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Help From A Hoarse Horse:
Homonym Exposure and Journalism Students' Writing Grades
Bruce L. Plopper, Professor
Sonny Rhodes, Assistant professor
School of Mass Communication
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
2801 S. University Ave.
Little Rock, AR 72204-1099
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Scholastic Journalism Division
AEJMC Annual Meeting
San Antonio, Texas
Help From A Hoarse Horse:
Homonym Exposure and Journalism Students' Writing Grades
Using a longitudinal design, this study investigated the effect 11
weeks of homonym exposure had on journalism students' writing class
grades. Results showed that for journalism majors receiving such
exposure, post-treatment writing class GPAs increased slightly but
not significantly; however, the writing class GPAs of journalism
majors not receiving homonym exposure declined significantly. The
writing class GPAs of non-majors remained stable, with or without
homonym exposure. Implications for journalism writing class pedagogy
Help From A Hoarse Horse:
Homonym Exposure and Journalism Students' Writing Grades
In their seminal study of ways that high school journalism
experiences affected students' later academic performance, Dvorak,
Lain, and Dickson (1994) found that high school journalism students
who completed formal journalism classes and/or participated in
hands-on journalism activities performed better academically in a
number of ways, as compared to students without exposure to high
school journalism. Areas in which the journalism students
significantly outperformed their non-journalism counterparts were
overall high school GPAs, high school English GPAs, high school
social studies GPAs, high school math GPAs, and high school science
GPAs; ACT Composite scores, ACT English scores, and ACT social
studies scores; grades in their first college freshman English and
English composition classes; and ACT College Outcome Measures Program
scores for overall writing, writing to an audience, and language use.
Additionally, researchers have investigated potential relationships
between other factors and college journalism class grades. For
example, Plopper and Rollberg (1996) measured associations between
grades in students' first journalism writing class and the following
three factors: high school ACT English scores, GPAs in college
freshman English classes, and performance on diagnostic writing
tests. The only strong relationship they found was between
organizational writing skills and journalism writing class grades.
While overall past or concurrent performance of one type or another
may be linked to performance in journalism writing courses, another
worthy avenue of inquiry asks whether specific rhetorical device
training affects writing performance. This study investigated whether
long-term homonym exposure had any effect on students' GPAs in
subsequent writing classes.
Help From A Hoarse Horse Page 2
Review of Literature
Teachers in various disciplines have struggled with the poor
writing skills students bring with them into academic environments.
The literature is filled with how educators have observed challenges
to teaching writing in a variety of contexts, and on the success or
failure of strategies employed in working with a wide array of
students, including students in commonly taught college classes,
students for whom English is a second language, and students with
language learning disabilities.
For example, Smith, Broughton, and Copley (2005) noted, "When
economists discuss how to promote student learning, particularly at
the undergraduate level, the talk often turns to writing" (p. 43) The
authors presented a series of writing assignments aimed at helping
students develop their abilities to evaluate and critique others'
written economic work, and thus discover what makes good writing.
Another business-discipline study of student writing involved Chinese
students in an MBA program at a Canadian university (Raymond & Parks,
2002). The researchers evaluated how these students coped with the
challenges associated with moving from an English for Academic
Purposes program, where teachers emphasized language, to MBA courses,
where professors emphasized content. The study explored differences
in how the students oriented themselves to the reading and writing
assignments in each area. In another study of international students,
Sasaki (2004) investigated changes in Japanese students' English
writing abilities over a 3.5-year period and reported on improvements
in the students' English proficiency, composition quality and
confidence in writing. One finding was that a contributing factor to
improved writing ability among the students was increased time spent
in "rhetorical refining," which referred to decisions about language
use through attention to linguistic detail.
Help From A Hoarse Horse Page 3
In a report of ongoing assessment programs that led to changes in how
history students were taught to write research papers, Olwell and
Delph (2004) noted that many of their students unfortunately
practiced a writing process in which they researched, wrote, and
revised a paper in a 48-hour period before it was due. Under their
department's process-writing approach, educators teach students that
writing should be a semester-long process that involves multiple
stages, and this incremental process allows instructors to provide
written or oral comments as a student's paper evolves through the semester.
