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IES Grant

Title: Written Language Problems in Middle School Students: A Randomized Trial of the Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) Model Using a Tier 2 Intervention
Center: NCER Year: 2012
Principal Investigator: Hooper, Stephen Awardee: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Program: Cognition and Student Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (3/1/2012-2/29/2016) Award Amount: $3,106,789
Goal: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305A120145

Purpose: Writing may be considered a problem solving process because it requires the higher-order cognitive activities of planning and knowledge transfer. Success at writing may require explicit writing instruction, explicit self-regulation instruction (including the development of strategies such as goal setting and self-monitoring), and the development of positive self-efficacy about writing. The Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) model encompasses each of these major areas of learning to write. The purpose of the study is to examine the efficacy of a SRSD intervention in a randomized trial using small groups of sixth grade students. Evidence of the utility of the SRSD model is strong, but interventions using the model have only begun to be examined in randomized, small group designs with elementary and middle school populations. The project has three specific aims: (1) to test the efficacy of the SRSD on the development of writing in students at-risk for writing difficulties; (2) to test whether the SRSD treatment effect is moderated by covariates such as students' gender, race, socioeconomic status, attention/hyperactivities, reading ability, classroom climate, and cognitive functioning; and (3) to test whether the positive impact of the SRSD intervention is mediated through changes in attention/executive function.

Project Activities: The efficacy of the SRSD model intervention will be tested using a randomized cohort design. In each of three years, the project team will recruit about 100 sixth grade students at risk for writing problems. Half of the participants from each year will be randomly assigned to the treatment group (implementation of the SRSD intervention) and half will be randomly assigned to the control group (participation in a free writing activity for the same amount of time each week as the treatment group). Pre- and post-intervention assessments will be administered to all students in the treatment and control groups, as well as a follow-up conducted nine months later, in the spring of students' seventh grade year.

Products: Products will include findings on the evidence of the efficacy of the intervention, on moderators of the efficacy, and on whether the effect is mediated by executive function and/or attention. Peer reviewed publications will also be produced describing the effects of the SRSD intervention on the written language abilities of sixth grade students at-risk for writing difficulties.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This study will take place in all three middle schools in a single rural/suburban public school system in North Carolina.

Sample: The study participants will include approximately 300 sixth grade students at risk for writing problems.

Intervention: The Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) intervention is a fully-developed intervention predicated on the idea that students need explicit instruction regarding writing and self-regulation of writing activities. The focus of the SRSD is on teaching and honing higher-order cognitive functions (i.e. planning). An example strategy taught to students in the treatment group will be the POW-TREE (Pick my idea, Organize my notes, Write and say more; Topic sentence, Reasons, Explain reasons, Ending), which helps students learn how to write an opinion essay and use a graphic organizer such as an outline. A second strategy is SCAN (does it make Sense? Is it Connected to my belief? Can you Add more? Note errors?), through which students learn how to use checklists during the revision of revise an opinion essay. The SRSD is designed to be carried out in two 25-minute sessions per week. While the current study will test the SRSD intervention when delivered to small groups of students as a supplemental educational activity, implementation by teachers in larger classrooms would also likely be feasible.

Research Design and Methods: This study will employ a randomized cohort design with a nine-month follow-up. In each of three years, the project team will recruit sixth grade students at risk for writing problems by identifying those students who fall below the 25th percentile on the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test-III (WIAT-III) Written Language Composite and the Test of Written Language-4 (TOWL-4) assessments. The team anticipates recruiting 100 at-risk students in each of the three years of the study. These students will be randomly assigned to either the treatment or control group. The treatment group will receive the SRSD intervention, which will be administered to ten groups of five students over the course of 12 weeks. Each week, two specific component strategies for writing and/or self-regulation will be taught to the students in the treatment group for a total of 24 sessions. Each session will last approximately 25 minutes. All students in the treatment and control groups will receive pre-test and post-test standardized measures of written language and cognitive functions. Students will receive the assessments again at the nine-month follow-up. Aspects of the social environment (e.g. socioeconomic status), the classroom (e.g. climate), and the student (e.g. reading skills, self-efficacy) will be evaluated as potential moderators of the association between the intervention and improved writing abilities. The cognitive functions (e.g., attention, executive functions) measures will also be tested as mediators.

Control Condition: The control condition will include 50 randomly-assigned students at risk for writing problems in each year (150 students total). These students will engage in a free writing activity for two sessions of 25 minutes each per week. The 25-minute sessions will allow time for both writing and sharing of work with other students in the group. Interventionists will provide general feedback on topics including: topic development; internal organization; conveying meaning; sentence construction; and mechanics. Feedback will be given on a Likert-type scale.

Key Measures: Measures for this study can be divided into a number of categories based on the aims of the study: (1) screening measures; (2) targeted outcome measures; (3) targeted nine-month follow-up measures; (4) moderator measures; and (5) mediator measures. WIAT-III Written Expression Subtest and TOWL-4 will be used to identify children who are at risk for writing problems. These measures will also be used as one targeted outcome measure, to be assessed during post-test and follow-up. Moderator measures will include the Process Assessment of the Learner-II (PAL-II) Sequential Finger Movements and PAL-II Alphabet Writing Subtests to assess fine motor function. The PAL-II Phonemes task, Word Choice task, and Rapid Letter naming will be used to assess language-related functions. Grammar will be assessed using the Test for the Reception of Grammar-2. Attention and executive functions will be measured using the Woodcock Johnson-III (WJ-III) Planning Subtest, the WJ-III Auditory Working Memory Subtest, and the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-IV Digit Span and Spatial Span Subtests. Child behavior and classroom climate will be assessed with the Child Behavior Checklist and the Classroom Climate Scale, respectively. The attention and executive functions assessments will also be used as mediators in the final analyses.

Data Analytic Strategy: To examine the efficacy of the SRSD intervention for improving students' writing outcomes, a multilevel analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) will be conducted. School indicators will be entered as fixed effects in the models. The ANCOVA analysis will be conducted with the post-test as an outcome and with the follow-up as an outcome. The analysis of whether the impact of the SRSD intervention varies by gender, race, socioeconomic status, attention/hyperactivity, reading level, and executive functioning will include an ANCOVA which includes both main effects and treatment interaction terms. Again, this analysis will be conducted using both the post-test and follow-up as outcome variables. Finally, in order to examine the possible mediating effect of attention/executive functions, the researchers will conduct a structural equation modeling (SEM) analysis. The SEM analysis will include a dummy code for assignment to the treatment group, and this analysis will be conducted twice, once with the post-test and once with the follow-up data.