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Running Header: Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom

The Implementation of Creative Writing Activities to Increase Motivation and Achievement in Traditional Essay Writing in Social Studies

University of New England Brian Edwards

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom Abstract Student motivation to write in the Social Studies classroom at the academic school at Attica Correctional Facility is consistently inadequate. This study was conducted in an attempt to see how creative writing activities could be used to impact motivation to write in students as well as

achievement on the traditional five paragraph essay in the Social Studies classroom. A group of 32 adult male students were assessed on their motivation and writing skill level. Creative writing activities were then introduced into a unit on The Great Depression. The data was collected using a mixed methods design and the data recorded indicated a marginal increase in achievement on the five paragraph essay with significant gains in student motivation. Conclusions indicate that while the introduction of creative writing activities had profound impact on student motivation, student achievement on the five paragraph essay will need continual monitoring to assess if creative writing activities are having a significant positive impact.

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom Table of Contents Abstract..2 Introduction.5 Rationale for Study..5 Statement of the Problem.6 Primary Research Questions...6 Hypothesis.7 Review of Literature..7 Methodology11 Research Design..11 Data Collection Plan.12 Data Analysis.13 Sample Section.14 Results..14 Findings.14 Visual-Auditory-Kinesthetic Survey........................................................................14 Traditional Five Paragraph Essay 1.15 Student Motivational Survey.16 Academic Education Records.18 Motivational Writing Assignment..18 Journal Article 119 Immigrant Letter Assignment20 Journal Article 220 Creative Short Story..20

Traditional Five Paragraph Essay 2..21 Discussion..22 Visual-Auditory-Kinesthetic Survey.........................................................................22 Traditional Five Paragraph Essay 1..23

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom Student Motivational Survey.24 Academic Education Records.25 Motivational Writing Assignment..25 Journal Article 126 Immigrant Letter Assignment27 Journal Article 228 Creative Short Story..28 Creative Writing Activities Overview29 Traditional Five Paragraph Essay 2.30 Limitations of Study..30 Summary and Further Research..31 Action Plan..33 Conclusions.35 References..37 Appendix A: Learning Modality Survey .38 Appendix B: GED Official Scoring Chart .40 Appendix C: Motivational Survey ..41

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom Introduction The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision oversees the housing, rehabilitation, and security of over 56,000 inmates. The biggest facility in the state is Attica Correctional Facility. Attica houses an average of 2,200 inmates at any given time. New York State law requires any inmate who does not have a high school diploma or a GED to attend academic school

programs. The school is a small, one building, three floor school where 11 teachers are charged with the task of educating adult male inmates, ages ranging from 18-75. This school is unique in that it deals with all the problems and scenarios public schools face with the added complication and pressure of being located in a maximum security correctional facility. This study deals particularly with writing assignments in one Social Studies classroom in the school at Attica Correctional Facility. Rationale for Study The five paragraph essay is an activity that many arenas of education have moved beyond. However, the GED test that is administered in the State of New York still requires students to write a traditional five paragraph essay to be able to pass the test. The importance of the five paragraph essay to inmates who are incarcerated in the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision cannot be understated because, if students do not possess the skills necessary to write a coherent essay, they will not be able to achieve their goal of obtaining a GED. The problem lies in student motivation. Students in the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision have many different factors that affect their academic motivation. Environmental stressors, apathy towards education, and lack of faith in abilities are just a few examples of attitudes that can affect motivation in incarcerated students. This lack of motivation is particularly evident when in the Social Studies classroom. Students who attend the Social Studies program at Attica Correctional Facility are faced with a unique motivational dilemma. Teachers are forced to ask themselves what they can do

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom to help increase motivation in students while increasing achievement on the traditional five paragraph essay. This study focuses on two Social Studies classes with a combined total of 32 students located at Attica Correctional Facility. The data collected and the study conducted was done in an attempt to determine whether or not the use of creative writing activities could increase student motivation to write and increase achievement on the five paragraph essay in the Social Studies classroom. Statement of the Problem Students in the school at Attica Correctional Facility are required to write the traditional five

paragraph essay in order to achieve their GED. However, due to environmental stressors, lack of faith in ability, and apathy towards education, there is a lack of motivation among students to learn how to write well. Due to these preexisting conditions, achievement in all writing assignments, including the five paragraph essay, suffers and frustrations start to build among both teachers and students. Primary Research Questions There were three main research questions that drove this study. One of these questions was to try to understand what makes students motivated to write. This question drove the core of the study and is a question that, if answered, can help teachers be more successful in their approach to writing. Another of these questions was to determine whether or not the introduction of creative writing activities into the Social Studies classroom could increase motivation among students. This question was developed with the idea that the style of writing assignment could change student outlook on writing as a whole. The third question that was asked was whether or not the instruction of creative writing and creative writing skills can positively affect achievement on the traditional five paragraph essay. This question is both important and necessary for teachers who have students who are aiming to achieve their GED which still requires the skills necessary to write a five paragraph essay.

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom Hypothesis The implementation of creative writing activities in the Social Studies classroom will increase students motivation to write as well as their achievement on the traditional five paragraph essay. Review of the Literature The five paragraph essay model is antiquated at best. The most current research found on the five paragraph essay is from September of 2000. In Muddying Boundaries: Mixing Genres with Five Paragraphs, Deborah Dean argues that the five paragraph essay is outdated, but it still exists because in some states, students need to know this form to score well on state writing assessments (Dean, p. 53). This is the case with New York State. Students at Attica will not be able to pass the GED without

the skill of creating a five paragraph essay. The essay is also linked to Social Studies. The five paragraph essay is of paramount importance in Social Studies when preparing for the GED test. Frederick Risinger in Improving Writing Skills through Social Studies, states that writing skills and Social Studies are fundamentally intertwined. Learning writing skills and practicing them within the Social Studies classroom empowers students with a sense of efficacy and achievement (Risinger, p. 2). The author states this because the essay is a very personal work that is the sole product of the author (Risinger, 1987). This article stresses the importance of the essay in the Social Studies classroom as it will help to develop writing skills across the curriculum. Recent research in the fields of Social Studies and writing skills shows that many of the findings from 10 and 20 years ago are similar to the findings of today. In Content Area Reading and Writing: Practices and Beliefs, the authors researched the in classroom effects of content area reading and writing. They state that teachers who want students to succeed in writing in Social Studies and Science classrooms should apply reading and writing strategies in their own classrooms and not rely on ELA instructors (Dedeoglu and Ulusoy, 2011). The authors selected four cities in Turkey and researched 1st-