When geography students' writing was analyzed, Heyman (2004) argued
that they needed more instruction in writing to help make them more
active members of the classroom and community. Instructors need to
provide more explanation of writing expectations and evaluation
methods, he wrote, while students need feedback and opportunities to revise.
After working with younger students with language learning
disabilities (LLD), Brice (2004) noted that writing requires
knowledge of many basic language skills and that these students found
it difficult to integrate language skills into academic writing assignments"
(p. 38) One strategy she suggested to improve LLD students' writing
abilities was to include the use of analogies, antonyms, synonyms,
and multiple-meaning words.
To cope with the challenges to teaching writing, educators also have
explored strategies that include using approaches that run the gamut
from computer-assisted instruction to humor. One educator, noting
that many students entering journalism and mass communication
programs lack basic grammar and punctuation skills, said schools
must find a way to help students improve their skills without
reducing the time student and faculty members have available for
other instruction" (Hanson, 1990, p. 43). She also said
computer-assisted instruction offered a possible solution to these
problems and, in reviewing relevant research, concluded that
Help From A Hoarse Horse Page 4
journalism and mass communication schools could use computer-assisted
instruction to teach remedial grammar and punctuation with confidence
that it would be effective; however, before implementing such a
method of instruction, Hanson cautioned that it is essential to first
have sufficient computer hardware, the highest-quality software, and
qualified personnel to make sure students properly use the hardware
and software. Her literature review regarding software programs,
including two that focused on using homonyms in teaching grammar,
generally found that the software did not measure up in terms of such
criteria as using good instructional methods, being free of errors,
and being motivating.
Peters (1992), arguing for a sense of humor in teaching grammar,
investigated how humor might be used "to overcome student hesitancy
about learning grammar, to provide an air of relevancy which might
encourage greater student interest and participating, and to offer
opportunity to expand grammar application beyond the classroom" (p.
12). Peters contended, "It can be interesting for students to
discover that their own punning and wit often turns on a point of
grammar" (p. 15).
Similarly, Tower (1998) asserted "
there are many important reasons
to study children's use and comprehension of humor, and to make a
place for humor in our writing classrooms" (p. 11). To "get" humor,
Tower wrote, "students will need to understand homophones, multiple
meanings, metaphor, syntax and grammar" (p. 12). She concluded that
we are only just beginning to help students incorporate humor into
their writing. Research has clearly demonstrated the importance of
humor in social and language development, but more work needs to be
to done to support and guide children's use of humor in their writing" (p. 16).
Concomitant with the calls for use of rhetorical devices to hone
writing skills, from the elementary school to the college campus,
educators have called for broader application of
Help From A Hoarse Horse Page 5
grammatical rules and punctuation throughout the curriculum. In
support of instilling in young writers the ability to use grammatical
rules and punctuation, Phillips (1999) wrote, "Young writers who know
how to use correctly the grammar of their language are cross-country
skiers given downhill slopes, walkers given wings. They are freed by
their skills in grammar and usage" (pp. 14-15). Phillips, however,
maintained, "From kindergarten through middle school and secondary
school, fear runs roughshod among educators that to teach grammatical
rules and punctuation along with writing will inhibit the writer's
expression" (p. 14).
Henderson (2002) echoed that sentiment. "The need to teach basic
grammar never has been greater as journalism programs expand their
focus to match the workforce skills needed in this era of modern
media" (p. 230). He studied the efficacy of using a Web-based
grammar-checking program with the acronym TAGS (Targeted Approach to
Grammar System) to prepare articles for student newspapers, and he
concluded that while the TAGS method of teaching "
can be effective,
it also is clear from the literature that any use of a grammar
checker should be accompanied by a full classroom discussion of its
use and the grammar points that are targeted" (p. 242).
Although the articles mentioned above reflect attention to student
writing, other research has examined specific factors linked to
journalistic writing ability. In research on high school students'
performances on Advanced Placement Examination in English Language
and Composition, Dvorak, Lain, and Dickson (1994) and Dvorak (1998)
asked whether high school students who take intensive journalistic
writing to prepare for the exam pass at a rate similar to that of
students who take English composition to prepare.
