Effects of a Science-Literacy Intervention on First Graders’ Argumentative Writing

July 17, 2019

Mary Burkhauser presents Effects of a Science-Literacy Intervention on First Graders’ Argumentative Writing at the Society for the Scientific Study of Reading (SSSR) Conference in Toronto, Ontario.


Purpose: As part of a larger cluster randomized controlled trial, we examine the effects of a science-literacy intervention on first graders’ argumentative writing, specifically: (1) dimensions of argumentation and (2) overall quality. The intervention, a 10-lesson unit on Arctic animal survival, targeted reading comprehension and writing outcomes. Lessons included topic-related (1) read alouds, (2) concept mapping, (3) and argumentative writing instruction.

Method: Classrooms in 10 schools were randomly assigned to the intervention (n=450) or the district’s balanced literacy approach (n=224). All students completed a post-unit argumentative writing task. They listened to a complex passage about the rainforest (800L) and answered the question: “Should people be allowed to cut down trees in the rainforest?” Responses were transcribed. Raters scored responses on: claim, evidence use, ending. Overall agreement was 79.2% (Cohen’s Kappa = .74). Agreement within one score-point was 91.7% (Cohen’s Kappa = .90). A second set of raters scored overall quality.

Results: A science-literacy intervention on Arctic survival improved the quality of students’ argumentative writing in response to a complex passage about the rainforest (p<0.05, Beta=0.34). Improvement was largely driven by the evidence use dimension (p<0.01, Beta=0.33). While we found no differences in overall writing quality, the quality score was most highly correlated with students’ evidence use (r=.63).

Conclusion: Results suggest that a science-literacy intervention grounded in one topic can improve first-graders’ ability to write with evidence in response to a complex text on a different – but conceptually related – topic.