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Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

John Van de Walle


This experiment was designed to determine the effect essay writing has on learning introductory level college mathematics, learning mathematical skills, problem-solving and mathematical applications, and the retention of new knowledge in mathematics. The independent variable was the writing of essays. Essay writing included responding to questions assigned as homework and addressing mathematical situations presented in in-class activities. The dependent variables were overall achievement, skills, applications, and retention in each of these areas. The sample consisted of five classes of introductory-level algebra at Virginia State University. The experimental group consisted of 50 students in two classes; the control group was made up of 49 students in three classes. Achievement was measured by a twenty-question, multiple-choice test. Students took a different form of the test three times: pretest, posttest, and retention test. Mathematical skill ability was determined by subscores based on fifteen problems from the tests. The remaining five questions made up a subtest measuring the ability to solve mathematical application problems. The period of treatment was four weeks although the control group covered the material in three weeks. The essays were graded according to their completeness, accuracy, and clarity. Based on total scores the experimental group was divided into three subgroups- good writers, average writers, and poor writers. Analysis of covariance was used to test the null hypotheses. Results of this study indicated that essay writing in college mathematics classes did not improve mathematics achievement but suggested a highly positive effect on retention.

Students identified as good writers received the greatest benefit as a result of writing essays. Good writers showed higher achievement than either poor writers or students who did not write essays at all. The researcher notes that creating, explaining, practicing, and grading the essay assignments are very time-consuming activities. Even so, the treatment is recommended for mathematics teachers because of the possible effect on retention and the increased interest level of the students.


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