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom

8th grade Social Studies and Science classrooms to see how effective reading and writing strategies were. They made a link for good reading skills to complement writing skills. However the Social Studies teachers noticed a trend in their classroom. Several teachers stated that writing activities are not preferred as the students get bored while they were writing (sic) (Dedeoglu and Ulusoy,p. 8). This is similar to the feeling of students in all Social Studies classrooms, including the classroom at Attica Correctional Facility. Looking at the research on the five paragraph essay, it becomes clear that the five paragraph essay still exists because of state requirements that keep it in place. It is because of these standards that it remains important in the Social Studies curriculum at Attica Correctional Facility. The modern research suggests that in order for students to succeed in writing in Social Studies, teachers must employ literacy strategies in their own classroom. However, students become quickly bored with these activities. The question becomes, how can teachers make writing more effective and engaging for students? All inmates in the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision who do not have a GED or high school diploma are required to attend academic school programs. In many cases, the achievement of the GED is tied to stipulations for release; if any inmate achieves their GED, could be eligible for one year off of their sentence. In these cases, it would seem that motivation to attend academic schooling would be high, but that is not exactly the case. A lot of students are timid and reluctant to dive head first into programs because of problems with academic school in the past. Also, in Attica Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison, all students are at least seven years from their earliest release date. This can effect motivation in the classroom severely. In Literacy Behind Bars: Results from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy Prison Survey, the authors state that having a GED/high school equivalency certificate or a high school diploma may be particularly

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom important for inmates who expect to be released soon and will need to find a job out of prison

(Greenberg et. al., p. 27). There is research in the public arena that supports these statements as well. In Transforming Young Writers Attitudes toward Writing and Becoming Writers, the authors state that adult education, specifically adult literacy, is fundamentally linked with a persons employment and income potential (Brown et. al., 2011). Students at Attica may not be released soon so they may not feel the same sense of urgency as a group of inmates who are scheduled for imminent release. However, the authors of Literacy Behind Bars also state that a lack of education in prison is linked to recidivism (Greenberg et. al., 2008). These facts create a push and pull of motivation in the prison classroom. While students in prison have some environmental reasons to be motivated or unmotivated to write, they are also impacted by the same social and academic motivators as non-incarcerated students. All of the students have different reading levels and some of them read and write at an elementary level. They also have a very strong social network in prison that can be influential on performance. From Storybooks to Games, Comics, Bands, and Chapter Books: A Young Boys Appropriation of Literacy Practices, investigates literacy and writing from a cultural and social perspective. The author, Kimberly Lenters, states that the cultural background of readers gives a lot of insight into why they do and do not do well with literacy skills (Lenters, 2007). She found that the subjects of her study performed much better when they were working on activities that allowed them to be creative and tap into their own personal interests (Lenters, 2007). It was also found that the peer groups of students directly influence their motivation and literacy developments. This has wide sweeping implications for prisoners in academic programs because they are a group of men who exhibit many of the same social tendencies as school age boys. This could be very helpful in assessing the motivation needs of inmates in a correctional setting. Word Up: Using Spoken Word and Hip Hop Subject Matter in Pre-College Writing Instruction, focuses on the successes of a writing program for high school students that uses hip hop to

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom teach literacy skills. One of the foundations of the program is that students learn a great deal about how to think, read, and write like a scholar by focusing on a subject that they already understand in powerful ways (Sirc and Sutton, p. 27). The In Da Tradition program they describe in the article engages students and teachers in writing and reading activities that are based in modern hip hop cultures. What they found through several years of administering the program is that by tapping into


this culture, they could engage students who normally had no interest in writing (Sirc and Sutton, 2009). This shows that by tapping into students creativity, teachers can increase the quality of writing in the classroom. This exact program has the potential to be very effective in prison because many of the students are ingrained in hip hop and youth culture. Current literature supports the idea that by tapping into students cultural knowledge and personal interest, their creativity and personal interest can be used to increase achievement in writing activities. When it comes to the five paragraph essay however, how can teachers work creativity into the process while also fostering motivation? Dean poses a number of questions in Muddying Boundaries when it comes to fostering motivation as it relates to the five paragraph essay. Can students begin the paper with a poem? Does it always have to be objective? Can it be creative? Can it be another genre altogether? (Dean, p. 54). These questions are answered by most of the modern research on motivation as it pertains to writing. In Motivation Research in Writing: Theoretical and Empirical Considerations, the authors discuss that motivation for writing is based on self-efficacy, goal orientations, interest, and outcome expectations (Troia et. al., 2012). These motivational factors are discussed at great length by the authors and they come to some interesting conclusions. They state that in order to foster motivation in writing, teachers must connect the learning in the classroom to the students culture and personal lives (Troia et. al., 2012). This supports what current research says about the impact of creative writing activities. However, the authors also state that even if students write about topics they find fascinating, they are less likely to produce high-quality papers if they lack

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom


sufficient topic knowledge to generate meaningful content (Troia et. al., 2012). This suggests that even if an activity is very interesting to students and it connects with their social and cultural views, without the proper content area knowledge they will not have success. Profiling learners achievement goals when completing academic essays is an article that focuses on motivation in writing as it applies to the goals the students have when going into the writing assignment. The author explores the difference between having mastery based goals and performance based goals among distance learners from China. What the author found was that students who have very high performance based goals, meaning the students that are very concerned with their grades, have much higher anxiety about the results and have a harder time being motivated for unique assignments (Ng, 2009). This applies to students in Attica Correctional Facility. The GED is the ultimate in high anxiety testing situation for students in corrections. Not only is their degree on the line, but they may also have up to a year in prison on the line. All information gained in this review of the literature was used to develop and design this study. The knowledge gained from the reading and analyzing of these articles was instrumental in the foundation of the study and the past research was considered and consulted with the development of each activity in the study. Methodology Research Design The research design for this study was a mixed-methods approach. A mixed-methods approach is an approach that involves both quantitative and qualitative research methods (Mills, 2011). There were several reasons to approach the research in this manner. One of the foci of this study was determining the effect of creative writing activities on student achievement on the five paragraph essay.

