Effects of essay writing on achievement in algebra

Date of Completion

January 1991


Education, Language and Literature|Education, Mathematics|Education, Secondary|Education, Curriculum and Instruction




Recent trends in curriculum and instruction have stressed developmental and cognitive issues. One such trend is writing-to-learn or writing-across-the-curriculum. Reading comprehension theory provides a basis for explaining how and why writing activities aid in the learning of content material. Reading comprehension theories involve the interactive cognitive processes of microprocessing (understanding sentences), integration (typing sentences together), macroprocessing (understanding the whole), elaboration, and metacognition (using flexible strategies). One writing activity is expository essay writing. The independent variable of this study was the use of essay questions on teacher-made tests in Algebra I and the training of students to write the essays.^ The study was conducted with four Algebra I classes in a suburban high school. There were two instructors, each with one treatment class and one control class. The strategy of acquainting students with the questions and providing practice in answering them included: (a) statement of the question to the class, (b) think-time for students to formulate answers, (c) volunteer or called-upon students giving answers, (d) additions by other students until an acceptable answer was formed, (e) homework assignment to write an answer in the students' notebooks. When teacher-made tests were administered students were not allowed access to notes or previously written answers.^ The dependent variable was student scores on the "Cooperative Mathematics Test--Algebra 1," published by Educational Testing Service (1962); Form A as a pretest and Form B as a posttest. A One-Way ANCOVA showed the treatment group's posttest scores differed significantly from the control group's after adjusting for initial pretest differences. A Two-Way ANOVA analysis confirmed these results and added a Group* Trial interaction indicating the treatment group benefited differentially more from the essay writing evidenced by greater posttest mean scores. The level of significance was 0.05.^ The practical implication of this study is that adding essay questions to tests and preparing students to write them, can effectively increase students' achievement. Students will come to learn more of the mathematics they are studying if they are required to write about what the mathematics is, and how they believe it works. ^