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IES Grant

Title: Peer Assisted Writing Strategies (PAWS)
Center: NCER Year: 2012
Principal Investigator: Puranik, Cynthia Awardee: Georgia State University
Program: Reading and Writing      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (7/1/2012-6/30/2015) Award Amount: $1,177,128
Goal: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A140701

Co-Principal Investigator: Christopher Lemons

Previous Award Number: R305A120368

Previous Institution: University of Pittsburgh

Purpose: While both reading and writing are necessary for success in school and the workplace, the vast majority of research and intervention development has focused on reading skills. Most of this research suggests that early intervention is important to improving reading achievement. However, less is known about writing, and fewer interventions have been developed to help students learn to write. Still, research in writing that has been completed to date suggests that early intervention may be important. Before learning how to compose long texts, children must first learn skills such as transcription (mechanics of writing, such as spelling and handwriting) and text-generation (translating thoughts into text). The current project aims to develop a writing intervention for kindergarten children. Building on the Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS) framework, this new writing intervention, Peer Assisted Writing Strategies (PAWS) will allow for increased learning time as pairs of students are asked to work together to complete highly structured activities aimed at increasing writing skill.

Project Activities: The goals of this project are to develop, design, field test, and provide feasibility data regarding a kindergarten writing intervention. The study will involve five phases: development, exploratory implementation, refined implementation, a pilot test of feasibility, and wrap-up and final modifications. The implementation phases and pilot study will involve 90 to 135 kindergarten students each, and modifications to the intervention will be made between each implementation based on the data collected. Each implementation phase and the pilot study will include a group of comparison classrooms, and students' progress in writing will be compared between the intervention and comparison classrooms. Data used for the refinement of the intervention will include teacher focus groups and interviews, assessment of videotaped lessons, and student writing outcomes.

Products: The final product of this study will be the fully-developed PAWS writing intervention for kindergarten students. Peer reviewed publications will also be produced.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This study will be conducted in urban and suburban school districts in Pennsylvania.

Sample: Participants will include approximately 360 kindergarten students.

Intervention: The intervention will incorporate five principles of instructional design: (1) explicit instruction with extensive modeling by the teacher; (2) multiple opportunities for children to practice; (3) integration of reading and writing through unifying themes; (4) brief, developmentally-appropriate activities to boost engagement; and (5) use of peer assisted learning strategies. Lessons will be designed to last approximately 30 minutes, and will occur three days each week over 16 weeks. Weekly lessons will include letter writing automaticity instruction, spelling lessons, and instruction regarding composition of sentences and paragraphs. Students will work in pairs to practice writing. High achieving and low achieving students will be paired together, with the higher-achieving student first serving as a Coach and the lower-performing student first serving as Writer. Children in each pair will take turns being Coach and Writer, and pairs will be reassigned every 4–6 weeks.

Research Design and Methods: This project involves an iterative developmental design including the development of lessons, two phases of implementation, a feasibility pilot study, and final revisions. During the two implementation phases, students receiving the intervention will be compared to students in regular classrooms on improvement in writing skills, based on a pre-test. Interviews and focus groups with teachers will help the researchers to determine revisions to be made to the intervention. The feasibility pilot phase will also use pre- and post-intervention assessments of students' writing in treatment and comparison classrooms, and focus groups with teachers will provide information regarding feasibility. Classroom observation and videotaping will be used to assess fidelity of implementation.

Control Condition: In both implementation phases and the pilot study, 45 students in business-as-usual classrooms will serve as the comparison group.

Key Measures: To assess students' writing at pre- and post-intervention, students will complete the Basic Writing and the Contextual Writing subtests of the Test of Early Written Language, Second Edition; the Spelling subtest of the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement, Third Edition; and the Letter Naming Fluency, Phonemic Segmentation Fluency, and Nonsense Word Fluency subtests of the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills. Additionally, handwriting automaticity will be assessed using alphabet and sentence copying tasks, and composition will be assessed with sentence writing and essay writing tasks. Fidelity checklists will be used throughout implementation.

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will assess whether or not the intervention is associated with improvements in handwriting fluency, spelling, and composition using a residualized change analysis of covariance with a follow-up clustering correction to account for the nesting of students within classrooms. Repeated measures analysis of variance will be used to examine the change from pre- to post-test on writing and spelling to determine if children in the intervention classrooms improved more than would be expected from maturation alone. Finally, multilevel modeling will be used to examine individual differences in pre-test skills to predict response to the intervention.