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom


In order to effectively determine this, student scores on writing assignments were recorded and charted over the course of the study. The majority of the quantitative aspect of this study involved the recording and tracking of scores on writing assignments. The other focus of the study was the motivation level of students. Student motivation levels could not easily be charted and recorded as hard data. Student mood, attitude, and emotional intelligence will all have impacts on student motivation level. Through surveys and teacher observation, the majority of assessment on student motivation was through qualitative means. This was done in an attempt to preserve to natural ebb and flow of a students motivation from day to day. Data Collection Plan The data collection plan is outlined in the data collection matrix seen in figure 1. Figure 1:

Students current writing skills? Motivation for writing? Creative Writing Impact?

Data Source 1
Education Records Student Survey Creative Writing Assignments

Data Source 2
Essay Assignment Motivation Writing Assignment Creative Writing Short Story

Data Source 3
Learning Style Assessment

Essay Assignment

There are multiple data sources that were used in this study. Education records and a traditional five paragraph essay assignment were used to assess the writing skills of students before the study was conducted. The students were also given a learning style assessment to assess whether they were dominant in visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learning styles (Appendix A). In order to assess student motivation for writing, the students were given a teacher created survey to gain insight into their current motivation level (Appendix C). Students were also given a writing assignment where they were asked about their feelings regarding the process of writing and writing assignments.

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom In order to assess the potential and prolonged impact of creative writing assignments on


motivation and achievement on the five paragraph essay, the students were given a series of three short creative writing assignments. Over the course of 3 weeks, students were charged with engaging in and completing creative writing assignments and activities in the Social Studies classroom. During this unit, the Social Studies teacher did multiple review lessons on sentence structure, paragraph structure, grammar, and mechanics. These short (10-15 minutes) mini lessons were developed with the help of language arts peers to adequately review the skill sets needed to excel in both the current unit and the traditional five paragraph essay. Students completed three shorter creative writing assignments in the first two weeks. The three short creative writing assignments involved in this unit were two short journal articles and one letter. These assignments were graded using the same rubric displayed in Appendix B. In order to preserve continuity, the unit in which all of the assignments were completed was a unit on the Great Depression. This unit on the Great Depression was a teacher created unit that was altered to include this action research project. The two journal articles were written from the point of view of a struggling, unemployed person raising a family in the Depression and a letter was written from the point of view of an immigrant who had emigrated from their home country to the US during the Depression. Over these two weeks, all students were required to complete these assignments. The students were then assigned a longer, short story style assignment to be completed. The last assignment was a traditional five paragraph essay writing assignment given in order to see if there was a change in performance from the beginning of the unit to the end of the unit. Data Analysis There were multiple methods used to analyze the data. All writing assignments were scored using the GED Official Essay Scoring Guide (Appendix B). The student motivation survey had six questions scored on a Likert scale, a scale where students choose either Strongly Agree, Agree,

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom Undecided, Disagree, or Strongly Disagree, and four short answer questions (Mills, 2011). The Visual-


Auditory-Kinesthetic survey was independently designed in the book Quantum Teaching and was scored using the scoring system provided (Appendix A). The motivation writing assignment and education records were analyzed by the teacher and all information gained was recorded into a personal journal. Sample Section The student groups used in the study were two classes of 16 students. The students were all inmates currently incarcerated at Attica Correctional Facility. Students ranged in age from 18-59 and came from various ethnicities and backgrounds. Results Findings Visual-auditory-kinesthetic survey. An important step in any research project dealing with motivation is determining the different learning styles of students. In order to determine differences in modality and learning styles, a VisualAuditory-Kinesthetic was conducted (Appendix A). Determining the difference in modality can give teachers appropriate information on how to properly differentiate writing assignments to increase student motivation and achievement. The assessment was retrieved from Quantum Teaching by Bobbi Deporter, Mark Reardon, and Sarah Singer-Nourie. This assessment is aimed to assess what a students dominant learning modality is. Figure 1 shows the results of the assessment. Students answer each question and each question response is assigned a number value. Depending on the question asked, the students have to answer whether or not they do the actions posed in the question Often, Sometimes, or Seldom (Deporter et. al., 1998). If the student answers with Often, they are given two points, if they answer Sometimes, they are given 1 point, and if they answer Seldom, they are given zero points. There is a series of questions for each modality. Once the results were tallied, the results were logged in the

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom chart below. Out of 32 students, 21 of their results indicated that their dominant modality was visual.


Out of these 21 visually dominant students, 18 of them had a score of 18 or above on their assessment. 8 students had a kinesthetic dominance, 2 students had an auditory dominance, and 1 student refused to complete the activity. Figure2:

Modality Dominance
2 1 8 21 Visual Kinesthetic Auditory Refused

Traditional five paragraph essay 1. Before creative writing activities were incorporated into the classroom, students were given a traditional five paragraph writing assignment in order to assess what their current level of proficiency was with the five paragraph model. Students were given the following prompt: Life for Americans in the early twenties is often associated with excess and mass economic growth. This era is also associated with Prohibition. Did Prohibition negatively or positively impact life in America? Give three supporting details to support your argument. Students essays were graded using the GED Official Essay Scoring Guide: Chart Format which was retrieved from the Official GED Practice Test Administrators Manual (Appendix B). Essays are scored from 1 to 4, 1 being inadequate to 4 being effective. This is the format that is used to score essays on the GED test. If the student scores a 1, they are unable to achieve their GED. In order to pass the test provided that they perform well on the multiple choice section of the

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom test, students must score a minimum of a 2 in order to pass. The higher students scores are on the essay section, the less questions they have to answer correctly on the multiple choice section. All 32 students wrote the required essay and the scores are recorded in Figure 3. Figure 3:


