Young writers need more support

 Project title 
Development of a Web-Based Writing Partner (We-Write Persuasively) To Improve Writing Persuasive Essays for 5th Grade Students

 Award amount 

 Grant effective dates 
July 1, 2013June 30, 2016

 Principal investigator(s) 
Karen Harris

 Originating sponsor 
U.S. Department of Education

 Direct sponsor 
Texas A & M University

The challenge

Many students have difficulties with the three major forms of writing: informative, persuasive and narrative. In 2011, only 27% of eighth and 12th -grade students scored at or above proficient on the writing portion of the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP); 20% of eighth-graders and 21% of 12th-graders scored “below basic,” indicating they are unable to perform at the minimum standard for their grade level. Students with disabilities and English language learners show even lower performances on the NAEP. Only 5% perform at the proficient level, and only 1% perform above the proficient level. A majority of teachers report inadequate pre-service preparation in writing instruction. Teacher candidates typically experience one or two sessions on how to teach writing imbedded into a course on how to teach reading. Teachers report having difficulty meeting the diverse writing needs of students. Teachers who feel less prepared and positive about writing report teaching it less.

The approach

The project team, including Kay Wijekumar at Texas A&M University, is drawing from evidence-based practices in writing instruction and technology to develop instruction. The work combines an interactive writing instruction model, Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD), with an intelligent web-based writing tutor and peer support. Fifth grade students are learning how to write logical, coherent and compelling persuasive arguments using knowledge of the writing process, the writing genre, and text structure. This approach also incorporates a “writing to learn” component in which students use their writing as a tool for learning content.

The web-based, animated writing tutor assists teachers in SRSD instruction by providing individual students with targeted support for learning, additional modeling, and feedback. Collection of formative data by the tutor also provides teachers with additional information that helps them make instructional decisions to meet the writing needs of all students.

Findings & impact

The project is currently taking place in low-income schools in New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Texas. The first wave of randomized data from these teachers and their students indicates classes that received typical SRSD instruction after teacher PD showed significant gains in writing. Classes of teachers who received PD on typical SRSD instruction enhanced with the intelligent web-based writing tutor, however, had significantly and meaningfully better writing outcomes than SRSD-only classrooms. As this data is still being analyzed, the team is preparing proposals for further funding to enhance and investigate this approach.

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