Over a period of nine years, advanced journalism students passed at a
higher rate than
their counterparts in all but two years. In his 1998 article, Dvorak
wrote, "Clearly, results of this
Help From A Hoarse Horse Page 6
study indicate that such [an intensive journalism] course matches up
well with the traditional AP English composition courses that most
students take in preparation for the exam" (p. 12).
Along similar lines, Plopper and Rollberg (1996) studied college
students in a sophomore-level journalism course, correlating the
students' entry-level news writing grades with a set of variables
that included evaluations of their essay-writing skills. Students in
five news-writing classes over the course of two semesters were asked
to write a 500-600-word diagnostic essay on one of three topics they
were provided. The essays were then evaluated on organization,
language usage, and spelling, rather than on journalistic style.
Professors then placed the essays in one of three categories:
adequate, needs some improvement, and needs substantial improvement.
The study revealed that organization scores and language skills
may provide some guidance for enhancing student success in
the entry-level news writing class" (p. 7). Included in the study's
findings was that organizational skills were "most likely to enhance
success, probably because students who can present their ideas in an
organized manner are also the ones who can successfully present the
types of material required for news writing, in the style required
for news writing" (p. 7).
Included in Plopper and Rollberg's findings was the report of a low
correlation between students' grades in the news writing class and
their grades in English composition classes. The researchers stated
that this correlation was not surprising because mass media writing
classes at their university tended to be product-based, while English
composition classes there tended to be process-based.
In a study that examined from the students' perspective the interplay
between English composition and journalism, Olson and Dickson (1995)
asked 300 college freshmen in
Help From A Hoarse Horse Page 7
journalism programs at eight universities to rate the value of the
writing instruction they received in their first freshman English
composition course in several areas, including its value to their
journalistic writing. One key finding was that only 17.5 percent of
the respondents rated the writing instruction in the composition
class as being highly useful to journalistic writing, 51.2 percent
found it a little useful or not at all useful, and 31.3 percent found
it moderately useful
As for comparing instruction in skills areas, the students indicated
they received better instruction in nine skills areas (for example,
writing concisely, using correct grammar, writing in an organized
manner) in their first journalism writing course than in their first
English composition class. The two areas that the English composition
class was considered better was writing creatively and using your
opinions (p. 51).
Olson and Dickson concluded that freshman composition was not
especially beneficial to journalism students, but that journalism
courses provided "
better instruction in nine of 11 skill areas,
including using correct spelling and grammar" (p. 53). Ultimately,
they recommended, "Journalism educators should
options for strengthening the foundation for their students to
increase the chances that their graduates will be adequately prepared
to pursue careers that require strong writing skills" (p. 54).
It is evident that many questions about student writing have been
answered by previous studies, and that researchers from several
disciplines have suggested there is or might be value in a focused
attempt to use rhetorical devices to teach writing ability. There is,
however, scant reported research on whether intensive training with
rhetorical devices does indeed improve student writing ability. This
study examines whether exposure to homonyms provides such an effect.
Help From A Hoarse Horse Page 8
To answer the question of whether long-term exposure to homonym
training has an effect on post-homonym-exposure grades in writing
classes, a longitudinal study of students taking the first journalism
writing course at a metropolitan state university in the South was
conducted. This course is populated by journalism majors and minors;
students in the public relations business major and in the
professional and technical writing major, whose programs require the
class; and students selecting the class as an elective.
The study began in the fall 2000 semester and continued through each
fall and spring semester until at least 100 students had completed
the course. Also, to maintain environmental similarity for the
courses involved, the study included only semesters in which two
traditional (non-Web-based and non-telecourse) sections of the course
were offered. One section was designated randomly as the homonym
treatment (HT) section, and one section was designated randomly as
the control section, without any special homonym exposure (NHT).
Six instructors taught the 10 sections, with three full-time
instructors and one adjunct instructor teaching the five HT classes
over time, and three full-time instructors and one adjunct instructor
teaching the NHT sections over time. One full-time instructor taught
both two HT sections and two NHT sections over time. Ultimately, to
meet the goal of at least 100 students, three fall semesters and two
spring semesters were involved, from fall 2000 through spring 2003,
with the spring 2002 semester being omitted because only one
traditional section of the course was offered.
The homonym treatment consisted of 11 weeks of homonym exposure.