1st Essay Assignment

20 18 16 14 12 10 8 6 4 2 0 1 2 3 4

1st Essay Assignment

Out of 32, the majority of students wrote essays that were scored as 2s. There were 19 2s, 9 1s, and 4 3s. These essays followed the topic but lacked in focus and factual accuracy. Common errors were a lack of three supporting details to their argument, rampant spelling and grammar errors, factual inaccuracies, and repetition. There were still many different errors in grammar and spelling that brought the essays down in potential scoring. Student motivational survey. Motivation for any assignment or activity can vary from student to student with respect to their prior experiences in life and education. In order to gain insight on each students motivation, a survey was conducted to assess what aspects of writing motivation were important or unimportant to students (Appendix C). Six questions were scored on a Likert scale, and four questions were short answer. The

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom following is a brief summary of their responses. Statement 1, Writing assignments are assignments that I enjoy doing, had various responses. Out of 32, 8 students chose Agree, 10 students chose Disagree, 6 students were undecided, 6 students chose Strongly Disagree, and 2 chose Strongly Agree.


Statements 3 and 6 were similar to statement 1 in that a majority of students chose Agree, Undecided, or Disagree with no true front runner in any statement. Statements 2, 4, and 5 displayed different results. Statement 2,In my spare time I like to write songs or poetry for fun, was the only question to have almost an even split in responses. 9 students selected Strongly Agree, 7 chose Agree, 8 students chose Disagree, 7 students chose Strongly Disagree, and 1 was undecided. Statements 4 and 5 had similar results. All results for statements 4 and 5 were either Strongly Agree, Agree, or Undecided in their responses. Figure 4 shows the detailed percentage results of the Likert Scale portion of the student survey. Figure 4: Statements Strongly Agree Writing assignments are 2 responses assignments that I enjoy 6.25% doing. In my spare time I like to 9 responses write songs or poetry for 28.125% fun. The writing assignments 9 responses we normally do in class 28.125% are boring. I only want to learn to 13 responses write the essay that will 40.625% be on the GED. I write many letters to my 21 responses family in my spare time. 65.625% We do too many writing 4 responses assignments in class. 12.5% Agree 8 responses 25% 7 responses 21.875% 7 responses 21.875% 16 responses 50% 9 responses 28.125% 11 responses 34.375% Undecided 6 Responses 18.75% 1 response 3.125% 3 responses 9.375% 3 responses 9.375% 2 responses 6.25% 6 responses 18.75% Disagree 10 responses 31.25% 8 responses 25% 8 responses 25% 0 responses Strongly Disagree 6 responses 18.75% 7 responses 21.875% 4 responses 12.5% 0 responses

0 responses 7 responses 21.875%

0 responses 4 responses 12.5%

In the short answer questions, students were asked about strengths and weaknesses they perceive in themselves as it pertains to writing and about what their teachers can improve upon when teaching writing skills. Common answers for strengths among the students were not sure, no

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom


strengths, and some students even left their surveys blank in this section. Some students cited spelling, grammar, and punctuations in their strengths. Weaknesses listed by students were many and varied. Spelling, organization, essay structure, and vocabulary were common responses listed as weaknesses. Some results were lengthy and included many things that the student believed that they needed to work on. When asked what they thought their teacher could do, there were a myriad of responses. Some said they need to go back to basics. Some said they needed to have more writing assignments for practice. Some referenced the environment and said that they would like it to be quieter during writing assignments. Students were also asked what their favorite book is. This data was used by the teacher to assess student interest that could be used to properly differentiate instruction to students likes and dislikes. Results varied from The Holy Bible to Kill Alex Cross. Academic education records. Education records are kept on file for every student who attends academic school programs at the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. The education records include diagnostic tests, prescription plans, writing samples, and profile cards. Profile cards are records that indicate in which month and year certain topics and subjects were covered by teachers in the system. For example, spelling and punctuation is a category on the profile cards and, when this topic was last taught by a teacher, the teacher will indicate the month and year in which the topic was covered. Many students had gaps in how long it had been since writing skills were last instructed. In the study group, there were some students who had reviewed essay structure as recently as February 2013 and some who had not covered it since 2008. Motivational writing assignment. To complement the student survey, students were also given a writing assignment that focused on the topic of motivation. Students were given the following prompt: Writing assignments focus on a

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom necessary skill that you must have to achieve your GED. However, many people dislike writing and


writing assignments. What is one writing assignment you have done in your academic career, DOCCS or otherwise, that you truly enjoyed? Why did you enjoy it? What did you like about it? What didnt you like about it? Use your opinions and past experiences to complete this assignment. Students were encouraged to answer the prompt with complete honesty. While all of the students had unique responses, some of the following trends were noticed and recorded. Out of 32 students, 5 of the students used this assignment to express their frustration with writing assignments and their enrollment in academic school programs at Attica Correctional Facility. Another 10 of the students involved in the class stated that they have never liked a writing assignment but still viewed writing as an important skill both in life and in their quest to achieve their GED. 8 students indicated that they liked the traditional essay assignments that they have completed in their current classroom, indicating that they liked the formulaic aspect of it. The remaining 9 students talked about an assignment that they had in the past that was unique in some way. Examples given were journal articles, letters, songs, and presentations. Out of these 9, there were only 3 students who indicated that they truly enjoyed the act of writing. The other 29 students, whether outwardly stating it or expressing it through inference, stated at some point that they do not enjoy the process of writing. Journal article 1. The first journal article that the students were charged with writing had the students take the point of view of an unemployed worker living in the depression. The students were asked to think about how it would feel to be subject to economic conditions that made it impossible for them to work and provide for themselves and their families. One of the students refused to complete the assignment. The results on the assignment were varied. Out of 31 students, 13 of them scored a 1 on the first assignment. The journal articles of these students were typically lacking in any attempt to be creative.

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom 15 students scored a 2 on this assignment. The three remaining students scored a 3 and showed a natural proficiency to write and a familiarity with creative writing. Immigrant letter assignment.


