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IES Grant

Title: For Argument's Sake: Applying Questioning the Author Techniques to Move from Comprehension to composition of Written Arguments
Center: NCER Year: 2015
Principal Investigator: Crosson, Amy Awardee: University of Pittsburgh
Program: Reading and Writing      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (7/1/2015-6/30/2018) Award Amount: $1,495,246
Goal: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A150201

Co-Principal Investigators: Margaret G. McKeown, Lindsay Claire Matsumura, Richard Correnti

Purpose: In this project, researchers will develop and test an intervention to support middle school students' argument writing skills. The ability to write a strong argument is an important skill for adults in college and in their careers, but many students are not taught how to write a strong argument. Building off the intervention called Questioning the Author—which was designed to help students' reading comprehension by improving the quality of classroom discussion—the new intervention, called Triple Q, will use questions designed to help students focus their attention on the gist of a text, the features of a good argument, and language choices that help an author communicate his or her point. Once students have learned about how to make a good argument, they will practice by writing argumentative essays.

Project Activities: The researchers will spend the first two years of the project developing the Triple Q intervention, which is made up of three units. After developing each unit, the researchers will test the unit with a small group of teachers and students to see how the intervention is working. Researchers will interview teachers and students, look at transcripts of teachers' lessons, and read students' writing samples to determine if the unit is working or if changes need to be made. In Year 3, researchers will test whether or not the intervention shows promise to improve students' argument writing skills. Students in 6th through 8th grade will either receive Triple Q or will receive whatever is typical practice in their classrooms.

Products: The products of this project include a fully developed Triple Q intervention for 6th through 8th grade children and peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This project will take place in an urban school district in Pennsylvania.

Sample: Iterative development will involve 14 teachers and about 350 students in 6th through 8th grade. The pilot test will be conducted with 34 teachers and approximately 850 students in 6th through 8th grade.

Intervention: Triple Q is designed to help middle school students improve their argumentative writing by using queries from the fully-developed Questioning the Author intervention to focus students' attention on text gist, argument features, and language choice. The queries guide students' planning, drafting, and revising activities with their own writing. The intervention will include text sets for analysis, text discussion, cross-text discussion to examine argumentation across multiple texts, extended writing tasks, feedback from teachers and peers, and revision of writing. Triple Q contains three units, each lasting 10 days.

Research Design and Methods: The research team will develop the intervention iteratively. After the first unit is developed, the researchers will test the unit with a small group of teachers and students. Using teaching and student interviews, lesson transcripts, and student writing samples, the researchers will make revisions to the first unit. Researchers will develop the second and third units based on a topic identified by the students, and will follow the same iterative development process used with the first unit. The pilot study will be a randomized control trial with school-level random assignment. All the teachers and students within a school will be randomly assigned to receive either Triple Q or standard school instruction.

Control Condition: In the pilot study, the control group will receive standard classroom instruction.

Key Measures: Researchers will use interviews with students and teachers, lesson transcripts, and student writing samples during the iterative development process to make revisions to the intervention. For the pilot study, researchers will use three student outcome measures. First, the research team will use the Instructional Quality Assessment to measure text-based discussions in the classroom. Second, the Response to Text Assessment is designed to assess students' ability to read a text and then write a text-based argument. Researchers will use this as an outcome measure of students' argument writing skills. Finally, researchers will use the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, a standardized test administered by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to students in grades three through eight every spring.

Data Analytic Strategy: To address questions of feasibility and usability during the development phase, researchers will qualitatively examine teacher interviews and lesson transcripts including affixing thematic codes to transcripts and identifying patterns and themes in interviews. For the pilot study, the researchers will use a two-level multi-level model with teachers at level 1 and schools at level 2 to examine the promise of Triple Q to impact the quality of classroom discussions. The research team will use, a three-level multi-level model with students at level 1, teachers at level 2, and schools at level 3 to examine the promise of Triple Q to improve student outcomes.