"'Scared-ish' about writing": An exploration of the effects of bibliotherapy and dialogue journaling on fourth-grade students' writing apprehension and motivation to write




Bryars, Leah

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The ability to communicate well through writing has never been more critical. Writing is a necessary skill to make a living and a life. Even before beginning school, children try to make themselves known by writing. Graves (1983) writes that a child’s marks on paper-or a wall-say to the world, “I am” (p. 3). Children are aware of the value of writing, yet only 14% of them have writing that is considered “competent” (NCES, 2012). Lackluster results on national tests have spurred an increase in high-stakes testing. For students who experience fear and discomfort associated with writing, known as writing apprehension (Daly & Miller, 1975), practice for these tests and most other evaluative writing can cause an already negative disposition toward writing to become worse. Avoidance of situations that involve writing can lead to long-term consequences beyond school failure. This convergent-parallel mixed methods study explored the effects of an intervention that combines bibliotherapy and dialogue journaling on the writing attitudes of eight fourth-grade student participants. This purposive sample was chosen because these fourth-grade students were preparing to take the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) writing test in the spring of the 2019-2020 school year. Drawing upon social cognitive theory (Bandura, 1986), sociocultural theory (Vygotsky, 1978), and Graham’s Writer(s)-Within-Community model (2018), this study is rooted in the belief that learning is a social activity. In keeping with this belief, the eight fourth-grade participants met with me for twelve weekly meetings after school in the school library of a south Texas Title I school. This study was social activity by design, so it was imperative that the student participants feel a sense of togetherness and camaraderie. For this reason, I chose to call our group a “club” from the beginning. Webster’s New World Collegiate Dictionary defines the word “club” as a group of people associated for a common purpose or mutual advantage, usually in an organization that meets regularly (Webster’s, 2002). “Club” in this context applies well to the group that the student participants and I created. After reading a book in which a character overcomes adversity, we discussed connections to the book before the student participants wrote a response in a dialogue journal that I responded to after the meeting. In addition to transcripts of these journal entries, other qualitative data included survey responses from the fourth-grade language arts teachers, my field notes, and a post-intervention focus group interview. Quantitative data was gathered in the form of two surveys administered pre- and post-intervention. The qualitative data set was transcribed, coded, and analyzed for emergent themes, and quantitative data was analyzed statistically. Both data sets were compared side-by-side to discover congruent and discrepant findings. Findings from the quantitative analyses revealed no statistical significance between pre and post-intervention administrations of the surveys. Qualitative findings suggested that the student participants demonstrated increased confidence and were in the process of developing more positive attitudes toward writing.



bibliotherapy, book club, dialogue journal, writing apprehension



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