Is writing about classroom content an effective way to learn? Arizona State University’s Steven Graham and colleagues at the University of Utah recently performed a meta-analysis on the effects of writing about classroom content in social studies, science, and math. Specifically, they examined if writing increased student achievement, if the results differed among subjects, and if any relationships existed by grade level, activity type, or any other factors.
To be included, studies had to meet quality-indicator criteria including true or quasi-experimental research design, reliability of measures, controlling for teacher effects, multiple classes in the experimental and control conditions, experimental and control group pretest equivalence, and both groups experiencing equal amounts of time learning the same topics.
This search yielded 56 studies in 53 documents meeting criteria for inclusion, involving 6,235 students in grades 1-11. Students in experimental groups wrote about classroom content, while most controls did not write at all. Forty-six percent of the studies assessed the impact of writing on science, 38% on math, and 14% on social studies. Thirty-four percent examined elementary students, and 32% each examined middle and high school students. The types of writing activities for the experimental groups included writing informational text, such as summarizing information or writing a report (34%); journal writing (32%); argumentative writing (13%); and narrative writing, such as creating a word problem in math class (5%). These were coded to determine which, if any, were more effective than others.
Results showed that:
- Writing about content increased student achievement when compared to equivalent peers in non-writing control groups.
- Average weighted effect sizes were statistically significant in science (ES = +0.31), social studies (ES = +0.31), and math (ES = +0.32), as they were when broken down by elementary (ES = +0.29), middle (ES = +0.30), and high school (ES = +0.30) levels.
- No correlation was found to number of treatment days, type of writing task, or type of assessment.
Source (Open Access): Graham, S., Kiuhara, S. A., & MacKay, M. (2020). The effects of writing on learning in Science, Social Studies, and Mathematics: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research. Advanced online publication. DOI: 10.3102/0034654320914744.