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Modeling the development of written language

Abstract

Alternative models of the structure of individual and developmental differences of written composition and handwriting fluency were tested using confirmatory factor analysis of writing samples provided by first- and fourth-grade students. For both groups, a five-factor model provided the best fit to the data. Four of the factors represented aspects of written composition: macro-organization (use of top sentence and number and ordering of ideas), productivity (number and diversity of words used), complexity (mean length of T-unit and syntactic density), and spelling and punctuation. The fifth factor represented handwriting fluency. Handwriting fluency was correlated with written composition factors at both grades. The magnitude of developmental differences between first grade and fourth grade expressed as effect sizes varied for variables representing the five constructs: large effect sizes were found for productivity and handwriting fluency variables; moderate effect sizes were found for complexity and macro-organization variables; and minimal effect sizes were found for spelling and punctuation variables.

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Notes

  1. Our approach to developmental comparisons may seem somewhat minimalist. For mean differences, we simply reported effect sizes and the results of multiple t-tests, noting that a Bonferroni adjustment did not result in a significant difference becoming nonsignificant. We took this approach for several reasons. First, our primary interest was in the magnitudes of the effect sizes. Finding significant differences in the mean performance of first and fourth grade students on language measures would not be ground breaking. Similarly, given our modest sample sizes, we merely reported the results of separate confirmatory factor analyses of the first- and fourth-grade samples, focusing on the overall pattern of results as opposed to the results of a detailed, multi-group analysis of significant differences in parameter estimates that may not generalize.

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Acknowledgments

Support for carrying out this research was provided by grant P50 HD052120 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and by Postdoctoral Training Grant R305B050032 and Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Grant R305B04074 from the Institute of Education Sciences.

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Correspondence to Richard K. Wagner.

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Wagner, R.K., Puranik, C.S., Foorman, B. et al. Modeling the development of written language. Read Writ 24, 203–220 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-010-9266-7

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Keywords

  • Writing development
  • Writing scoring
  • Writing models