During the first week of exposure, the study's director discussed
homonyms with the students and described the process that would take
place during the course of the semester. Students were told the activity
Help From A Hoarse Horse Page 9
was an attempt to improve their attention to words and to increase
their vocabularies. In each of the first 10 weeks, students were
given a list of 20 homonym sets during one day of class and
instructed to look up definitions for words they did not know, in
preparation for a homonym quiz the next time the class met. The quiz
asked students to provide definitions of only 10 homonym words (not
sets) from the original 20 sets, and the same person graded all of
the homonym quizzes during the study. Generally, eight to nine of the
homonym quiz words were not oft-used homonyms such as "its, there,
and two." Instead, they were less-frequently used words such as
"berth, bier, and sord." Over the semesters involved, quiz words were
varied, in an attempt to minimize the effects of information sharing
among students enrolled in various HT classes.
In week 10, after the quiz, the study's director visited each HT
class and explained the assignment for week 11, designated as
"Homonym Heaven." Students were instructed to create five jokes or
phrases involving homonyms, which they would be expected to share
with their classmates. They were given several examples of such
creations, e.g., "What would you call a Shetland pony with a sore
throat? Answer: A hoarse horse."
After students completed their first journalism writing course, they
were tracked academically until either they had graduated or until
they had completed at least 70 GPA hours toward their 124-hour
degrees and were enrolled in the spring 2005 semester. This criterion
was intended to eliminate from the study those non-persistent
students who may not have been taking their classes seriously.
Students were discarded from the study if 1) they had not completed
two writing courses either before or concurrently with the initial
journalism writing course; 2) they did not complete at least two
subsequent writing courses beyond the initial journalism writing
class (intended to eliminate single-instructor grade influences); 3)
they did not complete the minimum number of hours described above; 4)
they failed the initial journalism writing class
Help From A Hoarse Horse Page 10
because of nonattendance without withdrawal (determined by
interviewing faculty of record); 5) they failed a subsequent writing
course because of nonattendance without withdrawal or because of
plagiarism (also determined by interviewing faculty of record); 6)
they had repeated a writing course and had earned a grade different
from the original grade; or 7) they had gaps of more than five years
between taking any two relevant courses designated for the study
(intended to mitigate any life experiences that might tend to
confound the data). These criteria were followed to obtain as pure a
group of measurements as possible by maintaining a subject pool
characterized by persistence in degree pursuit and timely completion
of relevant course work.
At the end of the study's time frame in fall 2004, chosen to allow
students in the last HT/NHT semester enough time to demonstrate
persistence and to complete at least two subsequent writing classes,
the following data were analyzed: students' overall GPAs before and
after their initial journalism course semester, but not including
that semester; GPAs in writing classes before and in writing classes
after their initial journalism course semester, with "before" GPAs
including writing classes taken concurrently with the initial
journalism class; GPAs in the initial journalism writing class; and
scores on homonym quizzes. Several statistical t-tests for correlated
samples were calculated for appropriate relationships, as were
Of the students initially enrolled in the 10 sections of the first
journalism writing class, 59 completed the homonym treatment (HT)
classes and 61 completed the non-homonym treatment classes (NHT).
Subsequently, after a review of these students' academic records, 31
HT students and 30 NHT students were discarded from the analysis for
one or more of the reasons noted above. The number one reason for
discarding students was failure to complete at least two writing
courses after completing either the HT or NHT class.
Help From A Hoarse Horse Page 11
The remaining 29 HT students consisted of 10 journalism majors and 19
non-majors, while the remaining 30 NHT students consisted of 17
journalism majors and 13 non-majors. Only one HT group member and one
NHT group member had earned fewer than 100 credits at the time of the
analysis. A statistical analysis of overall GPAs before and after the
HT/NHT classes showed both groups significantly improved. As may be
seen in Table 1, the HT group's overall GPA increased from 3.15 to
3.39 (t=3.07, df= 28, p<.01); the NHT group's overall GPA
Table 1: "Before" and "After" Overall GPAs by Group
HT Group (N=29) 3.15 3.39**
J-Majors (N=10) 3.01 3.31
Non-Majors (N=19) 3.22 3.44*
NHT Group (N=30) 3.00 3.29***
J-Majors (N=17) 2.98 3.15*
Non-Majors (N=13) 3.03 3.48**
*p<.05, **p<.01, ***p<.001
increased from 3.00 to 3.29 (t=4.17, df=29, p<.001). An analysis of
before-and-after GPAs of J-Majors and Non-Majors in both groups
showed that in the HT group, only the 19 Non-Majors significantly
improved their overall GPAs (t=2.39, df=18, p<.05), although the GPAs
of the 10 J-Majors did improve by .3 of a grade level; in the NHT
group, both the 17 J-Majors and the 13 Non-Majors significantly
improved their overall GPAs (Majors: t=2.98, df=16, p<.05;
Non-Majors: t=3.9, df=12, p<.01).
