What Does Research Tell Us About Effective Writing ...
What Does Research Tell Us About Effective Writing Instruction for
Students with Learning Disabilities?
Sara Mills, George Mason University
Highly Effective Strategies (ES > .80, PND > 90%):
Strategy instruction: Effects reported across meta-analyses ranged
from ES = .93 to 2.51, and PND = 84-100%
Strategy instruction has high maintenance (ES = 1.32) and
generalization (ES = .93-1.13, PND = 85%) effects
Peer support and teacher-implemented instruction are beneficial
The importance of including self-regulation components within
strategy instruction was rated as modest to critical across
Findings were consistent across grade levels and writing genres
Teaching text structures: ES = 1.11
Revision instruction: ES = .9, PND = 83-100%
Reinforcement: PND = 96% (Note that this finding was reported in
only one meta-analysis.)
There is mounting concern about the writing skills of students at the
national level (Rogers & Graham, 2008) prompting a focus on evidencebased interventions for writing. Meta-analyses and narrative reviews
summarize bodies of research to provide information about instructional
strategies with high, moderate, and small effects. This mega-analyses of
writing research combines results of 11 research syntheses of writing
instruction for students with learning disabilities. Results indicate that
strategy instruction, instruction in the structural elements of text, revision
instruction, and reinforcement are highly effective interventions for
students with LD. Furthermore, moderate effects were found across
meta-analyses for grammar instruction, word processing, and handwriting
and spelling instruction. Limited information is available about empirical
studies focused on beginning writers and writers at the secondary and
There are several writing intervention programs with lines of research
supporting their effectiveness for students with learning disabilities, such
as Graham and Harriss self-regulated strategy development, Englerts
cognitive strategy instruction in writing, and Wongs interactive dialogues
(Mason & Graham, 2008).
A number of meta-analyses of writing intervention research for students
with LD have been conducted over the years, which have a variety of
purposes, focus on different age groups, and analyze different primary
1.What information is available from the writing meta-analyses and
narrative reviews of writing for students with LD?
2.What interventions are consistently identified as having large
(ES > .80, PND > 90%), moderate (ES = .50, PND = 70-90%), and small (ES
= .20, PND = 0-70%) effects on improving the writing skills of students with
Search Procedures: (a) PsychINFO and ERIC databases searched in
September 2009 using keyword terms written expression, writing, special
education, learning disability, meta-analysis, research synthesis, and
review; (b) Ancestry searches of meta-analyses and other relevant studies
Inclusion Criteria: (1) Focus on writing intervention research; (2) Include
students with LD; and (3) Focus only on writing
Exclusion Criteria: (1) Reviews of characteristics of students with LD in
writing (e.g., McMaster & Espin, 2007; Pajares, 2003); (2) Primary studies
included students with disabilities, but no analysis of findings by disability
status was provided (e.g., Graham & Perin, 2007); (3) Reviews focused on
multiple curricular areas (e.g., Fitzgerald, Mitchem, & Koury, 2008;
Vaughn, Gersten, & Chard, 2000); and (4) Narrative reviews of authors
own lines of research (e.g., MacArthur, 2009; Schumaker & Deshler, 2003)
Final Sample: These search procedures yielded 42 articles and book
chapters. Of these, 11 met the inclusion criteria. The final sample
included 9 journal articles and 2 book chapters. Five focused exclusively
on students with LD. Six were meta-analyses and 5 were narrative. Nine
of 11 reviews were published within the last 10 years; 5 were published
within the last 5 years.
What Works for Students with LD
Description of Research Syntheses:
Purpose: 4 reviews examined writing strategies for students with LD across age levels, 3
reviews focused on specific age groups, and 4 focused exclusively on strategy
Types of studies: 2 reviews included group experimental and quasi-experimental
designs, 1 included only single-subject studies, 7 included both types of research (n=1
and experimental), and 1 review did not specify the types of studies included
Number of primary studies: 6 reviews included 1-25 primary studies, 4 reviews
included 26-50 primary studies, and 1 had more than 51 primary studies
Student population: 5 reviews included only students with LD, 2 included students
with and without LD, and 4 specifically included the full range of writers (i.e., high-,
medium-, and low-achieving, and LD)
Intensity and duration: Only De La Paz (2007) analyzed information about intensity
and duration of interventions, concluding that longer interventions resulted in larger
Types of measures: 7 reviews analyzed results of criterion referenced test, 3 reviews
looked at both criterion and norm reference test. Gersten & Baker (2001) found
higher ES for standardized measures than for experimenter-developed measures (ES
= 1.17 vs. ES = .74).
Instructional Strategies with Small Effects (ES = .20, PND = 0-70%; Note that
these findings were reported in only one meta-analysis):
Prewriting activities (PND = 52%)
Self-monitoring (PND = 51%)
Moderately Effective Strategies (ES = .50, PND = 70-90%):
Instruction in grammar (PND = 83%) and mechanics. This finding is in contrast to
results from meta-analyses of writing for students without disabilities that have
found grammar instruction to have little effect on students writing skills (e.g.,
Graham & Perin, 2007)
Word processing (ES = .79, PND = 70%)
Research on spelling and handwriting is limited, but suggests that it is useful for
students with LD at elementary grades
Strategy instruction is effective for both elementary- and secondaryaged students across different genres of writing. It involves teaching
students explicit strategies for learning the steps of the writing process,
and provides modeling, guided practice, and independent practice to
master these skills. Strategy instruction programs for writing often
include explicit instruction in text structures.
Instruction in text structure elements is highly effective. For example,
the structure of opinion essays includes a topic sentence, reasons,
explanations, and an ending. Each writing genre has a text structure that
can be explicitly taught (e.g., story writing, compare-contrast).
Instruction in all parts of the writing process planning, drafting, and
revising is effective.
Examples of strategy instruction programs in writing:
Strategic Instruction Model (SIM) for Writing: Includes strategies for explicitly
teaching sentence writing, paragraph writing, error monitoring, and using wordprocessing spell checkers to remediate specific skill deficits
Self-regulated Strategy Development (SRSD): Combines strategy instruction in
writing with instruction in self-regulation skills (i.e., goal setting, self-instruction,
self-monitoring, and self-reinforcement)
Cognitive Strategy Instruction in Writing: Teaches text structures and provides
think sheets to promote self-instruction throughout the planning, organizing,
writing, editing, and revising phases of the writing process.
Interactive dialogues: Utilizes student-student dialogues during the planning and
revising phases and/or student-teacher dialogues during revising to enhance the
strategic writing process.
Writing instruction for kindergarten-aged students
Writing instruction for secondary students with LD
Empirical studies of writing interventions for college-age students with
Optimal intensity and duration of intervention, and differences in
results based on size of instructional group
For a full list of references cited on this poster, please see the back of the
handout or email Sara Mills at [email protected]
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