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A Study of L2 Writing Skills Acquisition under Conditions of Biostress

by John Carsey-Brasco and Neddy Jacks
Independent Scholars
Austin, Texas


There has been extensive research recently on the effectiveness of writing conferences (WCs) in second-language writing acquisition. However, due to showing up late to seminar on the day research topics had to be turned in and failure to read the assigned reading beforehand, the meaning of the abbreviation was misinterpreted, and for the current study topic there is no other research. This study is thus exploratory research, or as our seminar leader phrased it, a flash1 in the pan.

The research questions were:

R1. What were the effects on text quality, self-regulatory quality, and class attitudes of access to regular attendance at a WC during once-weekly writing sessions?

R2. Following similar studies of writing conferences, what were the verbal and non-verbal aspects (e.g., spatial use, posture, facial expression, and hand and body gestures) of the behaviour of the subjects in the different treatments?


We recruited 27 exchange students in the ESL program at our former university (12 male, 15 female, mean age 24,3±3,2) from six nations (France 11, Germany 6, Russia 4, Poland 3, Japan 2, Bulgaria 1) to participate. The goals of the experiment were explained to them and their consent was obtained; due to a strike of the regular Research Ethics Board (all members of Teamsters Local No. 2764), the project was approved by the interim board (all clients of the Beauford T. Bates Staffing Agency). Subjects were not paid but did receive one hour of extra credit.

Subjects were randomly divided into three groups of nine. The Control Group was locked in the classroom during the once-weekly 2-hour writing session; Experimental Group 1 was allowed a five-minute biobreak halfway through the session, while Experimental Group 2 was allowed to enter and leave the classroom freely. All subjects drank one to two cups of coffee laced with hydrochlorothiazide 15 minutes before class started. Writing sessions followed the usual course of WCs in the ESL program.


Unfortunately, before the end of the experiment, the strike of the Research Ethics Board ended, and soon afterwards our experiment was cancelled. Thus, we are only able to share provisional results based on the first 8 weeks of sessions.

Research Question 1. The Control Group did extremely poorly on the writing tasks in class; in the beginning all participants were heavily distracted and in general showed regressions in performance equivalent to 1.5 to 2 years of English study. On several occasions fights nearly broke out, and the group was unresponsive and showed a remarkable degree of impatience. On the other hand, the two experimental groups made excellent progress, especially Experimental Group 2.

Research Question 2. The Control Group on the whole showed marked changes in posture, including extreme immobility, grimacing and rictus, compulsive foot-tapping, and extreme withdrawal in physical space. No such changes were noted for the experimental groups.


While for the most part the Control Group displayed the same behaviors throughout the experiment, after the second session three of the students showed the same behavior and performance as in Experimental Group 2. While we are unable to explain this result, it appears to be strongly conditioned by psychological factors: The three subjects, all French females, explained cheerfully, “Well, monsieur, it all depends,” “You see, we are all three in-depend-ent,” and “You just need assurance, my friends.” On the other hand, however, they contradicted themselves by saying their performance was due to pampering themselves; they also giggled repeatedly about something called “Faillite de vessie.”


The results of this study show that regardless of what WC stands for, it does seem to contribute positively to L2 learning performance.

1 At least we think that’s what was said here.

Teaching Undergraduates Without SlanderA. Nonymous & B. Nonymous
Linguistics 897 TA Training/Practicum CourseL’École de SpecGram
SpecGram Vol CLXXX, No 1 Contents