The second creative writing assignment completed was a from the point of view of an immigrant who had moved to the United States during the Great Depression only to find that things are not as good in the US as they had previously imagined. The students were asked to explore how it would feel to be a foreigner coming to a land you thought to be filled with opportunity, only to find out that the country you emigrated to was in economic collapse. Out of 32 students, 31 completed the assignment. One student had been excused from the classroom with a medical excuse. In between each assignment, the teacher reviewed different aspects of writing and how to infuse creativity into their Social Studies assignments. Out of the 31 who completed the assignment, 21 completed the assignment with a score of a 2, 6 students scored a 1, and 4 students scored 3s. Typical problems shown in this assignment were similar to the first assignment. Journal article 2. The third creative writing assignment was the second entry in the journal that they had started in Journal Article 1. Out of 32 students, all 32 completed this assignment. The student who had been excused for medical issues had returned before this assignment was given. Of the 32 results, 7 students scored 1s, 16 students scored 2s, and 9 students scored 3s. Creative short story assignment. The final writing assignment was in the form of a creative short story. There was no length requirement for this assignment. Students were given the following prompt: It is October 30th, 1929. You had all of your familys money invested in the stock market and over the past three days, you have

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom lost everything. Write a short, creative piece about what you would do in the first 24 hours after


receiving this news. Students were given a week to complete this assignment with ample class time to work on it and ask questions. 31 out of the 32 students had completed the assignment. The student who didnt complete the assignment had transferred to another correctional facility during the final week of the project for medical reasons. On this final creative writing assignment, the short stories ranged in length from 200-10,000 words. Out of 31, 4 students scored 1s, 17 scored 2s, and 10 scored 3s. Length of story had no reflection on the scores. The major grammatical problems with the stories were subject-verb agreements. Figure 5 shows the progression of class scores over these creative writing assignments. Figure 5:

Journal article 1

Immigrant's Letter

4 3 2

Journal Article 2

Short Story Assignment





Traditional five paragraph essay 2. The last part of the unit that students were assigned was a traditional five paragraph essay with the following prompt: FDR overwhelmingly defeated Hoover in their presidential race. Why do you think FDR beat Hoover by an overwhelming margin? Give 3 details to support your argument. This

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom essay was given to see the results on the five paragraph essays after the creative writing assignments


have been given. The results of this essay were scored again using the GED Official Essay Scoring Guide: Chart Format (Appendix B). Out of the 31 students, 6 students received 1s, 20 received 2s, and 4 received 3s, and 1 received a 4. Below in Figure 6, the chart shows the difference in achievement from before the creative writing activities and after the creative writing activities in the traditional five paragraph essay. Figure 6:

20 18 16 14 12 10 8 6 4 2 0 1 2 3 4 Beginning of Unit End of Unit

Discussion Visual-auditory-kinesthetic survey.

The findings from the Visual- Auditory-Kinesthetic survey had some very useful implications. If a majority of the students have a visual dominance, the teacher should recognize this and use it to their advantage. Writing activities using pictures and political cartoons as source information would be more

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom


appropriate for these students and could increase motivation because these activities lend themselves more to students strengths. The students with a kinesthetic dominance pose a particularly unique challenge with writing instruction as writing instruction is a discipline which does not lend itself to working with manipulatives. However, having this knowledge about ones students gives the teacher an advantage when trying to differentiate the instruction to adequately meet the needs of students. A result of this survey that should be significant to teachers in corrections is the fact that there was a distinct minority of students who showed a dominant auditory modality. In many classrooms, lecture and discussion are primarily used to instruct students in writing skills. This VAK survey has shown that these methods may not be meeting the needs of students. The predominating result of visual dominance among students can be attributed to many different environmental factors, such as an inordinate amount of television that is watched in prisons. Regardless of the cause, this survey should show that traditional lecture may not be the best way to instruct Social Studies writing to students in the correctional classroom. Traditional five paragraph essay 1. The findings from the first traditional five paragraph essay that was written were significant. A majority of students ended up with 2s on the assignment, which is the lowest grade that a student can get that is considered passing on the GED. The common errors in spelling and grammar were to be expected. The overall trend, however, was that most of the students completed the assignment without going into much detail and without putting forth much effort. These findings confirm some of the theories put forth in the initial problem statement. Students in this group were typically underachieving due to a lack of effort and motivation. The amount of 3s shows that there are not many students who have a command over the essay writing process. The students who scored a 3 on the essay unanimously scored the 3 because of their ability to list three distinct details to support their argument. No students

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom received the highest mark of 4, which indicates that no student has truly mastered the essay writing process. Student motivational survey.


The student survey conducted at the beginning of the unit was one of the most useful pieces of data gained during this project. Using the Likert scale for the first 6 questions of the survey showed much of what the typical student in a Social Studies classroom in Attica Correctional Facility feels like when faced with writing assignments. It was revealed that most students are not interested in writing that does not involve learning the exact skills needed on the GED or writing to their families. This indicates that the shift toward creative writing activities might not initially interest students. Significant data was also gained from questions 4 and 5. The responses to the statement that they only want to learn to write the type of essay that will be on the GED indicates that a majority of students might be resistant to doing creative writing activities and learning creative writing skills because they do not represent what will be on the GED. The statement that they write many letters to their families in their spare time indicates that students are exercising their writing abilities on a regular basis, although they may not view letter writing as utilizing their writing skills. The short answer part of the survey revealed much about the students levels of self-esteem. Unanimously, the responses revealed a lot about how students perceive themselves as writers and perceive their teachers as writing instructors. There were a majority of students that could not come up with a real strength that they believed they had in writing. Most students, however, could easily come up with a weakness that they identified. This shows that the students self-esteem level can greatly impact their motivation to write. If a student is not comfortable or feeling positive going into these writing assignments, they are less likely to be positively motivated going into an assignment. This survey

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom was particularly disheartening because one can see how the attitude toward writing and student selfesteem can negatively impact the culture of writing in the classroom. Education records.


