Interventions for supporting and assessing science writing communication: Cases of Asian English language learners

Beverly L Smith-Keiling, Lidia K. Swanson, Joanne M. Dehnbostel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


In seeking to support diversity, one challenge lies in adequately supporting and assessing science cognitions in a writing-intensive Biochemistry laboratory course when highly engaged Asian English language learners (Asian ELLs) struggle to communicate and make novice errors in English. Because they may understand advanced science concepts, but are not being adequately assessed for their deeper scientific understanding, we sought and examined interventions. We hypothesized that inquiry strategies, scaffolded learning through peer evaluation, and individualized tools that build writing communication skills would increase confidence. To assess scientific thinking, Linguistic Inquiry Word Count (LIWC) software measured underlying analytic and cognitive features of writing despite grammatical errors. To determine whether interventions improved student experience or learning outcomes, we investigated a cross-sectional sample of cases within experimental groups (n = 19) using a mixed-methods approach. Overall trends of paired t-tests from Asian ELLs’ pre/post surveys showed gains in six measures of writing confidence, with some statistically significant gains in confidence in writing skill (p=0.025) and in theory (p≤0.05). LIWC scores for Asian ELL and native-English-speaking students were comparable except for increased cognitive scores for Asian ELLs and detectable individual differences. An increase in Asian ELLs’ cognitive scores in spring/summer over fall was observed (p = 0.04), likely as a result of greater cognitive processes with language use, inquiry-related interventions, and peer evaluation. Individual cases further elucidated challenges faced by Asian ELL students. LIWC scores of student writing may be useful in determining underlying understanding. Interventions designed to provide support and strengthen the writing of Asian ELL students may also improve their confidence in writing, even if improvement is gradual.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1522
JournalJournal of Microbiology and Biology Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Author(s). Published by the American Society for Microbiology.


Dive into the research topics of 'Interventions for supporting and assessing science writing communication: Cases of Asian English language learners'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this