FirstAuthor - A Writing Process Software Tool

Period of Performance: 06/01/2011 - 05/31/2013

$387K

Phase 2 STTR

Recipient Firm

DON Johnston, Inc.
Volo, IL 60073
Principal Investigator

Abstract

DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): The education reform initiative, No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLBA) signed into law by President Bush in January of 2002, emphasized the critical role of literacy in the lives of all children. Writing is an important, but often neglected, part of literacy instruction. Software tools that support the needs of a beginning writer, especially those with special needs, are not available in today's market. Currently, a single tool does not exist that (1) supports beginning writers across the writing process, (2) supports beginning writers across the age span, (3) incorporates research on writing development and best practices of instruction, (4) addresses principles of universal design, and (5) provides meaningful outcome data on individual students that has instructional validity. The objective of this Fast-Track project is to complete development of an innovative integrated writing software tool, FirstAuthor, which meets the five challenges stated above, supports beginning writers across the writing process (planning, composing, revising, and publishing), and is accessible to all students, including those with with severe speech and physical impairments (SSPI). This project will examine the effects of using FirstAuthor with two groups of students with developmental disabilities: 1) mild-moderate cognitive impairments (MMCI), and 2) physical impairments (PI) or severe speech and physical impairments (SSPI). The primary aim of this FastTrack project is to demonstrate the effects of the FirstAuthor software on: 1) independence during the writing process, 2) writing quantity and quality, and 3) attitude toward writing. For both Phase I and Phase II, a repeated-measures, between subjects design will be used to study the effects of the software tool with students ranging in age from 7-14. The FirstAuthor group will use FirstAuthor software to compose their writing samples and the Control group will use paper and pencil. In Phase II the FirstAuthor and Control groups will receive a high-quality instruction program during each writing session. This program will use a process writing approach paired with strategy instruction and be based on writing elements shown to be effective with students in grades 4-12 (writing strategies, specific product goals, prewriting, process writing approach, study of models, and word processing) (Graham &Perin, 2007). In Phase I: 1) refinements will be made to FirstAuthor, 2) feasibility of FirstAuthor will be examined with students who have MMCI, and 3) the measure of independence during writing will be developed. In Phase II: 1) significant modifications will be made to FirstAuthor, 2) the effects of FirstAuthor will be examined with students with MMCI, PI, and SSPI, 3) the measure of writing independence will be validated, and 4) a high-quality, comprehensive writing instructional program will be introduced. The long-term goal for the FirstAuthor project is to change writing instructional practices for students, especially those with developmental disabilities, by providing software tools, paired with high-quality instruction that enables these individuals to make ongoing, positive changes in their writing skills. PUBLIC HEALTH RELEVANCE In the United States a significant public health issue is the vast number of students who read and write below grade level. Enabling students who struggle to become stronger readers and writers will have a broad impact on society by fostering a future generation of individuals who are increasingly competent across social, academic and vocational settings. FirstAuthor, a beginning writer software tool designed to be pedagogically and technically innovative, will allow children who are below grade level in writing to receive the support they need to become competent writers and contributors to our society.