Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Educational Psychology


Patricia J. Brooks

Committee Members

Joan Lucariello

Frank Lixing Tang

Subject Categories

Bilingual, Multilingual, and Multicultural Education | Educational Psychology | Elementary Education | Language and Literacy Education


Chinese immersion, biliteracy development, freewriting, Pinyin, L2 proficiency, texting


Many studies have confirmed the benefits of dual language immersion programs. Research into reading and writing development in these programs, and particularly in Chinese immersion, is less common. In this dissertation, an attempt is made to address this gap in research by exploring the literacy development of fourth grade Chinese immersion students. Participants were 70 students, the entire fourth grade of an urban Chinese immersion school in the northeastern U.S. The school had recently made several curricular changes. They were adopting a practice of freewriting, or independent writing. In freewriting, students are encouraged to write as much as they can on a topic using all of their linguistic and meaning-making resources without regard for accuracy. They learn to write for self-expression and for readers (as opposed to writing for feedback). The school, in addition, adopted the Level Chinese reading system as part of an effort to systematize reading instruction and assessment. Lastly, they were actively considering ways to support student writing development through digital technologies. The school also administered annual year-end STAMP 4Se standardized tests of Chinese. The current studies aimed to understand effects of and relations between these curricular approaches.

The first study in this dissertation aimed to understand how digital writing using Pinyin input might support development of literacy skills in Chinese immersion. In this study, the effects of a digital text messaging curriculum on freewriting were investigated. It was hypothesized that use of digital Pinyin input would facilitate connections between oral and written language by allowing learners to access vocabulary they could not yet write by hand but could type using Pinyin on an alphabetic keyboard. Students in two classes engaged in text messaging in small groups using digital Pinyin input in online chatrooms for 20 minutes, 3 times per week over an 8-week period. A matched group of students in other classes taught by the same teachers completed regular pencil-and-paper word work that focused on analysis of characters during the same time period. Texting with classmates using Pinyin input, when replacing multi-component word work, was negatively associated with freewriting output, that is, students who completed word work did better in freewriting post-texting intervention. Within texting groups, however, children who were successful at texting showed greater gains in freewriting abilities as compared to children with lesser success at texting. Given the importance of digital writing and online learning, the findings indicate that texting should supplement, but not replace multi-component word work.

The second study reported in this dissertation built on the first study by investigating the development of writing, reading, and proficiency in L2 Chinese across the entire school year through a focus on freewriting. Our aim was to better understand how students use Chinese and all of their meaning-making resources in writing, and the relationship between student writing, reading and proficiency. First, student freewrites, that were collected at 3 time points over the school year, were examined to understand how students deployed their linguistic and meaning-making resources in writing. Students used a combination of correct characters and words written in Pinyin, homophones, English and pictures to fulfill their meaning-making needs in the moment. Proportions of words written in correct Chinese characters increased from 63% to 81% over successive freewrites. Writing ability grew over time, as assessed by diversity of vocabulary in freewrites. Reading ability as assessed by teachers using the Level Chinese system also grew. Lastly, we examined relations between classroom measures of writing and reading, participation in the texting curriculum, and language proficiency as measured by end-of-year 4Se standardized assessments of Chinese in the domains of reading, writing, listening and speaking. Classroom measures of reading predicted proficiency across the four domains of reading, writing, listening and speaking, while freewriting also predicted reading and writing proficiency. Students in the texting classes had higher proficiency in speaking, suggesting that digital interaction with peers supported oral communication. Pedagogical implications of the findings will be shared and discussed.