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IES Grant

Title: Teaching and Learning Argumentative Writing in High School English Language Arts Classrooms
Center: NCER Year: 2010
Principal Investigator: Newell, George Awardee: Ohio State University
Program: Literacy      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years Award Amount: $979,493
Type: Exploration Award Number: R305A100786

Co-Principal Investigators: David Bloome, Alan Hirvela, and Helen Marks

Purpose: The ability of secondary students to compose written arguments is limited. Recent studies of students' writing performances reveal that only a fraction of students (3% of 8th graders and 6 % of 12th graders) can make informed, critical judgments about written text (Perie, Grigg, & Donahue, 2005). Only 15% of 12th grade students performing at the proficient level were able to write well-organized essays in which they took clear positions and consistently supported those positions. One way to improve outcomes may be to enhance teachers' pedagogical knowledge and practices regarding argumentative writing at the secondary level. However, the instructional processes that are predictive of high quality argumentative writing are not clear. This research team will address this issue and identify the predictive factors that may, in turn, be used to develop an instructional model for teaching argumentative writing at the secondary school level.

Project Activities: The research team will work with expert teachers in English Language Arts (ELA) 9th and 12th grade classrooms. These classrooms will sample college preparation and non-college preparation classrooms in urban and suburban areas. The researchers will gather data on the teachers' typical instructional practices, and student involvement and outcomes, using video recordings, interviews, questionnaires, teacher journals, and student writing samples.

Products: This information will be used to generate a set of instructional factors highly correlated with high quality student learning of argumentative writing, a classroom-based model of how these instructional factors can be effectively orchestrated, and published reports.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This study takes place in high schools in the Franklin County/Central Ohio area.

Population: The sample will consist of 48 expert teachers (24 9th grade and 24 12th grade) and their classrooms, equally divided between college preparatory (CP) and non college preparatory (NCP) tracks and selected from a pool of all the high schools in 16 urban and suburban school districts in Franklin County, Ohio. Four students from each of the 48 classrooms will be recruited to participate and provide information for case studies. Both lower and higher achieving students will participate.

Research Design and Methods: The most promising ELA classrooms will be selected based on a combination of recommendations and test scores. The teachers of these classrooms will all have at least 5 years of teaching experience, a local reputation for successful writing instruction, extensive experience with teaching argumentative writing, students who are engaged in what is being taught, exceptionally high expectations of their students, and a clear sense of instructional purpose.

Each of the 48 classrooms will be videotaped and observed for one full instructional unit (approximately 3-5 days). One week prior to the teachers' implementation of the instructional unit, the research team will send the teachers the pretest of argumentative writing in order for this initial assessment to be completed before the start of the collection of the observational data. The writing prompt will be based on or taken from the NAEP assessment of persuasive writing. Over the course of the unit, the team will conduct pre-instruction interviews and post-instruction interviews, take field notes during classroom observations, video-record classroom instruction, collect background questionnaires and teachers' daily journals.

Control Condition: There is no control condition.

Key Measures: Measures of key characteristics of the students, teachers, and classroom setting will be collected. Teacher and student background information will be collected from interviews and student questionnaires. Classroom practices and discourse data will be gathered from logs of classroom observations, digital video recordings, and other student artifacts (worksheets, tests, reading materials). A full discourse analysis of specific instructional conversations will be completed. In addition, student outcome data (pre- and post-instruction writing samples) will be collected.

Data Analytic Strategy: In Year 1, the researchers will begin an intensive discourse analysis on a subset of 12 classrooms. In Year 2, they will complete the coding of Year 1 data, looking for recurrent patterns in the other 12 classes from Year 1. In Year 3, they will analyze the full corpus of 48 classrooms, focusing on the factors that vary and the factors that account for the variation.

Student writing will be evaluated using both analytic and holistic methods. The analytic scoring will focus on characteristics such as fluency, flexibility, focus, and form and the holistic scoring will rely on a single overall score.

The team will conduct a series of descriptive analyses—using techniques such as cross tabulations, one-way or two-way analysis of variance (ANOVA), and correlational analyses—to explore the relationships between classroom instructional practices and student writing performance.



Newell, G.E., Bloome, D., and Hirvela, A. (2015). Teaching and Learning Argumentative Writing in High School English Language Arts Classrooms. Routledge.

Book chapter

Newell, G.E., VanderHeide, J., and Wilson, M. (2013). Best Practices in Teaching Informative Writing From Sources. In S. Graham, C. MacArthur, and A. Fitzgerald (Eds.), Best Practices in Writing Instruction (pp. 141–165). New York: Guilford Press.

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Bloome, D., and Beauchemin, F. (2016). Languaging Everyday Life in Classrooms. Literacy Research: Theory, Method, and Practice, 65(1): 152–165.

Newell, G.E., Beach, R.W., Smith, J., and VanDerHeide, J. (2011). Teaching and Learning Argumentative Reading and Writing: A Review of Research. Reading Research Quarterly, 46(3): 273–304.

Newell, G.E., VanDerHeide, J., and Wynhoff-Olsen, A. (2013). Learning From (and With) Expert Teachers of Argumentative Writing. Adolescent Literacy In Perspective: 4–7.

Weyand, L., Goff, B., and Newell, G. (2018). The Social Construction of Warranting Evidence in Two Classrooms. Journal of Literacy Research, 50(1): 97–122.

Wynhoff-Olsen, A., Ryu, S., and Bloome, D. (2013). (Re)constructing Rationality and Social Relations in the Teaching and Learning of Argumentative Writing in Two High School English Language Arts Classrooms. Journal of Literacy Research Yearbook, 62: 360.