Because a variety of factors can contribute to overall GPAs,
additional analyses were performed. Before examining those results,
it should be noted that for all before-and-after writing class
comparisons, GPAs were calculated for students with at least two
Help From A Hoarse Horse Page 12
before and at least two writing classes after. In terms of types of
classes taken before and after
the HT/NHT classes (see Table 2), it generally was true that most
students had completed only
Table 2: Mean Number of Writing Class Types Completed "Before" and "After"
HT Students NHT Students Mean
J-Majors Non-Majors J-Majors Non-Majors Total
Classes 1.9 2.1 2.2 1.9 2.1
J-Classes 0.4 0.0 0.2 0.0 0.1
Classes 0.3 1.2 0.2 0.7 0.6
Mean Total 2.6 3.3 2.6 2.6
J-Classes 4.2 0.3 3.3 1.0 2.0
English/rhetoric 1.2 2.8 1.9 2.5 2.2
Mean Total 5.4 3.1 5.2 3.5
the two English composition classes that are part of the university's
general education requirements. Also, it generally was true that
after their HT/NHT classes, most J-Majors completed more advanced
journalism classes than advanced English/rhetoric classes, and most
Non-Majors completed more advanced English/rhetoric classes than
advanced journalism classes. Also, the J-Majors in both groups
completed almost the same average number of writing
classes before and after the HT/NHT classes, while there was slightly
more variation among
Help From A Hoarse Horse Page 13
classes completed by the HT/NHT Non-Majors.
The first additional analysis examined overall writing class GPAs
before and after the HT/NHT classes. Results showed that in the HT
group, average writing class GPAs rose insignificantly by a mere .03
GPA increment. In the NHT group, average writing GPAs dropped
insignificantly by a mere .05 GPA increment. Analyses of
before-and-after writing class GPAs of sub-groups within the two
larger groups, however, did reveal some differences (see Table 3).
Table 3: "Before" and "After" Writing Class GPAs by Group
HT Group (N=29) 3.50 3.53
J-Majors (N=10) 3.37 3.41
Non-Majors (N=19) 3.57 3.59
NHT Group (N=30) 3.30 3.25
J-Majors (N=17) 3.37 3.06*
Non-Majors (N=13) 3.22 3.57
In the HT group, journalism majors' writing class GPAs rose
insignificantly by a .04 GPA increment; in the NHT group, journalism
majors' writing class GPAs dropped significantly by a .31 GPA
increment (t=2.39, df=16, p<.05). In contrast, both in the HT group
and in the NHT group, the GPAs of non-majors rose insignificantly,
although the NHT non-majors sub-group nearly reached significance
(t=2.12, df=12, p=.055).
While the analyses described above were performed on the comparative
GPAs earned by each individual student, t-test analyses also were
completed on matched pairs of journalism majors and on matched pairs
of non-majors. Of the 10 journalism majors in the HT group and the 17
journalism majors in the NHT group, seven in each group were
perfectly matched in terms of
Help From A Hoarse Horse Page 14
number of writing classes taken before the HT/NHT classes and nearly
perfectly matched in "before" writing class GPAs (six sets were
perfectly matched, and one set had a .19 GPA difference, with the NHT
student having the higher "before" GPA).
