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IES Grant

Title: What Does It Take to Develop Writing Skills for Spanish-speaking English Learners? A Longitudinal Examination of Co-development of Language, Cognitive, and Writing Skills
Center: NCER Year: 2018
Principal Investigator: Kim, Young-Suk Awardee: University of California, Irvine
Program: Policies, Practices, and Programs to Support English Learners      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (07/01/2018 – 06/30/2022) Award Amount: $1,400,000
Type: Exploration Award Number: R305A180055

Co-Principal Investigator: Petscher, Yaacov

Purpose: Writing remains a challenging and understudied skill for all students, including Spanish-English emergent bilingual learners. Although research has produced considerable information about reading for Spanish-English emergent bilingual learners, less is known about the component skills of writing for these students. The purpose of this study was to identify linguistic, cognitive, and transcription factors that contribute to writing development for Spanish-English emergent bilingual learners by following them longitudinally from grades 1 to 3.

Project Activities: The researchers investigated how three types of skills are related to writing in English: (1) language skills, such as vocabulary and listening comprehension; (2) cognitive skills, such as inference, perspective taking, and comprehension monitoring; and (3) transcription skills, such as spelling and handwriting fluency. To fully understand the process and structure of Spanish-English emergent bilingual learners' writing development, the researchers studied the effects of all these skills both in students' first language (Spanish) and in their second language (English). During the first project year, the researchers adapted and validated measures of higher order cognitive skills from English to Spanish. Once validated, the researchers used these measures, along with Spanish and English measures of language and transcription skills, to collect information and explore relationships about students' writing development from grades 1 through 3. The researchers also explored whether there were reliable subgroups of children with different skill profiles.

Key Outcomes: The main findings of this project are as follows: From Kim, Y-S G. et al., 2022:

  • Measures of higher order cognitions (inference, theory of mind, comprehension monitoring) in English and Spanish were reliable and valid for our sample of Spanish-English emergent bilingual students.
  • For Spanish-English emergent bilingual students, their writing in English and Spanish were best described a single construct rather than English writing and Spanish writing. Furthermore, higher order cognitions in English and Spanish were found to have a bi-factor structure with a general factor and specific factors by language; and higher order cognition was moderately related to writing quality.

From Wolters & Kim (2023):

  • Spelling patterns in written composition were related to instructional program such that students in Spanish-English dual immersion made more English spelling errors in English compositions due to Spanish influence, and students in English immersion made more spelling errors in Spanish compositions due to English influence.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This research took place in several urban school districts in the state of California.

Sample: In year 1, the researchers developed and adapted Spanish higher order cognitive tasks and conducted a validation study with 300 students each in grades 1 and 3. In years 2 through 4, the longitudinal sample consisted of 211 students, who were followed from grade 1 through grade 3. All students were Spanish-English emergent bilingual with majority being Hispanic ethnicity and from low socioeconomic backgrounds. The sample did not include those with severe intellectual and emotional disabilities and behavior issues identified by school records.

Factors: The malleable factors for this project were (1) language skills, such as vocabulary and listening comprehension; (2) higher order cognitive skills, such as inference, perspective taking, and comprehension monitoring; and (3) transcription skills, such as spelling and handwriting fluency; and (4) written compositions in narrative and opinion genres in English and Spanish. By studying the relationships among these factors and writing, the researchers developed a model for how English and Spanish writing develops among Spanish-English emergent bilingual students in grades 1 to 3. The results can help form the basis for the future development of writing interventions for this population.

Research Design and Methods: In year 1, the researchers conducted a cross-sectional validation study to validate their Spanish-language measures of higher order cognitive skills and written composition skills. In years 2 through 4, the researchers employed a longitudinal design and followed students for 3 years from grades 1 to 3 to investigate developmental trajectories and co-development of language, cognitive, transcription, and writing skills.

Control Condition: Due to the exploratory nature of the research design, there was no control condition.

