Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2017

Access Restrictions


Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Science Education

First Advisor

Nichols, Deborah

Second Advisor

Hand, Brian

First Committee Member

Skopec, Mary

Second Committee Member

Bettis, E. Arthur, III

Third Committee Member

Hong, Dae

Fourth Committee Member

McDermott, Mark


The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of an immersive argument based learning environment on students’ multimodal competencies. The objective was to study the impact on students learning as they engage in an ABI classroom, centered on the SWH approach, when compared to students in traditional classrooms. Summary writing samples were collected and coded for informational text features which allowed us to understand cohesion with the learners. Additionally, we were able to study these impacts longitudinally, measuring teacher experience and student exposure to this learning environment. Studies of this nature have been done but only with upper grades, never had it been done with early learners, kindergarten through second grade.

These summary writing samples were collected and analyzed in two different groups, the first containing 601 samples and the second 760 samples. A factor analysis was performed to examine the internal structure of the features, resulting in the creation of 3 factors: illustrations, text signals and organizers, and graphics. This allowed us to measure acceleration of the learners multimodal skills and the cohesion related to experience, both of classroom and teacher experience.

The results of this study have shown that we are able to significantly impact students rate of usage of informational text features by altering the learning environment. We are able to demonstrate significant rates of growth in usage of higher order skills and cohesion amongst science concepts. This is important as we look to find ways to close achievement gaps, increase interest in science, and help students become more effective learners. The results show great promise for immersive ABI as a means to engage young learners in rigorous, valuable learning experiences.

Public Abstract

U.S. students’ continued mediocrity in science test scores led to a major overhaul of the science education standards, culminating with the Next Generation Science Standards. Cross-national research indicates that high-quality teaching in countries with centralized curricula results in stronger academic performance. Underscoring the urgency in addressing these teaching difficulties is research documenting gaps in achievement present before children begin formal schooling. Consequently, outdated and ineffective curricula taught by lower-quality teachers will further exacerbate these gaps. The purpose of this dissertation is to examine science learning in K-2nd grade in two studies, contrasting students who participated in traditional science classrooms with those who participated in argument-based inquiry (ABI) classrooms. For both studies, students produced a summary writing assignment each spring across 3 years to communicate their understanding of a particular science topic. In Study 1, a coding scheme was developed and validated to examine students’ multimodal representational skills as indexed by their use of informational text features (i.e., Illustrations, Text Devices, Graphic Devices). In Study 2, growth in these features across time and in relation to teacher and child ABI experience was examined. All students’ use of these features grew significantly across the project period and, for Illustrations and Text Devices, grew faster with each additional year of student ABI experience. The quality of teacher implementation as indexed by their years implementing ABI predicted more use and faster growth rates beyond those associated with child ABI experience. The influence of child and teacher ABI experience interacted significantly for Text Devices indicating that at least 18-24 months of experience by both were necessary to accelerate growth rates. Adoption of immersive ABI-learning environments in K-2nd grade classrooms significantly and positively impacted student multimodal representational competence.


Argument Based Inquiry, Early Learners, Informational Text Features, Multimodality, Next Generation Science Standards, Science Writing Heuristic


xi, 131 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 110-131).


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Copyright © 2017 Ted A. Neal