey questions. Higher frequency resulted after the course.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. March 2018 vol. 19 no. 1 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v19i1.1522
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Image of FIGURE 4

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FIGURE 4

LIWC analysis of LLR discussion comparing fall Asian-ELL and native-speaking lab partners. Box and whiskers plots show mean and median values. Fall Asian ELL (blue) compared with fall native-English-speaking lab partners (yellow) showed comparable variation of variables A) Word Count, B) Cognitive Processing, C) Analytical Thinking, D) Comparisons, and E) Quantifiers. LIWC = linguistic inquiry word count; LLR = large lab report; ELL = English language learner.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. March 2018 vol. 19 no. 1 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v19i1.1522
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Image of FIGURE 5

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FIGURE 5

LIWC analysis of LLR discussion comparing spring/summer Asian ELL and native-English-speaking lab partners. Box and whisker plots show mean and median values. Spring/summer Asian ELL (green) compared with spring/summer native-speakers (yellow) showed comparable variation of variables A) Word Count, C) Analytical Thinking, D) Comparisons, and E) Quantifiers. A significant difference ( = 0.008) in B) Cognitive Processing was detected between Asian ELL and native-speakers. When comparing Fig 4 . fall Asian ELL and Fig 5. spring/summer Asian ELL, there was a significant difference ( = 0.04) with effect size (1.54) in Cognitive Processing. LIWC = linguistic inquiry word count; LLR = large lab report; ELL = English language learner.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. March 2018 vol. 19 no. 1 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v19i1.1522
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FIGURE 6

LIWC analysis of LLR discussion of individual Asian ELL and their native-English-speaker lab partners (NLP). Variation in student LLR discussion section was measured in LIWC for total Word Count, percent Cognitive Processes, Analytical Thinking score, percent Comparisons, and percent Quantifiers. Fall Asian ELL (blue) and spring/summer Asian ELL (green) were compared with NLP (yellow). Arithmetic means (indicated with a black bar) showed individual patterns could be detected across the five variables e.g., individual Bob (with lower grade performance) showed low word count, low analytical, and high cognitive. This differed from another, Mike (with hand-graded, deeper meaning detected), with average word count, average analytical, and average cognitive. Others with high word count, average analytical, average cognitive, but also high comparison and quantitative scores matched high-quality writing and scores (e.g., Zach). Dayton’s, Henrietta’s, and Hope’s scores fell within predictable ranges. LIWC = linguistic inquiry word count; LLR = large lab report; ELL = English language learner.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. March 2018 vol. 19 no. 1 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v19i1.1522
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FIGURE 7

Example of case Mike’s BQA Section and section practice exercise intervention. A) Common errors were left as empty circles by the instructor; B) writing practice exercises emphasizing subject-verb agreement tasks were tried by the student. Despite numerous attempts, the issue persisted throughout the semester. BQA = biochemical question and answer.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. March 2018 vol. 19 no. 1 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v19i1.1522
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FIGURE 8

Example of case Henrietta’s BQA section writing center intervention. Student had previously tried office hours for the draft, had used a free online app (), and had tried to get help from the on-campus Writing Center. These results were from an edited paid service (unknown) for the final product. None of the services could adequately get at the true meaning of some of the scientific content. To do so, the instructor verbally discussed, and assisted with the rewrite of the final product, but a reduced score and issues persisted throughout the semester. BQA = biochemical question and answer.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. March 2018 vol. 19 no. 1 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v19i1.1522
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Image of FIGURE 9

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FIGURE 9

Sample introductory paragraph of case Mike’s LLR discussion instructor assessment. Originally this discussion section was marked as being “incomprehensible” for grading by an assistant lab instructor and scored very poorly. This showed that not all graders may have the same viewpoint or tolerance for grammar errors. Because the LIWC scores detected a pattern comparable to high-scoring native English speakers with comparable values around the mean for word count, comparison, and quantifiers, it was re-graded by the instructor. Scoring 96% analytical and 13% cognitive (around the mean), even without proper grammar and writing, the instructor saw evidence fitting the rubric for understanding, cognitive reasoning, analytical thinking, quantifiers, comparisons of lab techniques, and other key components throughout the section. Some specific understanding was still lacking, but in the later portion the author proposed a new idea—one that would have been missed if scientists fail to read between the grammar errors, or scientific communication is not improved. The score was raised with re-grading based on the LIWC scores. When the instructor re-graded a different LLR discussion (Bob’s), also with a poor score, his LIWC scores were not near the mean compared with native English speakers. In fact, some scores were outliers with low word count, low analytical 84%, and high cognitive 18%, indicating greater ELL challenges and possibly lab comprehension challenges since the depth of content was not matching requirements in the rubric. The low score remained because the LIWC scores did not indicate otherwise and were consistent with the instructor’s judgement. LLR = large lab report; LIWC = linguistic inquiry word count; ELL = English language learner.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. March 2018 vol. 19 no. 1 doi:10.1128/jmbe.v19i1.1522
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