IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Recommendations for Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively

EDITOR'S NOTE: Dr. Steve Graham was the head of a panel of experts that assisted the What Works Clearinghouse in developing recommendations for its practice guide on effective writing for secondary students. We invited Dr. Graham to author this blog about the guide and a January 18 webinar on its recommendations. 


By Steve Graham, Warner Professor in the Division of Leadership and Innovation, Arizona State University

Effective writing is a vital component of students’ literacy achievement and a life-long skill that plays a key role in postsecondary success. For more than 30 years, I’ve focused my research on how teachers can help students become strong writers, how writing develops, and how writing can be used to support reading and learning. Much progress has been made in the field of writing instruction, and summarizing and sharing these findings will help teachers implement evidence-based practices. Using effective instructional practices will help ensure our students become adept at using writing to support and extend learning, argue effectively and fairly, connect and communicate with others, tell captivating stories, and explore who they are as well as reflect on their experiences. 

Recently, the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) released a new practice guide to address the challenges of teaching writing to secondary students. Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively offers three evidence-based recommendations for helping students in grades 6–12 develop effective writing skills. The first recommendation focuses on teaching students to use writing strategies to plan, think critically, and effectively convey their ideas. The second recommendation suggests integrating reading and writing to emphasize key features of text. Finally, the third recommendation describes how to use a formative assessment cycle to inform writing instruction.

The guide includes practical instructional tips and strategies for each recommendation that teachers can use to help students improve their writing. You’ll find over 30 examples to use in the classroom, including sample writing strategies and prompts and activities that incorporate writing and reading.

I’d like to invite teachers, administrators, and others to join me for a webinar on the recommendations in this practice guide, Wednesday, January 18, at 3 p.m. (ET). During the webinar, we will discuss the guide’s three recommendations and give teachers in all disciplines usable guidance on how to implement them in the classroom. We will also discuss potential challenges educators may face when implementing the recommended practices and provide advice on how to overcome those challenges.

Developing the Practice Guide

The WWC develops practice guides with the support of an expert panel. The panelists combine their expertise with the findings of rigorous research to produce specific recommendations. I was honored to chair this panel, which also included Jill Fitzgerald, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and MetaMetrics; Linda D. Friedrich, from the National Writing Project; Katie Greene, from Forsyth County (Ga.) Schools; James S. Kim, from Harvard University; and Carol Booth Olson, from the University of California, Irvine. 

For this practice guide, WWC staff conducted a systematic review of the research—a thorough literature search identified more than 3,700 relevant studies. After screening each study, 55 studies were found to use eligible research designs and examine the effec­tiveness of the practices found in this guide’s recommendations. The recommendations are based on the 15 studies that meet the WWC’s rigorous standards. For each of the recommendations, the WWC and the panel rate the strength of the evidence that supports it.  Appendix D in the guide presents a thorough summary of the evidence supporting each recommendation. 

Education and Training Opportunities in America’s Prisons

By Dana Tofig, Communications Director, Institute of Education Sciences

The latest results from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) reinforce some of what we know about the connection between education and incarceration—adults in prison, on average, have less formal education and lower literacy and numeracy skills than adults living in U.S. households.  But what about the education and training adults receive while in prison?

A recent publication—Highlights from the U.S. PIAAC Survey of Incarcerated Adults—provides information about the education and training that is received inside prison walls, in addition to providing data on the skills of incarcerated adults. This information is important because more than half of the prisoners surveyed (54 percent) were scheduled to be released within two years of their participating in PIAAC and most will likely try to enter the work force.

A look at PIAAC

The PIAAC Survey of Incarcerated Adults was conducted in 2014 and involved a representative sample of 1,300 prisoners who took assessments in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments. Most of them also completed a questionnaire that asked about their demographics and educational attainment, among other things. The results were compared to non-incarcerated adults in U.S. households who took the same assessments and completed a similar questionnaire as part of the national PIAAC program.  

The results show that 30 percent of incarcerated adults had attained less than a high school diploma—twice the percentage for U.S. households (14 percent). And more incarcerated adults scored at the lowest levels in both the literacy and numeracy assessments (see chart).


SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, U.S. National Supplement: Prison Study 2014, PIAAC 2012/14


Education and Training in Prison

The survey results show that at least some of the prisoners had opportunities to work, take academic classes, and receive job training and certification during their current incarceration. About 61 percent of those surveyed reported having a job in prison. But many prisoners reported that their jobs “never” needed them to use the type of literacy and numeracy skills which are important in the work force.

For instance, nearly half (47 percent) of incarcerated adults with jobs reported “never” reading directions or instructions as part of their current prison job, and 82 percent reported “never” working with fractions, decimals, or percentages. By comparison, in the household population surveyed as part of PIAAC, approximately 12 percent of adults reported “never” reading directions or instructions as part of their current job, and 34 percent reported “never” working with fractions, decimals, or percentages.

In terms of education, 70 percent of prisoners who were not currently taking an academic class or program said they wanted to participate in one. Among those prisoners, the programs they most wanted to participate in were to earn a certificate from a college or trade school (29 percent), a high school diploma/GED (18 percent), an Associate’s degree (18 percent), a Bachelor’s degree (14 percent), and a pre-associate education (13 percent).

However, despite the high interest in academic programs, most prisoners surveyed (58 percent) had not furthered their education during their current incarceration (see chart).


# Rounds to zero.

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, U.S. National Supplement: Prison Study 2014, PIAAC 2012/14


Nearly a quarter (23 percent) of prisoners surveyed said they had participated in some type of job training during their current incarceration and another 14 percent were on a waiting list for such training. Among those who participating in job training, 63 percent said self-improvement was an important reason for participating and 43 percent said it was to improve their post-incarceration job opportunities (respondents could choose more than one answer).

Of those who had not participated in training and were not on the wait list, 30 percent said they were not eligible to attend, 19 percent said they were not interested in the programs offered, and 11 percent said they did not have the necessary qualifications.

The results of the 2014 PIAAC Survey of Incarcerated Adults provide a tremendous amount of information that can inform the work of researchers, policymakers, and others who are interested in the skills, education, and training of America’s prison population. Anyone interested in exploring these data can do so online through the International Data Explorer (IDE) at http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/international/ide/. For more information on PIAAC, please go to http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/piaac/.

 

IES Grantees Receive Prestigious Presidential Award

President Obama has named two Institute of Education Sciences (IES) grantees as recipients of the prestigious Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The PECASE awards are the highest honor given by the U.S. Government to science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Daphna Bassok and Shayne Piasta, IES grantees who received presidential award

Daphna Bassok (left in picture), of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, and Shayne Piasta (right in picture), of the College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University, were nominated for the award by the leadership of IES. They are two of 102 award recipients announced by the White House on January 9, 2017.

The awards, established by President Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. The White House said: “the awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach.”

Bassok and Piasta have both served as principal investigators, and as co-principal investigators on projects funded through IES’ National Center for Education Research (NCER). Both are committed to understanding and improving early childhood education, and work closely with state systems to answer critical questions as the states roll out systemic changes to the provision of early childhood education.

Dr. Bassok is an associate professor of education and public policy at the University of Virginia and is also the associate director of EdPolicyWorks a joint collaboration between the Curry School of Education and the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. Her research addresses early childhood education policy, with a particular focus on the impacts of policy interventions on the well-being of low-income children. Dr. Bassok is currently the principal investigator of Building State-wide Quality Rating Strategies for Early Childhood System Reform: Lessons From the Development of Louisiana's Kindergarten Readiness System, and was co-principal investigator for a project which examined links between policy and availability of early childhood care and education in the United States.

Dr. Piasta is an associate professor of reading and literature in early and middle childhood in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Ohio State. She also is a faculty associate for the Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy. Her research focuses on early literacy development and how it is best supported during preschool and elementary years. Dr. Piasta is the principal investigator of the Evaluation of the Effectiveness of the Ohio Department of Education's Literacy Core Curriculum for Early Childhood Educators. She has also been co-principal investigator on several other IES-funded projects, including The Language Bases of Reading Comprehension, one of the six Reading for Understanding Research Initiative projects. Dr. Piasta received her doctoral training as an IES Predoctoral Fellow at Florida State University.