The data gathered from the education records was surprisingly disappointing. This data points out a particular flaw with the education system in the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. If there is no continuity between teachers and correctional facilities, the quality of education can be greatly diminished. This flaw was exhibited in the group of students who were a part of this study. Some students were very familiar with writing skills and traditional writing assignments while others were unfamiliar and instantly falling behind of the other students because of a lack of familiarity. Other than these insights, the education records were not that helpful in gathering data. Many records were inconsistent and incomplete. Due to the various previous teachers who had utilized the records, they were often disorganized and asymmetrical with one another. Some writing samples were in essay form, some were short answers, and some were as little as one sentence. They did little to help the teacher in assessing either achievement in the five paragraph essay or level of student motivation. Motivational writing assignment. This particular writing assignment revealed a lot about what motivates and what does not motivate students in this group. Out of the whole group, a portion of the students indicated that they like the formulaic version of the five paragraph essay. Several students talked about a unique assignment that they had in the past that inspired them to further engage in the writing process. However, all but 3 of the students expressed that they did not enjoy the actual process of writing. For many different reasons, most of the students in this classroom had negative feelings toward the act of writing. This shows that these students have had negative experiences in the past with writing and they

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom


will need reinstruction and proper positive reinforcement moving forward in order to become properly motivated. However, there were some positive results. The fact that some students enjoyed the formulaic aspect of the traditional five paragraph essay showed that some of the students need structure in their assignments. This information can be used moving forward to properly differentiate instruction to meet the needs of the students. The students who referenced a writing activity that they particularly liked are clearly more suited for the creative writing activities and more experimental writing assignments. Having students of this mindset in the classroom should allow for more experimental and more creative writing assignments in the Social Studies classroom. Journal article 1. The first journal was received with many questions. Typical questions asked were, What should I write? How should I know how it was during the Depression? Students were initially combative and resistant towards the creative process. One student told the teacher that this first assignment was the single biggest waste of time in my life. This student, who shall be referred to as Mr. Johnson from now on in order to preserve his anonymity, refused to complete the assignment. This first assignment took some real productive class discussion to initiate. The teacher reminded and encouraged students to really think about how it felt to be a person struggling with poverty and unemployment throughout the Depression. Students were a little combative and resistant during the first journal writing assignment. It was the first creative writing assignment that they were charged with completing and it took some students a little longer than others to get on board. One of the major issues with this assignment was that several students complained that they did not know what they were supposed to do. When giving instructions for the assignment and discussing the process, some students complained that they werent sure how to begin, what they should say, and how long they had to be. This disorganization definitely

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom hindered the process of the first journal article and it frustrated some of the students right at the


beginning of the unit. The results of this frustration can be seen from this assignment having the most amount of 1s scored of any of the creative writing assignments. There were several students who received 1s on this assignment and while some students did succeed at this assignment more than others, it was typically because of their ability to write rather than their ability to think creatively about the subject. The students that scored 2s used descriptive language and good sentence structure, but most attempts seemed vague, emotionless, and empty. Immigrant letter assignment. In the description and discussion of the assignment, students asked many questions about what life was like during the depression. The difficulty of being in an economically struggling country as an immigrant who was from a foreign land was something that the students were very interested in. The students in the class seemed to get very involved in the experiences of the immigrant being someone who had moved to an area where they were scared and on their own. It was not hard to see the connection that the students were making between life in prison and the life of a struggling immigrant during the Depression. It was at this point in the unit that many of the students started seeing the benefit of what was being taught. The amount of 1s decreased from the first journal article to this letter writing assignment. Short sentences and ineffective writing were exhibited by the students who achieved 1s. Students who achieved 2s exemplified a command in writing skills but a deficiency in creative writing ability and experience. The students who scored 3s showed that their scores were reflective of their command of writing skills and a willingness to extend their thinking beyond traditional writing style. More importantly than the grades, however, was the attitude of the students. This assignment was an assignment where students were becoming visibly energized by the ability to relate

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom some of their own personal experiences to their writing. This was the key time period in which there was a dynamic shift in motivation. Journal article 2.


The second journal article continued to show improvement by students. The amount of 1s did go up from the letter writing assignment to the second journal article showing that some students were still having fundamental issues with the writing process. However, the amount of 3s dramatically increased from the previous assignment to this one. In the classroom, there were far fewer complaints about the process and many students were becoming much more engaged in the process than they had been before. This was the first assignment of the entire unit that had all of the students complete it on time and with no refusals. The student motivation had clearly shifted at this point. Creative short story assignment. Students tackled this assignment in different ways. Some students jumped right in and started with their creative process. Other students complained that this was too much for them to do and were hesitant to get started. There was a definite split in the classroom on motivation surrounding this assignment. Students had one week to complete the assignment and all students had a submission completed during this time period. Achievement continued to improve on this assignment as it had the least amount of 1s and the most amount of 3s of the creative writing assignments. Submissions tended to be somewhat rambling and incoherent in points. This was not something that had really come up before in any of the creative writing assignments but, due to the increased length of this assignment, it was clear that it became more difficult for students to remain consistent. Most students seemed proud that they had completed something of this magnitude and were excited to share and talk about it. Other students seemed relieved that it was completed and were looking forward to working on something else. A major positive from most of the stories was that students seemed to stretch their

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom creative legs and open up a little bit more. Due to the students being more comfortable with writing


creatively, many of them were willing to take some risks that they had not taken previously in the unit. Creative writing assignments overview. The students scores on the writing activities were charted over the course of the unit. At the end of the unit, looking back on all of the scores achieved by students throughout the process, there were a couple of trends that emerged. When looking at the progression through the creative writing assignments, scores generally improved throughout the process. Throughout all 4 of the creative writing assignments as seen in figure 5, the amount of 1s scored decreased and the amount of 3s increased in each assignment. This was a positive result because the teacher could see the progression of the students clearly defined throughout the process of introducing creative writing activities into the Social Studies classroom. The level of motivation among students during this process varied from assignment to assignment. A journal was kept to assess the motivation of the different students throughout the process. One of the students previously mentioned was Mr. Johnson. Mr. Johnson was the most combative and resistant student throughout the entire process. He stated often that he did not believe that the activities in this unit, particularly the creative writing assignments, were an appropriate use of his time. He outright refused to complete some of the assignments in the beginning of the unit. However, as time continued to progress, Mr. Johnson started to complete, although without much enthusiasm, some of the assignments in the unit. As the unit continued to progress, he continued to buy in a little bit more to the idea of writing creatively. By the end of the unit, although he never became overly enthused by the process, he was actively engaging in the process of writing, both creatively and traditionally. The same emotional process occurred with several of the students in the classroom.