Key Measures: The research team assessed students in four domains: writing, transcription, oral language, and higher order cognitive skills. Researchers assessed writing in English using a narrative genre task and an opinion task in English and Spanish, respectively. They assessed each genre by one normed task and one previously used experimental task. They evaluated writing in terms of quality and productivity (text length). Spelling skill was measured in English and Spanish, respectively while handwriting fluency was measured in English. The research team assessed oral language (vocabulary and listening comprehension) in both Spanish and English using the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals-4 (CELF-4). Researchers assessed higher order cognitive skills in both Spanish and English using one normed task and one previously used experimental task for each language. In the longitudinal part of the study, the researchers gathered student assessment data on these skills once per year in grades 1 through 3, for a total of three waves of data. When students were in grade 2 of the longitudinal study, assessments were conducted using an online platform due to the pandemic and associated online instruction. During this year, language and cognitive skills were assessed, but transcription and writing skills were not.

Data Analytic Strategy: In year 1, the researchers used confirmatory factor analysis to study the dimensionality of their Spanish-language measures of higher order cognitive skills and written composition skills. In years 2 through 4, they used structural equation modeling to examine the unique and shared relation of first and second language skills to second language writing. They also used a latent growth model to describe the growth trajectories of oral language and cognitive skills from grades 1 to 3. For transcription and written composition skills, gains from grade 1 to grade 3 were estimated. Researchers used finite mixture modeling to examine the existence of skill profiles and subgroups.

Related IES Projects: Academic Language and Writing for Children in Kindergarten to Fourth Grade—A Longitudinal Study (R305A130131), SRSD+: A powerful writing program for children in Grades 1 and 2 (R305A170113)


ERIC Citations: Find available citations in ERIC for this award here.

Select Publications:

Cho, M., & Kim, Y.-S. G. (2023). Do second graders adjust their language by discourse context? Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 54(2), 569–583.

Cao, Y., & Kim, Y.-S. G. (2021). Is retell a valid measure of reading comprehension? Educational Research Review. Educational Research Review, 32, 100375.

Cao, Y., Kim, Y.-S. G., & Cho, M. (2023). Are observed classroom practices related to student language/literacy achievement? Review of Educational Research, 93(5), 679–717.

Cho, M.-K., Kim, Y.-S., & Olson, C. (2021). Does perspective taking matter for writing? Perspective taking in source-based analytical writing of secondary students. Reading and Writing, 34, 2081–2101.

Cho, M., Kim, Y.-S. G., & Wang, J. (2023). Perspective taking and language features in secondary students' text-based analytical writing. Scientific Studies of Reading, 27(3), 199–214.

Kim, Y.-S. G. (2023). Oral Discourse Skills: Dimensionality of comprehension and retell of narrative and informational texts, and the relations of language and cognitive skills to identified dimensions. Child Development, 94, e246-e263.

Kim, Y.-S. G. (2023). Simplicity meets complexity: Expanding the simple view of reading with the direct and indirect effects model of reading. In S. Cabell, S. Neuman, & N. Patton-Terry(Eds.) Handbook on the science of early literacy (pp. 9–22). Guilford Press.

Kim, Y. -S. G. (2022, November 1) Approaching Literacy Development from a Cross-Linguistic View. Inside IES Research

Kim, Y.-S. G. (2022). Learning to read and write. In I. Wilkinson & J. Parr (Eds.), Cognition, Human Development and Learning of the International Encyclopedia of Education-4th Edition (Tierney, R., Rizvi, F., Ercikan Series Editors). Elsevier. Kim, Y.-S. G. (2022). A tale of two closely related skills: Word reading and spelling development and instruction. In Z. A. Philippakos & S. Graham (Eds.), Reading and writing connections (pp. 25–45). Guilford Press.

Kim, Y.-S. G., Wolters, A., & Lee, J. (2023). Reading and writing relations are not uniform. They differ by the linguistic grain size, developmental phase, and measurement. Review of Educational Research.

Kim, Y.-S. G. (2023). Executive function and morphological awareness explain the shared variance between word reading and listening comprehension. Scientific Studies of Reading, 27(5), 451–474.

