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IES Grant

Title: Investigating the Impact of Classroom Instruction and Literacy Skills on Writing Achievement in First Grade
Center: NCER Year: 2011
Principal Investigator: Coker, David Awardee: University of Delaware
Program: Literacy      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years Award Amount: $1,496,813
Type: Exploration Award Number: R305A110484

Co-Principal Investigator: Charles A. MacArthur and Elizabeth Farley-Ripple

Purpose: Elementary schools generally, and first grade in particular, provide students with critical instruction in early literacy skills. This project is designed to explore how various types and amounts of reading and writing instruction are related to student writing outcomes in first grade and to examine whether the effects of instruction are moderated by students' incoming reading and writing skills and demographic characteristics (socioeconomic status). Research on early writing development and primary-grade reading and writing instruction informs this exploratory study.

Project Activities: In this 4-year project, researchers will investigate the relationship of writing and reading instruction to students' writing outcomes in first grade. In the first year, researchers will refine and pilot an observational protocol in participating schools. During years two and three, data on teachers' instruction and students' achievement will be collected. The data will be used to model the relationship of instruction to writing outcomes and to investigate whether the role of instruction is moderated by students' incoming literacy skills and demographic characteristics. The fourth year will be used for data analysis, dissemination of results and professional development for participating schools.

Products: Products include a thorough description of practices for writing instruction related to writing outcomes in first grade. Peer reviewed publications will also be produced.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This study will be conducted in 50 first-grade classrooms drawn from 32 elementary schools in 2 large school districts in northern Delaware.

Population: The sample for this study will include at least 6 students from each of 50 classrooms for a total of 300 students. Students will be invited to participate based on their incoming literacy skill to ensure that students with low, middle, and high skill level are sampled for the project.

Intervention: There is no intervention.

Research Design and Methods: The following research questions will be addressed: (1) What is the relationship between classroom writing and reading instruction, and writing achievement in first grade? and (2) How is writing instruction conducted in first grade, including detailed information about allocated time, writing tasks, and instructional methods? Data on first-grade students' writing and reading skills, writing knowledge and motivation will be collected at the beginning and end of the school year. Information on classroom instruction will be gathered through multiple sources including four observations during the school year, and teacher interviews to assess teachers' self efficacy, theoretical orientation toward writing, and teaching background. During the first year of the project, further work will be conducted to refine the classroom observational protocol to ensure that it is comprehensive and can be applied reliably. Years two and three of the study will be devoted to collecting student and classroom data with data collection occurring in 25 different classrooms in each year. The final year of the project will be devoted to data analysis, dissemination, and professional development.

Control Condition: There is no control condition.

Key Measures: Student reading and writing skills will be measured using DIBELS, the Woodcock-Johnson III Test of Achievement (spelling, writing fluency and quality, decoding, and reading comprehension), the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test—Fourth Edition and the Expressive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test. Classroom observations and teacher interviews and surveys will be used to describe writing and reading instruction and related aspects of the classroom environment. Students' and teachers' knowledge about and attitudes toward writing will also be assessed.

Data Analytic Strategy: Data analysis will rely on hierarchical linear modeling to investigate the relationship between writing instruction and writing outcomes and to assess whether this relationship depends on students' incoming skills and demographics.


Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Wen, H., & Coker, D. L. (2020). The role of discourse knowledge in writing among first graders. Journal of Writing Research. 12(2), 453–484.

Coker, D., Jr., Farley-Ripple, E., Jackson, A., Wen, H., MacArthur, C., & Jennings, A. (2016). Writing instruction in first grade: An observational study. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 29(5), 793–832. ERIC Number: ED577113 Direct link:

Coker, D. L., Jennings, A. S., Farley-Ripple, E., & MacArthur, C.A. (2018). The type of writing instruction and practice matters: The direct and indirect effects of writing instruction and student practice on reading achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 110(4), 502–507.

Coker, D. L., Jennings, A. S., Farley-Ripple, E., & MacArthur, C.A. (2018). When practice matters more than instruction: The relationship between typical writing instruction, student practice, and writing achievement in first grade. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 54, 235–246.

Coker, D. L., Ritchey, K. D., Uribe-Zarain, X., & Jennings, A. S. (2018). An analysis of first-grade writing profiles and their relationship to compositional quality. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 51(4), 336–350.