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom Traditional five paragraph essay 2. This assignment was given to assess the difference in scores from the beginning of the unit to the end of the unit. After the implementation of creative writing activities in the Social Studies classroom, the scores changed some, but not drastically. There were some changes in motivation and style, however. In this last essay that students wrote, the mechanics and punctuation had improved significantly. Student motivation to write had also increased. One of the interesting things that occurred in this assignment was that some of the creative style from the creative writing activities had started to blend into students writing. The traditional five paragraph essay is founded upon straight fact and experience related writing. The infusion of these creative writing skills helped some students


while hindering others in the five paragraph essay model. This is something that was not expected but became evident in the final assignment. Limitations of Study There were certain limitations to this process. First, if this unit and research were to be conducted again with a different group of students, there should be more time allotted in the units schedule. 3 weeks seemed like an appropriate time period when this action research process was in its design phase, however, once the process was started, it became clear that more time should be used in the future. The more writing that the students can do and the more time that can be dedicated to the process would do a great deal of good in acquiring more data that could be used to make more relevant findings. The appropriate time period for a project such as this could be extended to 6-8 weeks to get more relevant data. Another limitation that was noticed in this process was the data regarding motivation. The survey assessing motivation was very good at giving the teacher insight into what motivates students. However, during the process of creative writing, there were no processes in place for assessing whether

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom or not student motivation was increasing aside from the teacher journal. A substantial amount of the data collected in this process was qualitative and that style of data can lend itself to many different interpretations. In the future, the teacher could have students keep a journal, the teacher could offer different surveys during the process, or the teacher could have individual interviews with students. More time and better planning by the teacher could have alleviated some of this problem and created some more useful data. A third limitation came in the form of student writing ability. Some students can write better than others. This is something that was known before starting the study. However, some students


needed a full, start to finish reinstruction of writing skills and grammar. It is very hard to ask a student to write creatively when they have trouble putting together a coherent sentence. This should have been anticipated and there should have been more of a focus on writing mechanics and sentence structure blended into the unit. Things such as working with ESL teachers and developing cross content units is something that should be considered in the future and implemented into these types of units. Summary and Further Research After all the research had been conducted and the findings had been analyzed, there was a lot of data to consider. The implementation of creative writing activities had a positive impact on student motivation. The data regarding student achievement also showed that there was minor to moderate improvement of student achievement on the traditional five paragraph essay. The data is significant in that it shows that creative writing activities used in the social studies classroom do indeed impact the motivation and achievement of students in certain ways. These findings lead to several implications. If the implementation of creative writing assignments continues, student motivation to write may continue to increase. This study has shown that, in a short period of time, the effects on motivation have been significant and, if continued, student motivation to write may continue to be positively

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom affected. Also, since student achievement on the five paragraph essay did increase in moderate amounts, it can be implied that if these activities are continually instructed, student achievement may continue to rise.


However, there is still some research that must be conducted to continue learning about these students and helping students in this setting be motivated to write. This study focused more on whether or not creative writing activities could be used to increase motivation in students. Moving forward, the question that should be being asked is what motivates students in all academic areas. Motivation among students who are incarcerated in a maximum security correctional facility is very inconsistent. Creative writing activities may motivate students in one aspect but an academic challenge or an environmental stressor may counteract the motivational gain provided by the creative writing activity. Ongoing research must be done in order to properly ascertain effective ways to constantly keep students in this environment motivated. More research must be done on the way that the traditional five paragraph essay is instructed as well. Until the GED changes, students will still be required to master the skill of writing a traditional five paragraph essay. However, rote memorization and essay structure that has been taught in the past is wearing on students in the classroom. As adult learners, some of these students are attempting to pass the test for the 13th or 14th time. What has been attempted in the past with these students has not worked. New activities and teaching styles will still have to be explored, with results charted to see if achievement on the essay has increased. The only way to see if any one particular method works for a particular student is to compare it to how they have done using past methods and to choose the method most appropriate for each particular student. The third piece of research that will continue to be done is keeping current on the appropriate and most recent academic literature on the subject. Reading the ideas of contemporaries and learning

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom from how other studies are conducted, the teacher could benefit greatly and positively impact the experiences of their students. Action Plan Performance on the five paragraph essay increased marginally during the course of the study. Due to data collected, creative writing activities will continue to be introduced into the Social Studies


classroom in hopes that the improvement of scores will continue to occur. However, the results should be viewed with a certain amount of skepticism. During the unit, it is estimated that the amount of writing assignments given was roughly double the amount that students would typically receive over a 3 week period. Because of this, there is some concern that maybe the data received is more of an indication of the increase in writing activities rather than the creative writing activities. The action that will be taken to ascertain the validity of results is that the results will continue to be tracked and collected to see if scores keep increasing when the frequency of writing assignments goes back to the classroom norm. This should allow the teacher to see just how much long term impact the creative writing activities will have for students. One of the most interesting findings from a motivational standpoint was the involvement of students in the letter and journal writing assignments. Students seemed to become very involved in the letter writing and journal activities involved in the unit. The students thrived because the assignments connected with them on an emotional level. Moving forward, it would only make sense to try and include more writing assignments that the student in the correctional setting can relate to. This will also help the students on the five paragraph essay. If they can learn the skills to relate the question or problem to their own lives and use their experience to frame a response, the quality of writing will drastically improve. The action plan to include writing assignments that the students are emotionally invested in will be fairly complicated. New assignments will have to be created that serve this purpose

