CIDDL Research and Practice Brief: Technologies to Support Progress Monitoring for Writing

Amber Rowland is an Associate Research Professor at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning and co-director of the Advanced Learning Technologies in Education Collaborative.

Her research focuses on professional learning involving the integration of technology, including extended reality, virtual coaching, and progress monitoring in writing. She has directed NSF and Department of Education-funded research and curriculum development projects focused on tech implementation and scale-up. She is a published author, has developed web-based implementation supports for educators, and is an experienced professional development provider.

The problem highlighted in this brief

Writing is a complex task with which students with and without disabilities struggle (Graham et al., 2017). While evidence-based practices for writing exist and there are numerous technologies that support writing, practitioners are constantly calling for support in aligning these (Ok & Rao, 2019). One way to support struggling writers is to facilitate data walks and related conversations. These are essential elements to improve writing because they identify areas of need, provide opportunities for practice and feedback, and allow students to reflect on their own work (Smith et al., 2023). Effective progress monitoring tools for writing integrate assessment and instruction which ultimately impact student outcomes (Smith et al., 2023). 

Why does this topic matter to teacher preparation?

Struggling writers exist in every classroom. Thus, all educators must be prepared to support their needs through high-quality instruction, evidence-based practices, and research-based technology solutions (Rowland et al., 2020). Progress monitoring tools, such as Writing Strategies for Instructional Technology in Education (WRITE), support educators in integrating student writing data into evidence-based strategies and research-based technology (Rowland et al., 2020).

About This Brief

The brief begins by explaining the importance of aligning evidence-based writing practices with research-based technology. It then discusses the importance of progress monitoring in writing and why tools such as the WRITE PM are so helpful for future educators.

Research and Practice Context

What’s WRITE?

WRITE PM is a web-based progress monitoring tool that supports middle school teachers in using data to drive their writing instruction.  Teachers select a genre, and then students log in and are given 1- minute to plan their essay and 3 minutes to write. The sample is automatically scored, giving teachers instant access to the student data dashboard. From the dashboard, teachers can access scores for total words written, total letters, number of words spelled correctly, and correct writing sequence (Smith et al., 2023). Additionally, the tool graphs student data over time. Perhaps most importantly, the tool provides teachers with recommendations for the teacher to support student writing outcomes through videos and teaching guides offered free through writingclassroom.org (Smith et al., 2023).  

The following are key insights shared by Dr. Rowland on this research. The interview focused on six questions about writing and progress monitoring in teacher preparation and recommendations for teacher educators to incorporate these ideas.  

Q1: What issues are you trying to address through your work with writing?

In addition to the progress monitoring tool, the Writing Classroom supports educators in identifying areas of student need and aligning those needs with relevant evidence-based strategies and technology tools. Examples include text-to-speech with the REVISE strategy for editing and the hamburger writing strategy with word prediction. Research supports that, as more and more writing is being completed on devices, students and educators need to be explicitly taught writing strategies, technology tools to support writing, and how to combine the two together (Goldman et al., 2023). 

Dr. Rowland: “How can we help educators use ubiquitous technology, and that includes talking word processes, processors, so we're talking about text to speech, speech to text, word prediction, and concept maps, and then how can we help them think about and use that with students with disabilities or those who struggle with writing, but also pair it with evidence-based writing strategies.”

Q2: Can you walk us through how your work with writing supports students with disabilities?

Dr. Rowland shares that, within these conversations, students and teachers can identify areas of need and work to align strategies and tools to support them. Low-level skills, such as handwriting and spelling, can be easily mitigated with technology integration, which can open the conversation to challenges with high-level skills, such as ideas and organization (Smith et al., 2023). Padlet and answer garden can support idea generation, Storyboard can support organization, and speech-to-text can support voice (Rowland et al., 2022).

Dr. Rowland: “The teacher and the student can start talking about themselves as a writer, what are you struggling with? What areas are you most nervous about? How can we support you in a way that helps you get better at writing.”

Q3: How do you integrate technologies to support writing into your teacher preparation program?

To do this, Dr. Rowland stresses the importance of sharing progress monitoring tools with pre-service teachers to help them make data-based decisions. Additionally, she shares that teacher educators must integrate technologies they might use to support their learners and technologies they can use to align their lessons to the Universal Design for Learning framework within their courses. 

Dr. Rowland: “it's important that researchers, especially students, begin to explore them and find those that are most beneficial, and then really recognize that they have to look at individual student needs and make technology decisions based on those needs.”

Q4: How can we better prepare educators for using these technologies in the field?

Both new and experienced teachers benefit from and find value in coaching. Virtual coaching, which is more than simply coaching via Zoom, provides teachers with the opportunity to receive ongoing, personalized, and job-embedded support (Rowland et al., 2023). The VECTOR (Verify perspectives, Examine influence, Commit to change, Take action, Optimize performance, Reflect, and recommit) framework for virtual coaching provides a non-linear and flexible method for coaches to support educators (Rowland et al., 2023). Dr. Rowland shares that tools such as Docs and spreadsheets can collaborate on goals and collecting, analyzing, and monitoring data. YouTube can be used to share models of instructional strategies. 

Dr. Rowland: “I think we have to walk alongside educators, there's a lot more that educators have to balance these days when it comes to teaching.”

Q5: What implications do you see for future research, and what are some questions we might be asking?

Dr. Rowland shares about the importance of ensuring that technology, be it WRITE or an AI-based tool, should be a starting point for the conversation around individual needs. Future research should look at how we prepare teachers to plan and individualize their instruction to meet the needs of all learners and align that to available resources and tools.

Dr. Rowland: “Helping educators find that balance between a resourceful tool, whether it's a website, or an AI tool, or whatever it is, but recognizing that the expertise is still in the human”

Resources

In the interview, Dr. Rowland provided resources and technology tools for teacher preparation programs, starting with writing and virtual coaching. 

Writing Classroom

An OSEP-funded project dedicated to data-driven writing instruction and aligning evidence-based practices with technologies. 

APLM Online

The Adaptive Professional Learning Model project is an online professional development dashboard system to support virtual in-service teacher development that helps teachers use data to drive professional development and the use of WRITE. 

References

Goldman, S. R., Carreon, A., & Smith, S. J. (2023). Aligning an Editing and Revising Writing Strategy to Technology Supports for Students With Learning Disabilities. Journal of Special Education Technology, 01626434231211294.

Graham, S., & Harris, K. R. (2017). Evidence-based writing practices: A meta-analysis of existing meta-analyses. In Design principles for teaching effective writing (pp. 13–37).

Ok, M. W., & Rao, K. (2019). Digital tools for the inclusive classroom: Google chrome as assistive and instructional technology. Journal of Special Education Technology, 34(3), 204-211.

Rowland, A., Myers, S., Elford, M. D., & Smith, S. J. (2023). Coaching virtually to support professional learning. Journal of Special Education Technology, 38(1), 75-85.

Rowland, A., Smith, S. J., & Lowrey, K. A. (2022). Pairing Technology with 6 traits of writing instruction. Journal of Special Education Technology, 37(1), 135-142.

Rowland, A., Smith, S. J., & Lowrey, K. A. (2021). Connecting Evidence-Based Writing Strategies With Readily Available Technology Solutions. Teaching Exceptional Children, 53(3), 253-255.

Smith, S. J., Rowland, A., & Lowrey, K. A. (2023). Formative Assessments in Today’s Digital Learning Environment: WRITE PM for Middle School. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 00400599231171672.

Suggested Citation

Goldman, S. R. & the CIDDL Team. (2024). Technologies to Support Progress Monitoring for Writing. The Center for Innovation, Design, and Digital Learning.