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While many adolescents in US school settings do not achieve basic levels of writing proficiency, new standards and assessments hold all students, regardless of academic performance history and language background, to higher standards for disciplinary writing. In response to calls for research that can characterize a range of adolescents’ writing experiences, this study investigated the amount and kinds of writing adolescents with different academic performance histories and language backgrounds produced in math, science, social studies, and English language arts classes in schools with local reputations of excellence. By applying categories of type and length, we analyzed the writing of 66 students from California, Kentucky, New York, and Texas: 26 English learners (L2) and 40 native English speakers (L1), of whom 19 were identified by school norms as lower performing and 21 were identified as higher performing. We found the majority of writing tasks adolescents completed did not require composing more than a paragraph. Exceptions were essays in English language arts and persuasive essays and reports in social studies—almost half of which were source-based tasks. In addition, considerable differences were noted in the range of genres and amount of extended writing produced among L1 writers with histories of higher performance in contrast with L1 writers with histories of lower performance and L2 writers. These findings are discussed in light of Common Core State Standards shifts and the implications they hold for content area teachers who teach adolescents with different achievement histories and language backgrounds.


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This is the Publisher’s PDF of the following article made available by National Council of Teachers of English © 2014: Wilcox, K.C. & Jeffery, J. (2014). Adolescents’ writing in the content areas: National study results. Research in the Teaching of English. 49 (2) 168-176.

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