UCI News

UCI gets $5 million to establish first national R&D center on improving writing skills

Focus will be on identifying best teaching practices in middle, high school classrooms

February 12, 2019
UCI gets $5 million to establish first national R&D center on improving writing skills
“In today’s information-driven society and knowledge-based economy, writing is a ubiquitous requirement for full civic and workforce participation,” says principal investigator Carol Booth Olson, professor of education and director of the UCI Writing Project. Steve Zylius / UCI

Irvine, Calif., Feb. 12, 2019 — The University of California, Irvine has received a five-year, $5 million Institute of Education Sciences grant from the U.S. Department of Education to establish the first national research and development center focused on improving the writing skills of middle and high school students.

The Writing Research to Improve Teaching and Evaluation Center for Secondary Students will conduct a study on academic writing in English language arts, science and history – in collaboration with researchers and subjects from the nearby Tustin Unified School District – and then create a professional development intervention program for teachers.

“In today’s information-driven society and knowledge-based economy, writing is a ubiquitous requirement for full civic and workforce participation,” said principal investigator Carol Booth Olson, professor of education and director of the UCI Writing Project. “Middle and high school teachers across all content areas must provide instruction in source-based, analytic writing skills appropriate for their discipline so that our students are prepared to meet the challenges they will face when they graduate and go to college or enter the workforce.”

The project involves two phases: exploration and development. In the first, the team will analyze writing samples from middle and high school students who took part in two earlier literacy intervention efforts, Pathway to Academic Success and the College, Career and Community Writers Program. The features of high-quality writing will be identified, and the specific aspects of those programs that are most effective in improving student writing will be determined.

Essays from Tustin eighth-grade science and 11th-grade history classes will be collected and compared to those by English language arts students. Classroom observations will be conducted so that researchers can gain an understanding of current instructional writing practices and assess prior teacher training.

In the development phase, the team will create, field-test and pilot a professional development intervention program for middle school science and high school history teachers, based on findings from the exploration phase. Strategies, tools and curriculum materials from Pathway to Academic Success and the College, Career and Community Writers Program most closely associated with improving student outcomes will be incorporated; and a small-scale, randomized control trial will be performed to evaluate the potential of this new intervention.

“The WRITE Center will also engage in leadership and outreach activities to provide resources and training for researchers and teachers,” Olson said. “We want to become a go-to research hub where teachers, researchers and policymakers can find information on the latest advances in improving the writing of secondary students. Preliminary findings, progress reports and methods – including instruments and measures – will be on our website, as well as a blog, annotated bibliographies, a research article of the month and book reviews.”

Among other awareness initiatives will be the inclusion of a research strand in the UCI Writing Project’s annual literacy conference, held each December. In addition, the center will collaborate with the National Writing Project to offer advanced summer institutes at which teachers, administrators and practitioners will be able to learn about the WRITE Center’s work. A series of videos that can be used as training modules – showcasing teachers implementing evidence-based practices – will be developed, and the team will also create research partnership opportunities for scholars at other universities.

Co-principal investigators are UCI professors of education Mark Warschauer and Young-Suk Kim; UCI associate professor of education Penelope Collins; Tanya Baker, national programs director at the National Writing Project; and Steve Graham, the Mary Emily Warner Professor of Education at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. UCI Distinguished Professor of education George Farkas and UCI professor of academic English Robin Scarcella are project co-investigators.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 36,000 students and offers 222 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.

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