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Limpo and Alves. Effects of Beliefs about “Writing Skill Malleability” on Performance. JoWR 2017. Posted 11/24/2017.

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Limpo, Teresa, and Rui A. Alves. “Relating Beliefs in Writing Skill Malleability to Writing Performance: The Mediating Roles of Achievement Goals and Self-Efficacy.” Journal of Writing Research 9.2 (2017): 97-125. Web. 15 Nov. 2017.

Teresa Limpo and Rui A. Alves discuss a study with Portuguese students designed to investigate pathways between students’ beliefs about writing ability and actual writing performance. They use measures for achievement goals and self-efficacy to determine how these factors mediate between beliefs and performance. Their study goals involved both exploring these relationships and assessing the validity and reliability of the instruments and theoretical models they use (101-02).

The authors base their approach on the assumption that people operate via “implicit theories,” and that central to learning are theories that see “ability” as either “incremental,” in that skills can be honed through effort, or as an “entity” that cannot be improved despite effort (98). Limpo and Alves argue that too little research has addressed how these beliefs about “writing skill malleability” influence learning in the specific “domain” of writing (98).

The authors report earlier research that indicates that students who see writing as an incremental skill perform better in intervention studies. They contend that the “mechanisms” through which this effect occurs have not been thoroughly examined (99).

Limpo and Alves apply a three-part model of achievement goals: “mastery” goals involve the desire to improve and increase competence; “performance-approach” goals involve the desire to do better than others in the quest for competence; and “performance-avoidance” goals manifest as the desire to avoid looking incompetent or worse than others (99-100). Mastery and performance-approach goals correlate positively because they address increased competence, but performance-approach and performance-avoidance goals also correlate because they both concern how learners see themselves in comparison to others (100).

The authors write that “there is overall agreement” among researchers in this field that these goals affect performance. Students with mastery goals display “mastery-oriented learning patterns” such as “use of deep strategies, self-regulation, effort and persistence, . . . [and] positive affect,” while students who focus on performance avoidance exhibit “helpless learning patterns” including “unwillingness to seek help, test anxiety, [and] negative affect” (100-01). Student outcomes with respect to performance-approach goals were less clear (101). The authors hope to clarify the role of self-efficacy in these goal choices and outcomes (101).

Limpo and Alves find that self-efficacy is “perhaps the most studied variable” in examinations of motivation in writing (101). They refer to a three-part model: self-efficacy for “conventions,” or “translating ideas into linguistic forms and transcribing them into writing”; for “ideation,” finding ideas and organizing them, and for “self-regulation,” which involves knowing how to make the most of “the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral aspects of writing” (101). They report associations between self-efficacy, especially for self-regulation, and mastery goals (102). Self-efficacy, particularly for conventions, has been found to be “among the strongest predictors of writing performance” (102).

The authors predicted several “paths” that would illuminate the ways in which achievement goals and self-efficacy linked malleability beliefs and performance. They argue that their study contributes new knowledge by providing empirical data about the role of malleability beliefs in writing (103).

The study was conducted among native Portuguese speakers in 7th and 8th grades in a “public cluster of schools in Porto” that is representative of the national population (104). Students received writing instruction only in their Portuguese language courses, in which teachers were encouraged to use “a process-oriented approach” to teach a range of genres but were not given extensive pedagogical support or the resources to provide a great deal of “individualized feedback” (105).

The study reported in this article was part of a larger study; for the relevant activities, students first completed scales to measure their beliefs about writing-skill malleability and to assess their achievement goals. They were then given one of two prompts for “an opinion essay” on whether students should have daily homework or extra curricular activities (106). After the prompts were provided, students filled out a sixteen-item measure of self-efficacy for conventions, ideation, and self-regulation. A three-minute opportunity to brainstorm about their responses to the prompts followed; students then wrote a five-minute “essay,” which was assessed as a measure of performance by graduate research assistants who had been trained to use a “holistic rating rubric.” Student essays were typed and mechanical errors corrected. The authors contend that the use of such five-minute tasks has been shown to be valid (107).

The researchers predicted that they would see correlations between malleability beliefs and performance; they expected to see beliefs affect goals, which would affect self-efficacy, and lead to differences in performance (115). They found these associations for mastery goals. Students who saw writing as an incremental, improvable skill displayed “a greater orientation toward mastery goals” (115). The authors state that this result for writing had not been previously demonstrated. Their research reveals that “mastery goals contributed to students’ confidence” and therefore to self-efficacy, perhaps because students with this belief “ actively strive” for success (115).

They note, however, that prior research correlated these results with self-efficacy for conventions, whereas their study showed that self-efficacy for self-regulation, students’ belief that “they can take control of their own writing,” was the more important contributor to performance (116); in fact, it was “the only variable directly influencing writing performance” (116). Limpo and Alves hypothesize that conventions appeared less central in their study because the essays had been typed and corrected, so that errors had less effect on performance scores (116).

Data on the relationship between malleability beliefs and performance-approach or performance-avoidance goals, the goals associated with success in relation to others, were “less clear-cut” (117). Students who saw skills as fixed tended toward performance-avoidance, but neither type of performance goal affected self-efficacy.

Limpo and Alves recount an unexpected finding that the choice of performance-avoidance goals did not affect performance scores on the essays (117). The authors hypothesize that the low-stakes nature of the task and its simplicity did not elicit “the self-protective responses” that often hinder writers who tend toward these avoidance goals (117). These unclear results lead Limpo and Alves to withhold judgment about the relationship among these two kinds of goals, self-efficacy, and performance, positing that other factors not captured in the study might be involved (117-18).

They recommend more extensive research with more complex writing tasks and environments, including longitudinal studies and consideration of such factors as “past performance” and gender (118). They encourage instructors to foster a view of writing as an incremental skill and to emphasize self-regulation strategies. They recommend “The Self-Regulated Strategy Development model” as “one of the most effective instructional models for teaching writing” (119).

Author: vanderso

I'm a recently retired associate professor of English in Southern Indiana. I've been teaching writing for twenty-five years, but I feel I have much to learn about how people really learn to write. In this blog, I'll be sharing research and thoughts and hopefully gathering information from others about the process of learning to write.

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