As Table 4 shows, after the students were matched, an analysis of
their "after" writing class GPAs yielded a significant difference
(t=3.19, df=6, p<.05). In fact, the average "after" writing class GPA
of the HT journalism majors was 3.57, as compared with a 2.90 average
Table 4: Comparison of "After" Writing Class GPAs for Matched Groups
Before GPA Before GPA After GPA After GPA
of HT Group of NHT Group of HT Group of NHT Group
Overall (N=13) 3.42 3.44 3.66 3.28*
J-Majors (N=7) 3.28 3.31 3.57 2.90*
Non-Majors (N=6) 3.58 3.58 3.76 3.72
"after" writing class GPA of the NHT journalism majors.
Of the non-majors in the two groups, six in each group could be
perfectly matched in terms of number of "before" writing classes
taken and nearly perfectly matched in "before" writing class GPAs
(four sets were perfectly matched and two sets had GPA differences of
.17, with the two higher "before" GPAs being evenly distributed
between the two groups). An analysis of "after" writing class GPAs
for these sets showed a statistically insignificant average
difference of -.04. It should be noted that an analysis of the
"after" writing class GPAs of the combined matched pairs groups
showed a significant difference between the means, with the "after"
mean writing class GPA of the HT students being 3.66 and the "after"
mean writing class GPA of the NHT students being 3.28 (t=2.19, df=12, p<.05).
Help From A Hoarse Horse Page 15
In addition to computing t-tests for correlated samples, three sets
of correlations were computed. One set involved the relationship
between grades earned in the initial journalism
writing class and mean scores on homonym quizzes (see Table 5). This
analysis yielded a
Table 5: HT Group Correlations Involving Initial Journalism Writing
Mean Homonym Scores, and "After" Writing Classes GPAs
J-Course Homonyms J-Course
by by by
Homonyms After GPA After GPA
HT Group Overall r =.565** r =.487** r =.466*
J-Majors r =.642* r =.363 r =.410
Non-Majors r =.569* r =.651** r =.559*
significant correlation coefficient of .565 (t=3.557, df=27, p<.01),
for all students in the HT group. Similar relationships were found
both for the sub-group of HT journalism majors
(r =.642, t=2.367, df=8, p<.05) and the sub-group of HT non-majors (r
=.569, t=2.851, df=17, p<.05).
Another set of correlations involved the relationship between mean
scores on homonym quizzes and "after" writing class GPAs. For the
overall HT group, this analysis yielded a significant correlation
coefficient of .487 (t=2.9, df=27, p<.01), but the results for the
sub-groups showed a marked difference. For journalism majors, the
correlation was low (r =.363) and not significant; for non-majors,
the correlation was higher (r=.651) and statistically significant
(t=3.536, df=17, p<.01).
The third set of correlations involved the relationship between
grades earned in the initial journalism writing course and "after"
writing class GPAs. This analysis also yielded a significant
Help From A Hoarse Horse Page 16
correlation coefficient (r =.470) for the overall group (t=2.735,
df=27, p<.05), but once again, correlations for the sub-groups were
markedly different. For journalism majors, the correlation was lower
(r =.410) and not significant; for non-majors, the correlation was
higher (r =.559) and statistically significant (t=2.782, df=17, p<.05).
Despite the limitation of small sample sizes, it is clear that for
the samples of persistent journalism students involved in this study,
there is a relationship between long-term homonym exposure and grades
in subsequent writing classes. Although the relationship generally
was not evident when overall data from the HT group were compared to
overall data from the NHT group, it was clearly evident when data
from sub-groups were analyzed.
One finding, that overall GPAs were higher for both the HT and NHT
groups after completing the initial journalism writing class, is not
surprising. One would expect that as a cohort of students approaches
graduation, the cohort's overall GPAs would rise because 1) poor
students with low GPAs would have either flunked out or dropped out
of the cohort, 2) the remaining students would become more mature in
an educational sense and better able to cope with college-level
courses, and 3) students would most likely be taking more courses in
their majors and minors, thus resulting in fewer low grades from
general education classes they may not have cared about very much.
The reason that a statistically different rise in overall GPAs of the
HT J-Majors group was not found probably lies in the small sample
size (N=10), for which effects might not show up in a statistical
test. It should be noted, however, that the overall rise in GPA for
this group was the second best increase (.3 of a grade increment)
among the four sub-groups tested. Also of note is that the overall
rise in GPA for the NHT J-Majors group represented the smallest
incremental rise among the four sub-groups (.17 of a grade increment).
