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Large numbers of students enter postsecondary programs with a high school diploma but underprepared for college in reading, writing, or math achievement. The most recent National Assessments of Educational Progress (NAEP) in writing in 2011 (NCES; National Center for Educational Statistics, 2012) found that only 27% of students in the final year of high school performed at or above a proficient level in writing.

in 2011–2012, 33% of first-year college students took at least one remedial course in reading, writing, or math (40% in public 2-year and 30% in public 4-year institutions). Substantially higher proportions of minority students took developmental courses.

However, little research has focused on instructional methods or investigated effects on student writing achievement. A review of research on developmental literacy classes (Perin, 2013) found only 13 experimental or quasi-experimental studies, none of which focused on approaches to writing instruction.

Strategies are needed to help writers use their discourse and content knowledge effectively. Complex writing also places substantial demands on self-regulation as writers set goals and manage their efforts. Because of its difficulty, writing requires substantial motivational resources.

Charles MacArthur and  Zoi Philippakos, School of Education and Melissa Ianetta, Department of English, conducted a study (three-year $870,000 grant through IES) to evaluate the effects of a curriculum for college developmental writing classes, developed in prior design research and based on self-regulated strategy instruction.

This quasi-experimental study involved 13 instructors and 276 students in 19 developmental writing classes at 2 universities. The curriculum was taught for a full semester in 9 classes and compared with a business-as-usual control condition in 10 classes. Students learned strategies for planning, drafting, and revising compositions with an emphasis on using knowledge of genre organization to guide planning and self-evaluation. In addition to specific writing strategies, students learned strategies for self-regulation. Significant positive effects were found for overall quality of writing on a persuasive essay (ES = 1.22), and for length (ES = .71), but not for grammar. Significant positive effects were also found for self-efficacy and mastery motivation.

Read full article in Journal of Educational Psychology (2015)