IES grant to fund study of writing instruction for students with disabilities

Posted by Jayme Blaschke
Office of Media Relations
July 17, 2018

SAN MARCOS – Stephen Ciullo and Alyson Collins, assistant professors of special education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Texas State University, have received a 4-year, $1.4 million grant to study writing instruction delivered by teachers to students with disabilities.

The study, funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the statistics, research and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Education, will take place in 4th grade classrooms in school districts across Central Texas. The study will provide useful information to help improve teachers' writing instruction by examining relationship among effective writing practices and student outcomes.

"Written expression in general is challenging for many students across the nation," said Ciullo. "If you look at national writing scores, there are a lot of students nationally who aren't proficient, and these needs in writing are even more pronounced for students who receive special education services. One of the things this project gives us is the opportunity to explore the 'why' of that a little bit.

"We're going to look carefully at the teachers who provide writing instruction to these students, pairs of special education teachers and general education teachers who are both responsible for teaching writing," he said. "We hope to identify some of the great things that these teachers are doing to support these students, as well as some things we might suggest they consider doing differently."

During the first phase of the study, for three years researchers will observe three groups of special education and general education teachers to investigate the extent to which teachers implement effective writing practices. They will also examine teacher-specific factors such as teachers’ knowledge of effective writing instruction, teacher beliefs and teachers’ expertise to determine if these factors influence writing instruction. Ciullo and Collins will explore relationships between observed writing practices and student performance. The final year of the study will focus on analyzing the data and disseminating the findings.

"Based on the observations we'll be able to potentially examine some interesting statistical associations by looking at the relationships between what teachers are doing in the classroom and how students perform," Ciullo said. "There may be certain patterns. We will potentially be able to say, 'In these classrooms where students did well in writing, what are some of the characteristics that these teachers brought to the table that seemed to have a big influence on how students performed?'

"When the project is over, we hope to have some helpful recommendations that will influence teacher professional development as well as training for future teachers," he said. "We can hopefully say, 'We've found some really interesting relationships here, and we want to start integrating these ideas into our professional development for teachers, because these are instructional characteristics that are helpful for moving the needle in writing.'"

As no published studies have examined associations between the writing instruction of special educators and general educators in relation to the writing outcomes of students with disabilities, this project will address this gap, Ciullo said. At the conclusion of the study, Ciullo and Collins will provide useful feedback for school districts and teacher preparation programs, with the possibility of long-term professional development platform improvements as well.

About Texas State University

Founded in 1899, Texas State University is among the largest universities in Texas with an enrollment of 38,694 students on campuses in San Marcos and Round Rock. Texas State’s 188,000-plus alumni are a powerful force in serving the economic workforce needs of Texas and throughout the world. Designated an Emerging Research University by the State of Texas, Texas State is classified under “Doctoral Universities: Higher Research Activity,” the second-highest designation for research institutions under the Carnegie classification system.