Help From A Hoarse Horse Page 17
When comparative performance in classes dedicated to writing was
analyzed, an effect among NHT J-Majors became more clear: they were
the only sub-group to suffer a statistically significant decline in
writing class GPA. In contrast, the HT group overall and the HT
sub-groups showed stability in their comparative writing class GPAs,
and the NHT Non-Majors sub-group actually experienced a noticeable
(though not significant) rise in its writing class GPA. While the
small size of the latter group (N=13) may have blurred the
statistical outcome, the overall data nonetheless suggest that
long-term exposure to homonyms may have, at the very least, a
protective effect for journalism majors taking advanced journalism classes.
In turn, this raises a question addressed by previous researchers: Do
journalism writing courses differ significantly from writing courses
in other disciplines, in terms of both structure and content? As
mentioned above, other researchers have suggested that this is the
case, and thus it might be reasonable to believe that writing class
outcomes depend in part upon the writing path taken, i.e.,
journalism majors taking advanced journalism classes and non-majors
taking advanced English/rhetoric classes might be expected to have
similarly good post HT/NHT writing class GPAs.
While this was true for Non-Majors, it was not the case for J-Majors,
as those J-Majors in the NHT group suffered a subsequent and
significant writing class GPA decline despite the marked similarities
in mean numbers of writing classes taken before and after the HT/NHT
classes. In fact, when data for J-Majors and Non-Majors were
scrutinized in matched groups, it was found that the J-Majors who had
had homonym exposure also had significantly higher subsequent writing
class GPAs than did the J-Majors without such exposure. This was true
even though the two groups had virtually the same "before" writing
class GPAs. In contrast, the Non-
Majors' "before" and "after" GPAs did not vary significantly between
groups. These findings
Help From A Hoarse Horse Page 18
support the idea that long-term homonym exposure has a protective
effect for J-Majors.
They also support the idea that advanced journalism courses require
different skills than do advanced English/rhetoric classes, and that
homonym exposure helps students with those skills. Perhaps it is
merely an increased propensity to pay closer attention to content,
for both advanced reporting class content and homonym use involve
just that: paying attention. On the other hand, advanced
English/rhetoric classes may be so similar to the general education
composition classes in both content and process that the need to pay
closer attention is not present. That would explain why the
Non-Majors' GPAs did not vary significantly either in the unmatched
HT/NHT groups or in the matched HT/NHT groups.
Concerning the findings related to correlation coefficients involving
J-Majors' performance, grades in the initial journalism writing
course are moderately related to homonym quiz performance (and
statistically significant), but neither factor is a good predictor of
these students' GPAs in subsequent writing classes. This may indicate
that mere homonym exposure is enough to trigger the propensity to pay
closer attention to writing. For Non-Majors, all combinations of
correlations between the initial J-course, homonym scores, and GPAs
in "after" writing classes were moderately high and statistically
significant, indicating that for these students, either J-course
grades or homonym scores could be used to help predict GPAs in
subsequent writing courses.
Several of this study's findings show the value of long-term homonym
exposure to persistent journalism majors, but the promise of a
homonym key that helps unlock the brain's attention mechanism should
provide hope to writing teachers at all levels and in various
Help From A Hoarse Horse Page 19
disciplines. Perhaps if homonyms were emphasized more by journalism
teachers at the junior high and secondary school levels, students at
those levels and later in college would be better journalistic writers.
Still, this study needs to be repeated using larger sample sizes. It
is possible that the effects which were noticeable but not
statistically significant would be clarified if more data were
available. Another suggestion is that future research include a more
active approach in exposing students to homonyms, rather than merely
distributing homonym lists and requiring students to prepare
themselves for subsequent homonym quizzes. Even though passive
exposure to homonyms seems to have an effect, more activities, such
as the final week's "Homonym Heaven" experience, should be planned
and executed during class time, to provide greater emphasis on paying
Finally, as suggested by researchers in other disciplines, use of
rhetorical forms such as analogies, antonyms, and synonyms also might
be worth studying as a means to improve writing skills. If paying
attention is indeed a more important writing skill than previously
thought, it is plausible that any exercises which promote this skill
will be of value and should be examined.
Help From A Hoarse Horse Page 20
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