The Research Base for Convey Ideas in Writing

The Convey Ideas in Writing Performance Continuum is the result of a long-term multi-faceted research and development initiative. Over a period of three years, experienced adult basic education and English as a Second Language instructors from five states participated in a rigorous field-based inquiry process. The aim was to generate rich descriptions of actual adult performance on the standards that grew out of adult learners' expressed needs and goals. Performance tasks based on these activities were then developed and learner performance on these tasks in the classroom was measured. Teachers, program directors and state leaders then participated in local, state and national meetings to analyze the resulting performance data and use this data to build a developmental performance continuum including multiple performance levels for each standard. National meetings with content experts and assessment specialists resulted in further refinement of the performance continuum and performance level descriptions. For some standards, including Convey Ideas in Writing, additional expert judging panels were convened to further validate the performance level descriptions.

A body of research on writing from the fields of cognitive and developmental psychology informed the field-based research process for Convey Ideas in Writing. This research confirms that writing involves three interrelated cognitive activities:

  1. planning (deciding what to say and how to say it)
  2. text generation (turning plans into written text) and
  3. revision (improving existing text).

Writers do not progress through these activities in linear, ordered stages but work recursively back and forth between one activity and another. The process of writing is understood and carried out differently by writers at the novice and more advanced levels of expertise. This is reflected in the way the expectations for writing change as students move from one level to the next on the performance continuum. The chart below summarizes some of the differences between novices and experts.

Less Proficient Writers
More Proficient Writers
Write all texts in a similar manner regardless of the purpose and audience. Vary the content of writing to reflect more complex purposes and audiences.
View writing as a think it - say it process. View writing as a process for generating, exploring, discovering, and revising meaning.
Focus on letter-by-letter processing, resulting in "tunnel vision". Focus on the meaning making process. Plan larger pieces of writing by "chunking" ideas into sub-topics.
Utilize a limited range of strategies when meaning breaks down: sound out, seek assistance, and stop writing.
Utilize a variety of strategies when meaning breaks down: reread, rethink, rewrite, write on and return if necessary, substitute, seek assistance.
Primarily focus on surface-level edits during the revision process, such as spelling and basic punctuation. Initial revisions primarily focus on clarity of meaning, organization, and idea generation. Editing follows revision for meaning.

At Level 2 of the performance continuum, for example, a common task might be to write a short excuse letter to a teacher. In this case the students are writing to a fairly familiar audience (the teacher) for a well-defined purpose. The task itself can be accomplished primarily through a "think it-say it" process so that students are free to focus a good deal of their attention on text generation (just getting the words down on paper). At this level students are expected to need a good deal of support from the teacher to overcome barriers. They are required to do only a little revision for meaning and to have some errors in spelling, punctuation and language usage. At Level 6 a possible task might be to write a letter to a newspaper editor expressing a point of view on a school dress code policy. For this task students must imagine (and write to) multiple audiences, some of which may be somewhat unfamiliar to them. This larger piece of writing requires planning and organizing ideas into topics and subtopics. Students will move back and forth between the planning, text generation, and revision processes of writing as they revise their ideas. They may use a checklist they have developed themselves to edit their own writing as part of the final drafting process. When they are assessed to see if they are ready to move from one level to the next they will also be judged on how fluently and independently they are able to perform the writing tasks. (The Convey Ideas in Writing Performance Continuum Research Summary in the ARC Library contains a more detailed description of this research and a bibliography.)

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