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IES Grant

Title: Development of a Curriculum to Teach Writing in Postsecondary Developmental English Composition Classes
Center: NCER Year: 2010
Principal Investigator: MacArthur, Charles A. Awardee: University of Delaware
Program: Literacy      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years Award Amount: $877,803
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A100614

Co-Principal Investigator: Melissa Ianetta

Purpose: Community colleges enroll nearly one-third of American students entering into postsecondary programs and most have open-enrollment policies. Because of their size and policies, these colleges admit large numbers of students who are underprepared. Students who do not pass basic skills tests are often encouraged or required to take developmental or remedial courses, with the most common being remedial writing courses. Yet, despite the prevalence of remedial writing courses at the community college level, few studies have explored the effects of instructional techniques in basic writing courses on student outcomes. This research project will address this need and generate a writing curriculum that can be used in remedial college-level composition courses. This curriculum will be developed and tested iteratively over the course of three years at two different community college campuses in Delaware with the assistance of college administrators and instructors.

Project Activities: The researchers will develop a writing curriculum by working with faculty in community colleges and an advisory board. Over the course of three years, this curriculum will be designed, revised, and tested iteratively using both quantitative and qualitative methods. Questionnaires, observation and interview protocols, and writing measures will be developed to assess classroom procedures and student outcomes.

Products: The products of this project will include a set of writing curriculum and instructional methods that can be used in community college remedial English composition courses and published reports.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This study takes place on two campuses of the Delaware Technical and Community College (DTCC).

Participants: Four full-time faculty members who teach remedial writing courses at the Stanton-Wilmington campus of DTCC will be recruited for the initial cycles of curriculum development and testing. An additional four full-time instructors of remedial writing courses at the Dover campus of DTTC will be recruited for the third round of development and testing. During the final pilot testing of the curriculum, each of the instructors will implement the curriculum in his or her classroom, leading to a total of 120 students participating in the pilot testing.

Intervention: The curriculum will be developed, tested, and piloted over the course of three years in four cycles. The final curriculum will focus on self-regulation strategies following the Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) model (Graham & Harris 2005). Specifically, the curriculum will include planning and revising strategies for selected text structures, such as . persuasive and informative writing. The planning strategy will direct students to consider audience, purpose, and other task demands; set goals for specific parts of the paper; use text structure to generate and organize content; and elaborate as they draft the paper. The curriculum will also include a summarization strategy and an overall self-regulation strategy designed to support students in coordinating their use of strategies and in generalizing their learning to academic writing tasks elsewhere in their college program. Additionally, the curriculum will include sentence building and sentence combining activities with a strong emphasis on applying such activities in the context of students' own writing in order to help students improve their grammar and writing conventions.

Research Design and Methods: The curriculum will be designed iteratively over the course of 3 years in 4 cycles. During each of these cycles, the research team will work collaboratively with teachers and students and will draw upon multiple methods of data collection and analysis, both quantitative and qualitative, to analyze how teachers and students understand the instruction; how aspects of the instruction enhance and interfere with learning, and how it affects student learning. The iterative design has both mini-cycles, based on frequent discussion with teachers to allow for immediate adjustments to the curriculum, and macro-cycles, based on periodic thorough reviews and revisions of the intervention using student outcome data and teacher and advisory board input. The first three cycles focus on developing the curriculum, and the fourth focuses on piloting it.

Control Condition: There is no control condition.

Key Measures: Student outcomes are measured by the extent to which students are achieving the overall pedagogical goal of initial competence in academic writing; whether they are being prepared to participate successfully in regular composition courses; and whether they are acquiring the discourse knowledge, strategic processes, self-regulation, basic writing skills, and motivation needed for effective writing. Measures used to capture these student outcomes include essay writing tasks modeled on the National Assessment of Educational Progress; the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement: Third Edition; a self-efficacy survey; student interviews; and student writing assignments generated during the course. In addition, information about classroom instruction and processes will be gathered using faculty interviews, participant observations of classes, and instructor logs.

Data Analytic Strategy: Analysis of student outcomes will use pretest—post-test comparisons with students nested in classrooms for the multiple measures listed above. Attrition analysis will evaluate differences between students who stay and leave. Fidelity of implementation will be summarized by teacher, and qualitative analyses will be used to understand reasons for deviations from the curriculum.

During the first three cycles of the development, the researchers will use the data and insights collected from the teachers and advisory board during the mini- and macro-level cycles to further refine the curriculum.

During pilot testing, the research questions will focus on the feasibility and potential efficacy of the curriculum. The questions about student writing achievement and learning outcomes will remain the same as in formative evaluation, and the pretest and posttest assessments of students will be analyzed in the same manner as in previous cycles. Fidelity of implementation will be analyzed using teacher responses to checklists that document whether specific components of the curriculum and the activities within those components were taught.


Book chapter

MacArthur, C.A., and Philippakos, Z.A. (2012). Strategy Instruction With College Basic Writers: A Design Study. In C. Gelati, B. Arfe, and L. Mason (Eds.), Issues in Writing Research (pp. 87–106). Padova: CLEUP.

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Macarthur, C.A., and Philippakos, Z.A. (2013). Self-Regulated Strategy Instruction in Developmental Writing: A Design Research Project. Community College Review, 41(2): 176–195.

MacArthur, C.A., Philippakos, Z.A., and Graham, S. (2016). A Multi-Component Measure of Writing Motivation With Basic College Writers. Learning Disability Quarterly, 39(1), 31–43.

MacArthur, C. A., Philippakos, Z. A., and Ianetta, M. (2015). Self-Regulated Strategy Instruction in College Developmental Writing. Journal of Educational Psychology, 107(3), 855–867.