Evidence-Based Teaching of Writing Practices
: A Survey and Intervention at Elementary and High School Level

  • Kelton Roy Green

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Educational Psychology


    Writing skills are important for social and civic participation, educational achievement and employment (European Commission, 2012). However, a third to a half of Scottish students did not attain required writing standards at upper elementary and lower high school grades in 2014 (Scottish Government, 2015). Similarly, many students do not obtain the required skills in the USA (Graham et al., 2014). This study aimed to improve the writing skills of mainstream upper elementary and lower high school students. It took place in a largely rural Local Authority in Southern Scotland which was mid-range on measures of deprivation. The literature was reviewed on effective writing interventions for school-aged mainstream students. The interventions with the largest impacts around the target grades were: CIRC (Durukan, 2011); Collaborative Dialogic Learning (Alfassi, 2009); CSRI (Torrance et al., 2007); Jigsaw (Sahin, 2011); individual IT access in lessons (Snyder, 1993); individual IT access at home and school (Lowther et al., 2003); peer assistance with revision (Boscoli et al.,2004); process and product goals (Schunk et al., 1993); SRSD (Brunstein et al., 2011); summarisation (Chang et al., 2002); visualisation/imagery instruction (Jampole et al., 1994).

    An online survey of teachers’ current practices and beliefs about the teaching of writing was administered. The response rate was 23% (N=345) of the 1490 Local Authority-employed teachers in the region. Notable findings were: the respondents’ most frequently used practice was grammar instruction, an ineffective intervention (Graham et al., 2012; Graham et al., 2007). Many were using some evidence-based practices but not at optimum frequencies, and some were never using some of them. About 40% of respondents felt students had insufficient IT to support their writing and most would use IT more frequently if they had more up-to-date equipment, better internet access and extra training. Under half of elementary and high school respondents with English degrees felt Initial Teacher Education was adequate preparation to teach writing, while only 29% of high school respondents without English degrees felt adequately prepared to teach writing. Most viewed In Service Education more favourably but substantial numbers of respondents still felt inadequately prepared, particularly high school teachers without English degrees. All the high school respondents with English degrees and 91% of elementary respondents felt they were effective teachers of writing, but only 48% of high school respondents without English degrees felt they were effective at teaching writing.

    An evidence-based intervention was developed, the six-week Write Away programme, which included writing strategy instruction, self-regulation strategies and peer revision. It shared many features with CSRI (Torrance et al., 2007) and SRSD (Harris et al., 2009). Distinctive differences included that it incorporated Boscolo et al.'s (2004) model of peer revision rather than the think alouds used in CSRI, pupils did not create their own self-regulatory statements, pupils did not collaborate during drafting, pupils needed not spend long planning provided they revised their work, the finished essays would be displayed and peer revision continued following the teaching phase.

    This study was quasi-experimental and used both quantitative and qualitative methods. Participation was offered to large elementary schools which had two P6 (grade 5) pupil-only classes to allow for control and intervention classes. Two schools volunteered. Which pupils were in which condition depended on which teachers delivered the interventions. The control classes in both schools followed an on-going parallel intervention – the Big Writing programme (Wilson, 2012). Both schools were in towns and had similar pupil numbers (Eastfield=390, Westfield =361). The percentage entitled to Free School Meals in P4 to P7 at Eastfield was 11.8%, at Westfield it was 9.9%. The average age of the pupils was 10 years 7 months and numbers of male and female participants were broadly the same. Participation was also offered to all the region’s high schools. Only one responded with the requisite conditions for participation. This school (roll= 544) was in the largest town in the region. The percentage entitled to Free School Meals was 13.8%. The average age of the S2 (grade 8) students was 13 years 6 months and there was a preponderance of female participants. The online survey had shown that intervening with non-English specialists might be beneficial. This was compared with delivery by, or in combination with, English teachers. Social Studies was chosen because of its writing demands. A control and three different intervention conditions were used: English teacher only; Social Studies teacher only; English teacher and Social Studies teacher. Which students were in which condition depended on which teachers delivered the interventions. This was determined by the school, either by self-selection or randomly.

    Measures at both elementary and high school were the same. Teacher and student questionnaires were administered pre and post-test. Participant students were given written tasks pre and post-test. The length of the written tasks and plans were recorded. The written tasks were assessed by the researcher using a rubric developed by the researcher. There was a post-test focus group of intervention teachers at each level. Implementation fidelity was assessed through teacher logs and lesson observations by the researcher. Descriptive statistics were produced for the pupil/student questionnaires, task and plan word lengths and the written task scores for different elements and overall writing quality. Responses to open questions were categorized into themes and tabulated where possible. The teachers’ responses in the focus groups were collated into themes. Intervention and control writing scores pre and post-test and task and plan word length were analysed using Student’s t-tests. Student questionnaire post-test responses from the different conditions were compared with a theoretical distribution of equal values using the Chi-square test. Effect sizes were calculated for mean pupil/student questionnaire responses, task and plan mean word lengths and written task scores. High school student questionnaire responses at post-test were analysed using the Mann-Whitney test because the students were unlikely to be normally distributed.

    The Write Away programme led to large positive effect sizes for writing quality at P6 (ES: Eastfield= 2.89, N=25; Westfield = 2.70, N=19) and S2 (ES: Social Studies intervention = 1.37, N= 17; Social Studies and English intervention= 1.20, N=20; English intervention = 0.87, N=21). Effect sizes at P6 were double those of the most successful condition at S2. The Social Studies teacher and elementary intervention teachers felt the intervention improved writing quality and intended to do it again. However, the English specialists did not feel it made an impact and did not like it. The intervention successfully included peer revision of each other’s texts (Boscolo et al., 2004) at both elementary and high school levels in a programme of strategy instruction and self-regulation which resulted in large writing quality improvements. The study showed that high school Non-English specialists could deliver interventions with large effects on writing quality. The Social Studies teacher delivered the intervention with the greatest fidelity, improved writing quality the most and reported an increase in understanding of the subject, especially for more able students. The survey showed a need for In Service and this intervention could be used at upper elementary level and with high school non-English specialists in the appropriate genres. This applies to the UK and USA. Implications for practice, policy and future research are further discussed. This was the first study to investigate writing strategy instruction and self-regulation as part of an evidence-based intervention in Scotland.
    Date of Award2017
    Original languageEnglish
    SponsorsDumfries and Galloway Council
    SupervisorKeith Topping (Supervisor) & Liz Lakin (Supervisor)


    • Writing Skills
    • Writing Strategy Instruction
    • Self-Regulation
    • School

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