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IES Grant

Title: Attention, Memory, and Executive Functions in Written Language Expression in Elementary School Children
Center: NCER Year: 2006
Principal Investigator: Hooper, Stephen Awardee: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Program: Cognition and Student Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years Award Amount: $1,596,398
Goal: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305H060042
Description:

Purpose: The development of students' writing skills presents a significant challenge for educators, particularly in this day of high-stakes testing and heightened accountability. Although an understanding of the underlying cognitive components of reading and associated instructional strategies has proliferated over the past 20 years, researchers have only begun to understand the factors that contribute to the development of written expression in the formative elementary school years. The primary purpose of this project is to establish a stronger scientific foundation for educational practice within the writing domain by utilizing recent advances in cognitive science and neuroscience to examine: (1) the ontogeny of writing skills (i.e., text generation) for children at-risk for writing problems and typically developing children; (2) the specific cognitive underpinnings of writing skills for children at-risk versus those not at-risk for writing problems, and how these relationships change over time with respect to a contemporary theoretical model of written expression (The Simple View of Writing); and (3) the impact of an evidence-based treatment program on the developmental trajectories of written expression in children at-risk for writing problems.

Project Activities: To address the specific research aims, the researchers will employ a longitudinal design that will examine: (1) written language development and writing problems for students in grades 1 to 4, and (2) the change in written language skills associated with a developmentally appropriate and evidence-based intervention. In grade 1, 120 students who are deemed at-risk for writing problems will be randomly assigned into a non-treatment at-risk group (n = 60) and a treatment at-risk group (n = 60). The treatment group will receive weekly developmentally appropriate interventions targeted to improve early writing skills, and will be followed longitudinally for the duration of the project, through the fourth grade. Utilizing the Simple View of Writing model, children will receive cognitive measures during each of the four years of the project that will assess linguistic functions, working memory, short and long term memory, attention, executive functions, and graphomotor speed and coordination.

Products: The products from this study include an intervention program for children at risk for writing problems, and published reports.

Structured Abstract

Purpose: The development of students' writing skills presents a significant challenge for educators, particularly in this day of high-stakes testing and heightened accountability. Although an understanding of the underlying cognitive components of reading and associated instructional strategies has proliferated over the past 20 years, researchers have only begun to understand the factors that contribute to the development of written expression in the formative elementary school years. The primary purpose of this project is to establish a stronger scientific foundation for educational practice within the writing domain by utilizing recent advances in cognitive science and neuroscience to examine: (1) the ontogeny of writing skills (i.e., text generation) for children at-risk for writing problems and typically developing children; (2) the specific cognitive underpinnings of writing skills for children at-risk versus those not at-risk for writing problems, and how these relationships change over time with respect to a contemporary theoretical model (the Simple View of Writing) of written expression; and (3) the impact of an evidence-based treatment program on the developmental trajectories of written expression in children at-risk for writing problems. The Simple View of Writing delineates a developmental sequence for writing skills: transcription (handwriting or letter production and spelling or word production); executive functions for planning, monitoring, and revising; and text generation (i.e., the main writing goal of the beginning writer).

Setting: The schools are located in a public school system in North Carolina.

Population: Participants will include a prospective group of first grade students (n = 180), 120 of whom are at-risk for writing problems, and a randomly selected sample of 60 who are not at-risk. Intervention students will be selected based on their at-risk status in written expression as defined by falling below the 25th percentile on the WIAT-II Written Expression Composite. The students will be followed longitudinally from the first through the fourth grades. The diversity of the groups will be facilitated by the selection of a school-based sample comprising a wide array of socioeconomic strata and ethnicities.

Intervention: Writing lesson plans from the Process Assessment of the Learner will be used for a randomly assigned group of students who are at-risk for writing problems. The treatment group will receive weekly developmentally appropriate, evidence-based interventions targeted to improve early writing skills in each of the four grades. In this intervention, at-risk students will receive: (a) in grade 1, 24 lesson plans focusing on handwriting automaticity, letter-word writing, and transfer to composition; in grade 2, 24 lesson plans focusing on alphabetic principle, phonemes to graphemes, transfer to word spelling, and composition; in grades 3 and 4, 38 lesson plans focusing on alphabetic principle for spelling, spelling context, structure of words, and expository writing in informational and persuasive essays. The initial interventions focus on the mechanics of writing letters and words; however, with advancing grades students will be asked to engage in more text generation and narrative transcription. These interventions follow a developmental sequence, and the researchers are testing the role of using this sequence to track how written expression changes over time.

Research Design and Methods: This project will employ a longitudinal design that will permit examination of: (1) written language development and writing problems for students in grades 1 to 4, and (2) the change in written language skills associated with a developmentally appropriate and evidence-based intervention. In grade 1, the 120 students who are deemed at-risk will be randomly assigned into a non-treatment at-risk group (n = 60) and a treatment at-risk group (n = 60).

Control Condition: The non-treatment at-risk group and the non-risk group will receive only the writing instruction offered by the regular curriculum.

Key Measures: Utilizing the Simple View of Writing model, children will receive cognitive measures during each of the four years of the project that will assess linguistic functions, working memory, short and long term memory, attention, executive functions, and graphomotor speed and coordination. Selected aspects of the social environment (e.g., socioeconomic status) and associated child (e.g., reading skills, ADHD) and classroom variables (teacher-student relationships) also will be examined.

Data Analytic Strategy: Key data analyses will include use of growth curve modeling of written expression for all three groups, with a particular focus on the treatment at-risk group.

Publications from this project:

Hooper, S.R., Roberts, J.E., Nelson, L., Zeisel, S., and Kasambira, D. (2010). Preschool Predictors of Narrative Writing Skills in Elementary School Children. School Psychology Quarterly, 25: 1–12.

Hooper, S.R., Roberts, J.E., Sideris, J., Burchinal, M., and Zeisel, S. (2010). Longitudinal Predictors of Reading and Math Skills for African-American Youth across Two Studies: An Examination of Similar Predictors at Different Developmental Time Points. Developmental Psychology, 46 (5): 1018–1029.

Zins, J.M., and Hooper, S.R. (2012). The Interrelationship Of Child Development and Written Language Development. In E. L. Grigorenko, E. Mambrino, D. D. Preiss (Eds.), Writing: A Mosaic Of New Perspectives (pp. 47–64). New York, NY US: Psychology Press.


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