Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Teacher Education

Major Professor

Sherry M. Bell, Deborah A. Wooten

Committee Members

David F. Cihak, Pamela S. Angelle


Given steady increase in numbers of students enrolled in alternative schools (U.S. Department of Education, 2003, 2008), a lack of emphasis on academic gains, as opposed to behavior control (Fuchs, Fuchs, & Stecker, 2010), and the well-documented school-to-prison pipeline for students considered school behavior problems (Wald & Losen, 2003), there is a need to establish viable, engaging instructional approaches with youth in alternative school settings. This study was designed to investigate effects on secondary alternative students’ attitudes toward writing and their ability to express complex ideas in writing, as a function of implementation of Writing and Sharing Connections (W&SC) (Wooten, 2009). W&SC, based on constructivist philosophy, uses children’s literature to engage learners, as they learn to write increasingly sophisticated connections among content presented in class and beyond.

Significant attrition resulted in low sample sizes (W&SC group n = 7; control, n = 4). Participants were aged 14 to 18; 10 were male. Repeated measures analyses of variance with one between subjects factor (condition) and one within subjects factor (pre-post) were conducted for the attitude measure (Thought Bubbles, Zambo, 2006) and the writing measures (Woodcock Johnson III, WJIII, writing subtests) (Woodcock, McGrew, & Mather, 2001). Results indicate no significant differences between pre and post test scores for W&SC and control students on attitudes and writing measures (p > .05). However, a small effect size (Cohen, 1988) was indicated for the Written Expression Composite (.201) and a small to medium effect size for Writing Samples (.309). Students in the W&SC group gained more than did control students. Thought Bubbles’ average gain for W&SC students was .42, compared to .25 for control (range = 0 to 1). Written Expression’s average gain for W&SC students was 13 standard score points compared to a loss of 5 standard score points for control.

Though tentative, results indicate Writing and Sharing Connections is a promising instructional strategy for students in alternative schools. Post-hoc analyses of individual participants' writing supports this conclusion. Embedding a constructivist-based instructional strategy into a behaviorally-based school environment is a unique approach that has potential to increase academic outcomes for highly at-risk students.

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