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IES Grant

Title: Creating Compositions Using a Technology-Based Writing Tool: Supporting Students With Universal Design for Learning
Center: NCER Year: 2011
Principal Investigator: Hall, Tracey Awardee: CAST, Inc.
Program: Education Technology      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years Award Amount: $1,498,649
Goal: Development Award Number: R305A110333
Description:

Co-Principal Investigator: Steve Graham (Vanderbilt University)

Purpose: The goal of this project is to develop and formatively evaluate the Composition Builder (CB), a web-based, guided-process writing tool that supports students in grades 6–8 in writing persuasive and expository compositions. Ensuring that students master effective writing requires a standards-based supported, digital writing environment that maximizes instructional impact for students with different learning needs, strengths and challenges. The proposed tool will incorporate the process-writing approach and the principles of Universal Design for Learning by including: (a) research-based writing strategies, (b) supports and scaffolds available throughout the writing process, (c) opportunities to engage in social collaboration around writing, and (d) built-in progress monitoring using Curriculum-Based Measurement.

Project Activities: The project team intends to develop the CB, which will integrate research-based writing instruction strategies into a single writing environment with embedded writing tools and supports, such as a concept mapping for planning, virtual writing strategy coaches, and opportunities for teacher and peer feedback. In the tool development phase researchers will use design-based research to iteratively develop, program, and refine the components of the web-based writing tool. Over the course of the project, researchers will investigate whether the proposed tool can support students as they learn to write, whether it can be integrated into regular classroom instruction, and whether it shows promise for improving writing outcomes. A pilot study will investigate the overall promise of the writing tool on student writing outcomes and teacher instructional practices.

Products: Products include the CB, which will be developed and refined. In addition, researchers will disseminate findings in peer-reviewed journals, through conference presentations, and through CAST professional development offerings.

Structured Abstract

Setting: Three public school districts in Massachusetts, representing middle school populations with diverse income levels, ethnicity, and academic performance, will participate as research sites.

Population: The sample will include all students in grades 6–8 in English/Language Arts classrooms. Approximately 6 teachers and 90 students will participate.

Intervention: Researchers will develop a comprehensive, web-based writing environment for middle school students that emphasizes the strategic process of writing and provides an interactive workspace for writing with just-in-time guidance and support along with structured feedback. The CB will integrate writing instruction strategies into a single writing environment with embedded writing tools and supports, such as a concept mapping for planning, virtual writing strategy coaches, and opportunities for teacher and peer feedback. At its core are three major elements that draw from the empirical research on writing instruction: (1) writing process and strategies and social collaboration, (2) progress monitoring, and (3) Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

Research Design and Methods: In the tool development phase, researchers will use design-based research to iteratively develop, program, and refine the components of the web-based writing tool. Throughout this phase, researchers will conduct formative evaluations of the feasibility and usability of the tool. The team will convene focus groups of middle school students and teachers to answer research questions about the instructional components and features and teacher supports for the tool. Qualitative research methods will be used during the formative evaluation process. A pilot study will investigate the overall promise of the writing tool on student writing outcomes and teacher instructional practices. Quantitative research methods will be used to systematically and empirically assess change in student writing skills over time while using the writing tool. Qualitative, exploratory research methods will be used to assess the impact of the supports, scaffolds, and progress monitoring on teachers' perceptions of the feasibility and utility of the tool.

Control Condition: There is no control condition.

Key Measures: Student writing outcomes will be measured using researcher-developed writing measures, progress monitoring, and periodic writing assignments, including four assigned compositions using the CB over the course of the 6-month research period. The compositions will be evaluated by examining the (1) total words written, (2) unique words written (indicating richness of word usage), (3) a ratio of correct to incorrect word sequences, and a (4) holistic score. Pre-intervention assessments will include the WIAT-II Writing subtest and the Gates MacGinitie, a standardized measure of vocabulary knowledge. Researchers will examine change in individual students' writing competence using both pre-post writing measures and individual growth modeling. Teachers' perceptions of the feasibility and utility of the tool will be measured through surveys, and teachers' usage of the tool and feedback to students will be assessed by the tool's electronic usage logs. Researchers will also analyze the electronic usage logs to determine aspects of fidelity of use for both teachers and students.

Data Analytic Strategy: Descriptive and exploratory analyses will be conducted. Evidence of the tool's feasibility, fidelity, and utility will be assessed. The researcher-designed pre- and post- intervention measures will be analyzed using a simple t-test for repeated measures.


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