Learning Science Through Writing: The Role of Rhetorical Structures
AbstractIn a 2 X 2 between-groups study, 85 preservice education students observed a science experiment concerning either buoyancy or the forces acting on a stationary object. Each student then wrote an initial explanation of the phenomenon followed by a journal-style note, then a final explanation. For each science experiment half the students received a list of strategy prompts intended to facilitate learning through writing, and half wrote without these prompts. Forty-three percent of the "buoyancy" students and 14% of the "forces" students increased the complexity of their explanations during the writing interval. Strategy prompting did not increase explanatory gains. Textual analysis showed that for the buoyancy problem, writing comparisons among trials and explanations of individual trials correlated with explanatory gains during the writing interval. For the forces problem, writing a concluding summary correlated negatively with explanatory gains. Qualitative analysis suggested that rhetorical structures (explanation, comparison, argumentation, and summarization) contributed to learning during three phases of building explanations: reviewing experimental trials, analyzing these trials to identify causal variables, and generalizing these analyses to form new explanations. These rhetorical structures stimulated, rather than structured, the construction of new knowledge and mapped onto the logical operations through which writers coordinated hypotheses and experimental trials in a many-to-many, rather than a one-to-one, fashion.
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