The purpose of this fast-track SBIR project entitled """"""""Paragraph and Essay Writing Instruction for Struggling Secondary Writers"""""""" is to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of a total of four interactive multimedia (IM) software programs to be used to teach complex writing skills to struggling writers in secondary schools. The foci of the four programs will be (1) basic paragraph-writing skills, (2) advanced paragraph-writing skills, (3) basic essay-writing skills, and (4) advanced essay-writing skills. The lessons within each program will include an introduction to the program and the targeted writing skills, a description of how to use a targeted writing strategy, demonstrations, practice activities, and feedback. The Phase I project will focus on the feasibility of this medium for teaching complex writing skills to struggling writers. Measures will focus on (a) student use of the program, (b) student knowledge of writing skills, (c) student writing skills related to writing topic, detail, and concluding sentences within a paragraph, and (d) student satisfaction. During Phase I, an informal and a formal pilot test will be conducted to determine the feasibility of the prototype program. During each of the three years of Phase II, at least one informal pilot test and one field test of one new program will be conducted. A pretest-posttest control-group design with random assignment of students to groups will be utilized in each field test to determine the effects of each instructional program on student knowledge, performance, and generalization of the writing skills to complete writing tasks. The programs resulting from this project, because they will be designed to include instructional methods that have been found to be successful with at-risk students, should enable these students to respond successfully to the writing demands of their courses and minimum competency tests.
This project is relevant to public health because the number of individuals with low literacy skills is substantial. Low literacy has been associated with dropping out of school and such poor adult outcomes as under-employment and unemployment, criminal activity, and poverty (van Der Veen &Preece, 2005). Moreover, individuals who drop out of school have more mental and physical health problems than individuals who complete high school (Carter, 1998). Students who are at-risk for dropping out of school often have writing skill deficits. Only about half of their sentences are complete sentences. They do not know how to organize and write basic paragraphs and essays, and they are not able to respond to the writing demands of their required courses. A large number of these students will either drop out of school or continue to struggle with writing tasks throughout their school careers and into adulthood. The empirically validated IM products that will result from this project will address the potentially devastating effects that low literacy can cause in children's lives and in society at large. Indeed, about a third of all students and half of all blacks, Latinos, and American Indians are currently failing to graduate from high school on time (Freudenberg &Ruglis, 2007). Since writing skills are needed for success in secondary and post-secondary educational settings and work settings, this project has the potential to help many individuals to succeed and have a better prospect for mental health. The instruction would be used to help struggling writers learn to create a variety of paragraphs and essays. The instructional programs that will result from this project will be usable as literacy intervention programs based on individual needs. In addition, the proposed programs will serve as a model for the development of future IM programs.