Cognitive and Linguistic Factors in Writing Development

Date: 25 May 2016

Venue: Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen - Academiezaal Aula - Comeniuslaan 2 - 6525 HP Nijmegen

Time: 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM

Organization / co-organization: Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte

PhD candidate: Elise Drijbooms

Principal investigator: prof. dr. Ludo Verhoeven (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen), prof. dr. Denis Alamargot (Université Paris-Est Créteil Val de Marne), dr. Margriet Groen (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen) & dr. Mariëlle Leijten (Universiteit Antwerpen)

Short description: Doctoraatsverdediging Elise Drijbooms - Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen - Faculteit der Sociale Wetenschappen - Behavioural Science Institute & Universiteit Antwerpen Departement Taalkunde- Faculteit Letteren en Wijsbegeerte

Cognitive and Linguistic Factors in Writing Development

Learning to write is an essential, yet challenging, part of literacy acquisition in the elementary grades that is supported by a number of skills, such as transcription skills (e.g., handwriting and spelling), linguistic skills (e.g., grammar, vocabulary), and cognitive skills (e.g., executive functions). In the upper elementary grades, as transcription skills become more and more automatized, it is thought that writing performance is increasingly influenced by cognitive and linguistic skills. Until now, however, the impact of these constraining skills on the written product, in light of the fading importance of transcription skills, has remained underexplored. Moreover, empirical investigations of how developing writers manage the writing process under these constraints through the use of strategies are lacking. Identifying the nature of the cognitive and linguistic underpinnings of writing development, and the way their contribution comes to play out in the written product and writing process is critical for our understanding of the challenges that young writers face. In the present dissertation, several research questions related to this general aim have been examined. In the first two studies, we investigated to what extent cognitive and linguistic skills contribute to writing performance at different dimensions of narrative composition. The findings endorse the changing dynamics between the different constraints on writing across the upper grades, and are novel in pinpointing the role of both low- and high-level executive functions in writing development. In the third study, a longitudinal comparison between the use of evaluative devices in spoken and written narratives was taken as a point of reference for substantiating the contribution of cognitive and linguistic factors. Results indicate that neither fourth nor sixth graders seem to be hampered by unautomatized transcription skills in their ability to linguistically differentiate between speech and writing. In the final study, the writing process of fifth graders and undergraduate students, as evidenced by pause and eye movement analysis, was taken to reflect the burden of transcription skills in fifth graders, and the sequential writing strategies that developing writers use to cope with these cognitive demands. Taken together, the results of the research presented in the dissertation support the idea that the upper grades are a transitional phase in writing development, where demands of transcription processes slowly fade, leaving traces in some but not all aspects of the written product and process, while simultaneously allowing for more cognitive and linguistic control over written text production.

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