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom


while also looking at current assignments and seeing how they could possibly be molded and changed to be more emotionally involving. The third part of the action plan is the further involvement of ESL teachers in this process to increase motivation and achievement. During the study, there was one ESL peer that helped to develop miniature mechanics lessons and helped to assess students needs throughout the process. This resource was incredibly helpful and appropriate for the action research project that was being conducted. However, it was not enough to appropriately serve the needs of the students. The students involved in this study had profound writing mechanics problems. A lot of them need a complete restructuring of writing skills. The action plan moving forward would be to develop this unit hand in hand with the ESL teachers to ensure the correct amount and appropriate level of writing skills were being taught along with the Social Studies content. The problem with this aspect of the action plan is the same problem with any plan that involves the incorporation of two different parties; both parties need to be willing to work together to achieve a common result. In the action research project, there was one like-minded ESL teacher who worked together to make the unit better and more fundamentally sound in the writing skills department. The challenge would be to get more staff on board to help and commit their time to the cause of increasing the motivation and achievement level of students. This sounds like something that would be easy because most educators would jump at the chance to help their students. The unfortunate reality is that some teachers would prefer to do things their way, on their own, without changing anything or helping others. The plan would have to involve working with administration and coworkers to create a group of like-minded teachers that would work together towards this goal. Inquiries have already been made with administration and it seems that this is a logistical possibility and it is not something that they would be opposed to. The plan moving forward is to establish this teaching group and then develop cooperative lessons and units. Social Studies lessons that are infused with core writing mechanics and ESL lessons that have strong Social Studies themes and

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom


content would be some of the goals of this teaching group. Hopefully, moving forward, other staff and administration will see the example presented by this group and become inspired to follow suit. These few actions described are just a few of the many different options that could be taken as a result of the data gathered during this action research project. The important thing with the action plan is to remember that it is only a plan. Much like the study, the action plan will be have to be pliable to meet every scenario faced in the classroom. Conclusions There are several conclusions to be made from this study. One is surrounding the achievement on the five paragraph essay. Achievement on the five paragraph essay did improve from the beginning of the unit to the end of the unit. However, this could be attributed to the fact that students were practicing writing more frequently over the course of these weeks. It is worth noting that the increase in achievement could be attributed to this fact rather than the implementation of creative writing activities. The data does not suggest that the implementation of creative writing activities is the sole reason for student improvement. Because of this, the results should be viewed as positive with further research necessary to make a direct correlation between the two. Another conclusion that was reached with regards to motivation is that student motivation to write in the Social Studies classroom undeniably increased throughout the unit. However, this motivation can be tied to one thing: the Immigrant Letter Assignment. During this assignment, students were given the opportunity to draw on their own, ongoing experience to write in the classroom. The experience of being incarcerated is something that not many people can fully relate to. When the students saw the opportunity to use their current negative situation and turn it into a positive in the classroom, they almost unanimously jumped at it. Even the students who scored a 1 on this assignment

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom


showed an improvement in attitude and motivation from it. This is one of the most significant results of the study and should be used to create future units and assignments for the corrections classroom. After all of the data collected, the findings that were presented, and the limitations that were considered, there were some interesting results to consider. The students scores on the five paragraph essays generally improved over the course of the unit. The amount of failing grades declined while the amount of passing grades increased. Student motivation seemed to steadily increase throughout the process, making the writing assignments more effective with higher scoring. The ability for students to tap into their own personal experiences significantly increased motivation as personal experience is not something one often gets to bring into the Social Studies classroom. Even with the limitations of the process and the mistakes that were made, the introduction of creative writing activities into the Social Studies classroom significantly increased motivation in students and moderately increased achievement on the traditional five paragraph essay. These results should be used in the future to properly mold units to increase their effectiveness and significance in the classroom.

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom References


Brown, M., Morrell, J., & Rowlands, K. D. (2011). Transforming young writers' attitudes toward writing and becoming writers. California English, 17(2), 15-17. Dean, D. M. (2000). Muddying boundaries: Mixing genres with five paragraphs. The English Journal, 90(1), 53-56. Deporter, B., Reardon, M., & Singer-Nourie, S. (1998). Quantum Teaching. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson. Greenberg, E., Dunleavy, E., & Kutner, M. (2008). Literacy behing bars: results from the 2003 nationa assessment of adult literacy prison survey. The Journal for Vocational Special Needs Education, 30(2), 27-34. Lenters, K. (2007). From storybooks to games, comics, bands, and chapter books: A young boy's appropriation of literacy practices. Canadian Journal of Education, 30(1), 113-136. Mills, Geoffrey E. (2011). Action research- A Guide for the teacher researcher(4th edition).Upper Saddle River, NJ:Pearson. NG, C.-H. C. (2009). Profiling learners' achievement goals when completing academic essays. Educational Psychology, 29(3), 279-295. Risinger, F. (1987). Improving writing skills through Social Studies. Eric Digests, 40(1), 1-7. Sirc, G., & Sutton, T. (2009). Word up: using spoken word and hip hop subject matter in pre-college writing instruction. CURA Reporter, 39(1), 26-31. Troia, G. A., Shankland, R. K., & Wolbers, K. A. (2012). Motivation research in writing: Theoretical and empirical considerations. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 28(1), 5-28. Ulusoy, M., & Dedeoglu, H. (2011). Content area reading and writing: practices and beliefs. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 36(4), 1-17.

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom Appendix A: Learning Modality Survey


Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom


Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom Appendix B: GED Official Scoring Guide


Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom Appendix C: Motivational Survey


Mr. Edwards Room 26 Survey of Writing

Name:___________________ DIN:_____________________

Answer the following questions honestly. This is designed to help you with your writing skills. Circle the response that best matches your feelings on the statement: 1. Writing assignments are assignments that I enjoy doing. Strongly Agree Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Disagree

2. In my spare time I like to write songs or poetry for fun. Strongly Agree Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Disagree

3. The writing assignments we normally do in class are boring. Strongly Agree Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Disagree

4. I only want to learn how to write the essay that will be on the GED. Strongly Agree Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Disagree

5. I write many letters to my family in my spare time. Strongly Agree Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Disagree

6. We do too many writing assignments in class. Strongly Agree Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Disagree

Short Answer Questions: 7. What do you think your greatest strength is in writing?

8. What is your biggest weakness in writing?

9. What can your teacher improve upon when teaching you writing?

Creative Writing in the Social Studies Classroom


10. What is your favorite book youve ever read?