National Writing Project

Evaluating Project WRITE: Determining the Impact of a Professional Development Program Focusing on a Writing Workshop Approach and the Traits of Quality Writing

By: Sarah Hunt-Barron, Rebecca Kaminski, Dawn Hawkins, Harriett Williams
Date: November 1, 2011

Summary: This report examines the effects of a yearlong, school-based professional development program on teacher practice and philosophy put on by South Carolina's Upstate Writing Project, and suggests that a workshop approach incorporating the traits of quality writing can be an effective way to prepare students for high-stakes testing and student writing performance.

 

Excerpt from Report

The present study makes several important contributions to the slowly growing body of research in this area. First, our research suggests that a workshop approach incorporating the traits of quality writing can be an effective way to prepare students for high-stakes testing, as evidenced by the improvement in students' scores at Program School I and especially by the statistically significant improvement at Program School II. Second, our study raises questions about the assessment of learning: if students are engaged in a workshop approach to writing, is a prompted writing sample the best way to demonstrate learning? Does the scoring used for prompted writing samples hold for scoring portfolio samples, which are written over time? What weight should we give to student risk-taking, if any?

Two findings emerged only because we changed out initial research design. Although our initial study was conceived to study a single school over two years of professional development, the change to a two-year study examining the impact of professional development at two different schools allowed us to examine in more detail the effectiveness of the professional development program and the conditions that may best support it. Our research indicates that the environment of the school, particularly school administrators' views of the value of the professional development, has a direct and significant impact on teachers' philosophy and practice. Finally, while teachers' attitudes about writing improved and teacher's self-efficacy grew in both program schools in this study, the discrepancy between the student outcomes at Program Schools I and II points to the importance of further study of the factors that influence teacher incorporation of new strategies in classrooms. This additional comparison between schools would not have been possible without a change in our initial research design.

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