Written by Elizabeth Albro, Associate Commissioner for Teaching and Learning, NCER

Pictures courtesy of grantees

Improving Research on the Forgotten ‘R’

Writing is often labeled as the “forgotten ‘R,’” because the other R’s—reading and ‘rithmetic—seem to garner so much attention from educators, policymakers, and researchers. Yet, we know writing is a critical skill for communication and for success in school and in career. Writing in middle and high school can be especially important, because secondary grades are where students are expected to have mastered foundational skills like handwriting and move on to the application of these skills to more complex compositions.

IES has been funding research on writing since its inception in 2002, but compared to research on reading, not much work has been done in this critical area, especially writing in middle and high schools. In an effort to learn more about the state of the field of writing in secondary schools and the areas of needed research, IES brought together 13 experts on secondary writing for a Technical Working Group (TWG) meeting in September. During the full-day meeting, TWG participants shared their thoughts and expertise on a variety of topics including: argumentative writing, methods of engaging adolescents in writing, how best to help struggling writers including English learners and students with or at risk for disabilities, and assessment and feedback on writing.

Argumentative writing requires students to explore a topic, collect and evaluate evidence, establish a position on a topic, and consider alternative positions. In middle and high schools, argumentative writing often occurs in content area classrooms like science and history. TWG participants discussed the importance of research to understand how argumentative writing develops over time and how teachers contribute to this development.

Teaching writing to students with or at risk for disabilities and English learners can be challenging when the focus of secondary schools is often on content acquisition and not on improving writing skills. English learners are typically grouped together and receive the same instruction, but little is known about how writing instruction may need to be differentiated for students from different language backgrounds. Additionally, the TWG participants discussed the need to investigate the potential for technology to help with instruction of students who struggle with writing, and the importance to addressing the negative experiences these students have with writing that may discourage them from writing in the future.

It is also important to make sure all students are engaged and motivated to write. Some middle and high school students  may not want to participate in writing or may have internalized beliefs that they are not good at it. TWG participants discussed the need to consider teaching students that writing abilities can be changed, and that introducing new audiences or purposes for writing may motivate students to write. Finally, the group talked about the importance of allowing middle and high school students to write about topics of their own choosing.

Assessing the writing quality of middle and high school students is difficult, because what counts as good writing is often subjective. Technology may offer some solutions, but TWG participants emphasized that it is unlikely that computers will be able to do this task well entirely on their own. Regardless, the TWG participants were in agreement that there is a need for the development of quality writing measures for use both by teachers and by researchers.  Teachers may feel pressure to provide detailed feedback on students’ writing, which can be time-consuming. TWG participants argued that self-assessment and peer feedback could relieve some of the pressure on teachers, but research is needed to understand what kind of feedback is best for improving writing and how to teach students to provide useful feedback.

A full summary of the TWG can be found on the IES website. It’s our hope this conversation provides a strong framework for more research on ‘the forgotten R.’

POSTSCRIPT: Our colleagues at the What Works Clearinghouse recently published an Educator’s Practice Guide, “Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively.” It includes three research-based recommendations for improving writing for middle and high school students.

Written by Becky McGill-Wilkinson, National Center for Education Research, and Sarah Brasiel, National Center for Special Education Research

#IES2016: The IES Year in Review

By Ruth Curran Neild, Delegated Director, IES

2016 was a busy year for the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) as we continued our commitment to support a culture of evidence-use in education. Among our work over the past 12 months:

  • We released more than 200 publications, including statistical reports and data collections, research findings and compendia, program evaluations, intervention reports, educator’s practice guides  and more;
  • We made significant improvements to our communications and dissemination efforts, including a new IES website, an improved What Works Clearinghouse site, videos about our work and the launch of IES and NCES Facebook pages. We also published 80 blogs focused on our work and our mission;  
  • We launched tools, like RCT-YES and  Find What Works, that make it easier to conduct, report, and find research;
  • We awarded more than $200 million in research grants and funding across a wide variety of topics, including:
    • More than $150 million in grants from the National Center for Education Research;
    • More than $70 million in grants from the National Center for Special Education Research; and
    • About $5.75 million in funding for the development of education technology through the ED/IES Small Business Innovation Research program.

At the end of the year, we shared a small portion of our 2016 work on Twitter using the hashtag #IES2016. If you weren’t following Twitter over the holidays, we created a Storify of those tweets, which we’ve embedded below.  Also, check out the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) Year in Review website for an overview of the WWC’s work in 2016.