Résumé of Study Results

Writing Skills Support in Multilingual Secondary Schools. The Effect of Profiled Revision Tasks on Written Production of 6th Grade Students in the L1s German and Turkish and the L2 German

Despite the importance of literacy education, especially for students raised speaking heritage languages in addition to German, little is known about writing competencies in both languages of students beginning secondary school in Germany. Drawing on insights from multilingualism and literacy research, the goal of SimO was to understand better how different writing settings in majority language German classes can support writing skills in the first language German, in the second language German and – for students participating in Turkish heritage language classes – in the Turkish language. The collaborative project thus examined both the effects of the differently profiled writing settings on writing skills in German and the potential for interlingual transfer into the heritage language Turkish.

To this end, 322 Grade 6 students in 15 classes of three different schools participated in an intervention study, taking part in one of four different writing settings based on specific forms of knowledge input over the course of one month. The writing settings involved either the presentation of (1) topic knowledge (this became the control group), (2) topic knowledge and task schemata (language functions), (3) topic knowledge and language-dependent text schemata (language forms), or (4) topic knowledge, task schemata, and language-dependent text schemata. The study extended over five months, and included a pre-test, four intervention tasks, and two follow-up tests in German, as well as seven control tasks in Turkish which did not refer to the intervention settings in German. The intervention took place solely in German class and consisted of a revision task, in which students were asked to improve on a poorly-written description of a superhero (or super villain). Each task involved a similar structure, but different characters to prevent students from reiterating previous texts. Thus, students wrote a total of seven different character descriptions in German class and – if they took part in Turkish classes – seven subsequent descriptions during the same weeks in Turkish.

The analysed data included all the texts of the 322 students in German class (2166 German texts), as well as the texts written by the 91 students who also took part in the Turkish class (607 Turkish texts). Further, supplementary data were gathered on students’ reading abilities in German (using the standardized FLVT test) and in Turkish (using an adaptation of the TELC test for Turkish), students’ classroom grades, and diverse individual information, including, reading and writing preferences, interests, and bilingual and bilateral competencies. The written texts were analysed according to three measures: (1) text length (number of orthographic words), (2) analytic rating of text quality, developed specifically for the SimO-Project, and (3) holistic rating of text quality.

Results showed that, first, there were no differences between students who speak solely German at home with their parents, students who speak mostly a heritage language, and students who speak a combination of both. Thus, earlier studies showing differences between these groups were not supported by the SimO study.

Second, intralingual intervention effects were evident. Students participating in writing tasks involving task schemata (groups two and four, above) profited most from the intervention, whilst students receiving only topic knowledge support or form-focused support without schematic information also improved, but not to the extent of the intervention groups receiving task schemata information.

Third, interlingual intervention effects were also evident, provided students profited from the intervention in German. This, however, only occurred for the students who participated in task schemata-based interventions. Thus, even those students who profited from a form-based intervention in German could not transfer this knowledge to Turkish, whilst students who profited from an intervention involving language functions could and subsequently wrote better texts.

The study thus showed that students’ writing can be improved through language-focused instruction, especially when information on language function (task schemata) is included in the writing tasks; simply providing language forms (text schemata), however, does not result in a marked increase in text quality. As well, the concentration on language function has an added, interlingual benefit: students who focus on task schemata or the relation between task and text schemata not only benefit in the focus language, but can also transfer this newly-gained knowledge to another language, even without further intervention.