Sentence combining; metalinguistic approach; writing; disciplinary literacy; adolescent literacy; science


Recent data indicate that less than 50% of American secondary students are able to demonstrate grade-level proficiency in reading, writing, and science (National Center for Educational Statistics [NCES], 2007, 2011, 2012a, 2012b). Secondary students* are expected to develop advanced literacy skills, especially in writing, in order to be ready for college and careers. Students are expected to develop these advanced literacy skills, within all academic subjects. In other words, they are expected to develop disciplinary literacy skills. The statistics are alarming overall, but they are particularly alarming in the area of science. Students need strong literacy skills, including written expression, to be prepared for employment opportunities in science fields, which currently are being filled by graduates of other industrialized nations, who have a more advanced skill set. This loss of occupational opportunity poses a threat for the U.S. to remain globally competitive in science innovation and advancement, which ultimately secures economic prosperity. Despite these staggering concerns, there is little research conducted to evaluate effective instructional methods to develop complex writing skills in academic disciplines such as science. To address this critical issue, the present study examined the effects of a metalinguistic approach to the writing intervention of sentence combining with eighth-grade students who struggle with literacy. The researcher conducted the study in a typical science classroom in an urban American school setting. The focus of the intervention was to increase students* metalinguistic awareness of science text, to improve written sentence complexity in science, as well as the written expression and determination of comparison and contrast of science content. The study employed a quasi-experimental design. The participants consisted of an experimental group (two classes) who received the treatment during typical science instruction and a comparison group (three classes) who did not receive treatment, but participated in their typical science instruction. There were four participating teachers and 84 participating students. The researcher conducted the study over a period of seven weeks within regularly scheduled science classes. Twenty intervention sessions were conducted for a length of 20 minutes each, totaling 400 minutes or 6.6 hours. Hierarchical repeated measures ANOVA and hierarchical repeated measures MANOVA analyses revealed that the experimental group performed significantly better than the comparison group on their ability to determine similarities and differences (compare and contrast) related to science content, with a medium effect. The experimental group achieved a slightly higher marginal mean over the comparison group on their ability to combine sentences, with a small effect. Multiple statistical analyses revealed a trend of higher marginal means in favor of the experimental group over the comparison group on several measures of written sentence complexity on both the science compare and contrast writing prompt (small-medium effect) and the science expository essay (medium to large effect). One experimental class also demonstrated higher scores in their overall sentence correctness on science expository essay as compared to all the other classes. These findings suggest that sentence combining, utilizing a metalinguistic approach, may hold promise as an effective writing intervention in a content area classroom, for secondary students who struggle with literacy. Furthermore, the findings suggest that a metalinguistic approach to sentence combining can be successfully embedded within a content area class, which may result in increased concept knowledge and writing skills in that academic discipline. Implications for practice and future research directions are discussed.


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Graduation Date





Ehren, Barbara


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Education and Human Performance

Degree Program

Education and Human Performance








Release Date

August 2015

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Education and Human Performance; Education and Human Performance -- Dissertations, Academic

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