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IES Grant

Title: Writing Across Levels of Language (WALL) in First Grade
Center: NCER Year: 2021
Principal Investigator: Coker, David Awardee: University of Delaware
Program: Literacy      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (07/01/2021 – 06/30/2025) Award Amount: $189,0271
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A210202

Co-Principal Investigator: Ritchey, Kristen

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to revise and pilot test a first-grade writing program, called Writing Across Levels of Language (WALL). This project builds on the findings of an IES funded Exploration project (Investigating the Impact of Classroom Instruction and Literacy Skills on Writing Achievement in First Grade). First-grade students struggle with the demands of writing, making it difficult for them to meet most state writing standards. Students have been found to struggle with writing at the letter, word, sentence, and multiple sentences levels. The research team will revise and expand an existing set of lessons to develop an 18-week instructional program for the beginning of first grade. The lessons target handwriting, spelling, academic language, sentence writing, and composing multiple sentences to prepare students for the challenges of composing. At the end of the project, the WALL program will be fully developed, the feasibility and usability of implementing the program will be evaluated, and there will be data on its initial promise.

Project Activities: The research team will collaborate with two school districts and one charter school in Delaware. In Year 1, the team will revise the lessons with input from participating teachers and our advisory board. Then in Year 2, they will investigate the feasibility and usability of implementing WALL with 10 first-grade teachers. In Year 3, the team will assess the initial promise of the WALL program with an underpowered randomized control trial.  They will assign twenty-six first-grade teachers to either teach the WALL lessons or to use their business-as-usual writing instruction. The team will provide professional development and coaching during the school year for teachers who teach the WALL program. Student data collected in both treatment and control classrooms will provide pretest and posttest data that the team will use to estimate the impact of the WALL program on student writing outcomes. In Year 4 of the project, the research team will provide professional development and coaching in the WALL program to teachers who were not trained to use the lessons.

Products: Products include a fully developed, multifaceted writing curriculum, the WALL program, available in print and digital formats. This curriculum will provide teachers clear guidance in how to teach students to write complete sentences and multiple-sentence responses independently. The WALL  program is designed to prepare young writers for the challenges of composing. The research team will disseminate information about the program and its initial promise through multiple channels, including a project website, social media, publications for educators, and peer-reviewed journals. This dissemination plan will help us communicate the findings with researchers, educators, policymakers, and parents.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The research team will collaborate with two school districts and one charter school in the state of Delaware. The schools span urban and suburban regions of the state.

Population/Sample: In Year 1, 5-7 first-grade teachers and their students will participate  in the revision process. The usability and feasibility field trial in Year 2 will include 10 new teachers and their students. In Year 3, 26 new teachers from a different district and the charter school program and their students will be included in the pilot study of initial promise. Across the four years of the project, 41-43 first-grade teachers and their students will be invited to participate in the sample. The schools have a demographically and academically diverse student body.

Intervention: The 18-week, WALL instructional program is planned for the first half of first grade. It is based on a theoretically- and empirically supported model of early writing to strengthen core writing skills and knowledge (i.e., handwriting, spelling, oral language, and self- regulation) in a whole-class setting. The lessons will focus on oral sentence generation, handwriting, spelling, academic language, and sentence writing. By the end of the program, students learn to write multiple sentence responses to prompts and to cite evidence from both narrative and expository texts. Teachers provide explicit instruction in core writing skills and then provide extensive support and multiple opportunities for student practice.

Research Design and Methods: Multiple measures from teachers and students will inform the iterative development process in Year 1, and a small pilot with 5–7 teachers will also assess the program's feasibility.  In Year 2, researchers will evaluate the feasibility and usability of WALL with a field trial including 10 teachers and 5–7 students per class. In Year 3, they  will conduct an initial efficacy pilot using an underpowered randomized control trial in 26 classrooms with 10–15 students (N = 250–375) per classroom. The research team will use pretest and posttest measures of writing skills and oral language to determine baseline equivalence and estimate impacts on student learning gains.

Control Condition:  Researchers will randomly select classrooms for either the treatment or control conditions in the Year 3 initial efficacy pilot. The control classrooms will continue with their business-as-usual writing curriculum. In Year 4, teachers in the control classrooms will receive professional development and coaching in the WALL program.

Key Measures: The research team will collect teacher data on lesson implementation, including logs, feedback forms, and instructional observations and refine the lessons to assess usability, feasibility, and fidelity. Student midpoint assessments and work samples will inform the revision process (Year 1) and the field trial (Year 2). During the initial efficacy pilot (Year 3), student achievement measures aligned with the instructional goals of the intervention include assessments of oral language, handwriting, spelling, sentence writing, and composition with a combination of standardized and researcher-developed measures.

Data Analytic Strategy: Qualitative data on teacher implementation (including interviews and observations) and student assessment data will guide the development process. The qualitative analysis will rely on a deductive process informed by research on implementation science. The research team will Quantitative student data from the pilot study will be analyzed using multilevel models to assess the promise of WALL. Moderators of interest include fidelity of implementation and initial student achievement.

Cost Analysis: The cost analysis will use an "ingredients approach" evaluate the total cost of implementation, which encompasses training, teacher time, and all associated materials.

Related IES Projects: Investigating the Impact of Classroom Instruction and Literacy Skills on Writing Achievement in First Grade (R305A110484)