Kim, Y.-S. G., & Petscher, Y. (2023). Do spelling and vocabulary improve classification accuracy of children's reading difficulties over and above word reading? Reading Research Quarterly, 58(2), 240–253.

Kim, Y.-S. G., little, C., Petscher, Y., & Vorstius, C. (2022). Developmental trajectories of eye movements in oral and silent reading from grades 1 to 3 for English-speaking children. Scientific Reports, 12: 18708.

Kim, Y.-S. G. (2022). Do written language bursts mediate the relations of language, cognitive, and transcription skills to writing quality? Written Communication, 39(2), 200–227.

Kim, Y.-S. G. (2022). Co-occurrence of reading and writing difficulties: The application of the interactive dynamic literacy model. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 55(6), 447–464.

Kim, Y.-S. G., Wolters, A., Mercado, J., & Quinn, J. (2022). Crosslinguistic transfer of higher order cognitive skills and their roles in writing for English-Spanish dual language learners. Journal of Educational Psychology, 114(1), 1–15.

Kim, Y.-S. G., & Graham, S. (2022). Expanding the direct and indirect effects model of writing (DIEW): Dynamic relations of component skills to various writing outcomes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 114(2), 215–238.

Kim, Y.-S. G., Yang, D., Reyes, M., & Connor, C. (2021). Writing instruction improves students' writing differentially depending on instruction and child characteristics: A meta-analysis for primary grade students. Educational Research Review, 34, 100408.

Kim, Y.-S. G. (2021). Inferencing skill and attentional control account for the connection between reading comprehension and mathematics. Frontiers in Psychology, 709944.

Kim, Y.-S. G., Dore, R. A., Cho, M., Golinkoff, R., & Amendum, S. (2021). Theory of mind, mental state talk, and discourse Comprehension: Theory of mind process is more important for narrative comprehension than for informational text comprehension. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 209, 105181.

Kim, Y.-S. G., & Snow, C. E. (2021). The science of reading is incomplete without the science of teaching reading. The Reading League, 2(3), 5–8 & 10–13.

Kim, Y.-S. G., Petscher, Y., Treiman, R., & Kelcey, B. (2021). Letter features as predictors of letter-name acquisition in four languages with three scripts. Scientific Studies of Reading, 25(6), 453–469.

Kim, Y.-S. G., Petscher, Y., & Vorstius, C. (2021). Examining the relations of online reading processes (eye movements) with working memory, emergent literacy skills, and reading proficiency. Scientific Studies of Reading, 25(4), 351–369.

Kim, Y.-S. G., & Petscher, Y. (2021). Influences of person, text, and assessment factors on text/discourse comprehension in oral language (listening comprehension). Annals of Dyslexia, 71(2), 218–237.

Kim, Y.-S. G., Quinn, J., & Petscher, Y. (2021). Reading prosody unpacked: A longitudinal investigation of its dimensionality and the relation with word reading and listening comprehension for children in primary grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 113 (3),423–445.

Kim, Y.-S. G. (2020). Toward integrative reading science: The direct and indirect effects model of reading (DIER). Journal of Learning Disabilities, 53(6), 469–491.

Kim, Y.-S. G. (2020). Theory of mind mediates the relations of language and domain-general cognitions to discourse comprehension. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 194.

Kim, Y.-S. G. (2020). Structural relations of language, cognitive skills, and topic knowledge to written composition: A test of the direct and indirect effects model of writing (DIEW). British Journal of Educational Psychology, 90, 910–932.   

Lee, J., Wolters, A., & Kim, Y.-S. G. (2023). The relations of morphological awareness to language and literacy skills vary depending on orthographic depth and the nature of morphological awareness: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 93(4), 528–558.

Wolters, A., & Kim, Y.-S. G. (2023). Crosslinguistic influence on spelling in written Compositions: evidence from English-Spanish dual language learners in primary grades. Reading and Writing.

Wolters, A., Kim, Y.-S. G., & Szura, J. (2022). Is reading prosody related to reading comprehension? A meta-analysis. Scientific Studies of Reading, 26(1), 1–20