IPEELL writing intervention finds scale-up challenging

The Education Endowment Foundation has published the results of a randomised controlled trial of IPEELL

The IPEELL intervention is a writing process model in which pupils are encouraged to plan, draft, edit, and revise their writing. IPEELL stands for Introduction, Point, Explain, Ending, Links, and Language. The strategy provides a clear structure to assist writers and can be used for most genres of writing, including narrative writing. In addition to the writing process, the IPEELL intervention also involves ‘memorable experiences’ for pupils designed to act as a stimulus for their writing.

The trial tested the impact of one year of IPEELL for children in Year 6 and the impact of two years of IPEELL for children who started it in Year 5 and continued in Year 6. In total, 84 schools and 2,682 children in the north of England participated in the one-year trial and 83 schools and 2,762 children participated in the two-year trial. Writing outcomes were measured using Key Stage 2 (KS2) writing outcomes for the one-year trial and a bespoke writing test based on historic KS2 writing tests for the two-year trial.

The results showed that pupils who used IPEELL for two years made more progress in writing (effect size = +0.11) than pupils who did not. However, they made less progress in reading, spelling and mathematics than pupils in the control group (ES = -0.17—0.30). Pupils who used IPEELL for one year made less progress in writing, reading, spelling and maths than comparison pupils.

A previous trial of the approach had shown large positive results, but there were important differences between the two trials. In this latest trial, the model used teacher trainers who had never seen IPEELL delivered in the classroom. It also measured the average impact across all pupils, while the first looked only at pupils with low prior attainment. In this latest trial, pupils with low prior attainment who used IPEELL for two years made more progress in writing (effect size = +0.26) than pupils who did not – a larger effect size than the figure for all pupils.

Source: Calderdale Excellence Partnership: IPEELL evaluation report and executive summary (November 2018), Education Endowment Foundation

Reducing achievement gaps in academic writing

A study published in Journal of Educational Psychology reports on two years of findings from a randomised controlled trial of the Pathway Project, an intervention designed to reduce achievement gaps in academic writing for pupils who are Latino or have English as an Additional Language (EAL).

Ninety-five teachers from 16 secondary schools in the Anaheim Union High School District – a large, diverse, low-socioeconomic status, urban district with over 33,000 pupils (60% Latino and 66% EAL) – were randomly assigned to the treatment (Pathway) or control condition. Teachers in the Pathway group took part in a 46-hour professional development programme where they were trained to help improve pupils’ interpretative reading and text-based analytical writing using a cognitive strategies approach.

Findings from the study show promising results in both years of the intervention that appear to close the achievement gap in writing outcomes for Latino pupils and EALs in grades 7 to 12 (Years 8-13). In the first year of the trial, Pathway pupils gained 0.99 points more for an on-demand academic writing assessment than control pupils, which was highly statistically significant. Significant effects were attained for all grade levels except 12th grade (Year 13). The second year also showed a large positive, significant effect of the intervention on the full sample. Pre- and post-test scores for the academic writing assessment showed an effect size of +0.48 in the first year and +0.60 in the second year.

Programme effects were positive and significant for all the language groups, with the very largest occurring for EALs. This suggests that the Pathway Project may be particularly beneficial for pupils still in the process of learning English. In addition, pupils in the Pathway group had higher odds than pupils in the control group of passing the California Higher School Exit Exam in both years.

Source: Reducing achievement gaps in academic writing for Latinos and English learners in Grades 7–12 (January 2017), Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 109(1), 1-21.

How UK students’ writing has changed since 1980

Research published by Cambridge Assessment shows how 16-year-old students’ writing in exams has changed since 1980.

Aspects of Writing has been published by Cambridge Assessment approximately every 10 years, initially using a sample from 1980. This latest phase of the study focuses on writing samples from 2014. Key findings include:

  • The percentage of spelling errors at the lowest level of achievement is higher in 2014 than in most years. The incidence of spelling errors has changed very little among the mid- and higher-achieving students.
  • There is some evidence that use of “other” punctuation marks such as semi-colons has increased among higher-achieving students but decreased sharply among the lowest-achieving students.
  • There is a cautious indication of a general improvement in the use of commas.
  • There is an increase in the use of simple sentences among higher-achieving students. The researchers observed that these students tended to use simple sentences for literary effect.
  • Students of all abilities are using less-complex sentence structures.
  • Students at most levels of achievement are using more paragraphs than their predecessors.
  • There was almost no evidence of candidates using “text-speak” abbreviations in their work.

Source: Variations in aspects of writing in 16+ English examinations between 1980 and 2014. Research Matters Special Issue 4 (2016), Cambridge Assessment

Teaching secondary students to write effectively

The Institute of Education Sciences has released a new What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) Educator’s Practice Guide. The guide, Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively, provides evidence-based recommendations for improving the writing skills of middle and secondary school students.

The WWC and a panel chaired by Steve Graham at Arizona State University synthesised existing research on the topic and combined it with insight from the panel to identify the following recommendations, which include a rating of the strength of the research evidence supporting each recommendation:

  • Explicitly teach appropriate writing strategies using a Model-Practice-Reflect instructional cycle (strong evidence)
  • Integrate writing and reading to emphasise key writing features (moderate evidence)
  • Use assessments of student writing to inform instruction and feedback (minimal evidence)

To help teachers put the recommendations into practice, the guide describes over 30 specific strategies for the classroom, including sample writing prompts, activities that incorporate both writing and reading, and ways to use formative assessment to inform writing instruction.

Source: Teaching secondary students to write effectively (2016), Institute of Education Sciences

Spectacular results using self-regulation to improve writing

A new study has used memorable visits and self-regulation to improve the writing of children in Year 6 and 7.

The Education Endowment Foundation project involved 23 primary schools and their Year 6 teachers in West Yorkshire. 11 schools were randomly allocated to receive training, from an external consultant, in the Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) approach. Twelve schools were allocated to the comparison. SRSD provides a clear structure to help pupils plan, monitor, and evaluate their writing. It aims to encourage pupils to take ownership of their work. Memorable experiences, such as trips to local landmarks or visits from World War II veterans, were used as a focus for writing lessons.

The project appeared to have a large positive impact on writing outcomes. The overall effect size for writing, comparing the progress of pupils in the project to similar pupils who did not participate, was +0.74. This was statistically significant, and equivalent to approximately nine months’ additional progress. The approach was even more effective for pupils eligible for free school meals, although this was not statistically significant.

Source: Improving Writing Quality Evaluation Report and Executive Summary (2014), Education Endowment Foundation.

What works for EAL pupils?

The US What Works Clearinghouse has released an updated practice guide on teaching academic content and literacy to pupils learning English as an additional language (EAL) in junior and middle school. It provides suggestions for teaching and supporting EAL learners as they acquire academic vocabulary, learn from increasingly complex informational texts, and engage in analytical writing activities. The recommendations, which are based on currently available research evidence and feedback from experts in the field, are as follows:

  • Teach a set of academic vocabulary words intensively across several days using a variety of instructional activities.
  • Integrate oral and written English language instruction into content-area teaching.
  • Provide regular, structured opportunities to develop written language skills.
  • Provide small-group instructional interventions to students struggling in areas of literacy and English language development.

For each recommendation, the guide provides examples of activities that can be used to support students as they build the language and literacy skills needed to be successful in school.

Source: Teaching Academic Content and Literacy to English Learners in Elementary and Middle School (2014), Institute of Education Sciences.