Annals of Dyslexia

, Volume 63, Issue 1, pp 44–64 | Cite as

A written language intervention for at-risk second grade students: a randomized controlled trial of the process assessment of the learner lesson plans in a tier 2 response-to-intervention (RtI) model

  • Stephen R. Hooper
  • Lara-Jeane C. Costa
  • Matthew McBee
  • Kathleen L. Anderson
  • Donna Carlson Yerby
  • Amy Childress
  • Sean B. Knuth


In a randomized controlled trial, 205 students were followed from grades 1 to 3 with a focus on changes in their writing trajectories following an evidence-based intervention during the spring of second grade. Students were identified as being at-risk (n = 138), and then randomized into treatment (n = 68) versus business-as-usual conditions (n = 70). A typical group also was included (n = 67). The writing intervention comprised Lesson Sets 4 and 7 from the Process Assessment of the Learner (PAL), and was conducted via small groups (three to six students) twice a week for 12 weeks in accordance with a response-to-intervention Tier 2 model. The primary outcome was the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test-II Written Expression Scale. Results indicated modest support for the PAL lesson plans, with an accelerated rate of growth in writing skills following treatment. There were no significant moderator effects, although there was evidence that the most globally impaired students demonstrated a more rapid rate of growth following treatment. These findings suggest the need for ongoing examination of evidence-based treatments in writing for young elementary students.


PAL lesson plans Response-to-intervention in written language RtI Writing intervention moderators Writing subtypes Written language, written language intervention in elementary school 


  1. Baker, S. K., Chard, D. J., Ketterlin-Geller, L. R., Apichatabutra, C., & Doabler, C. (2009). Teaching writing to at-risk students: The quality of evidence for self-regulated strategy development. Exceptional Children, 75, 303–318.Google Scholar
  2. Bear, D. R., Invernizzi, M., Templeton, S., & Johnston, F. (2003). Words their way: Word study for phonics, vocabulary, and spelling instruction. Columbus: Pearson.Google Scholar
  3. Berninger, V. W. (2000). Development in language by hand and its connections to language by ear, mouth, and eye. Topics in Language Disorders, 20, 65–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berninger, V. W. (2009). Highlights of programmatic, interdisciplinary research on writing. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 24, 69–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Berninger, V. W., & Abbott, S. P. (2003). Process assessment of the learner (PAL) research-based reading and writing lessons. San Antonio: Pearson.Google Scholar
  6. Berninger, V., Abbott, R., Whitaker, D., Sylvester, L., & Nolen, S. (1995). Integrating low-level skills and high-level skills in treatment protocols for writing disabilities. Learning Disability Quarterly, 18, 293–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Berninger, V., Vaughan, K., Abbott, R., Abbott, S., Brooks, A., Rogan, L., et al. (1997). Treatment of handwriting fluency problems in beginning writing: Transfer from handwriting to composition. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89, 652–666.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Berninger, V., Vaughan, K., Abbott, R., Begay, K., Byrd, K., Curtin, G., et al. (2002). Teaching spelling and composition alone and together: Implications for the simple view of writing. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 291–304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Berninger, V., Vaughan, K., Abbott, R., Brooks, A., Abbott, S., Reed, E., et al. (1998). Early intervention for spelling problems: Teaching spelling units of varying size within a multiple connections framework. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90, 587–605.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Berninger, V., Vaughan, K., Abbott, R., Brooks, A., Begay, K., Curtin, G., et al. (2000). Language-based spelling instruction: Teaching children to make multiple connections between spoken and written words. Learning Disability Quarterly, 23, 117–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bos, C. S., & Vaughn, S. (1998). Strategies for teaching students with learning and behavior problems (4th ed.). Needham Heights: Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
  12. Bradley-Johnson, S., & Lesiak, J. L. (1989). Problems in written expression: Assessment and remediation. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  13. Bromley, K. (1999). Key components of sound writing instruction. In L. B. Gambrell, L. M. Morrow, S. B. Neuman, & M. Pressley (Eds.), Best practices in literacy instruction (pp. 152–174). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  14. Cortiella, C. (2009). The state of learning disabilities. New York: The National Center for Learning Disabilities.Google Scholar
  15. Englert, C. S. (1990). Unraveling the mysteries of writing through strategy instruction. In T. E. Scruggs & B. Y. L. Wong (Eds.), Intervention research in learning disabilities (pp. 186–223). New York: Springer-Verlag.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Englert, C. S. (1992). Writing instruction from a sociocultural perspective: The holistic, dialogic, and social enterprise. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 25, 153–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Englert, C. S., Mariage, T. V., Okolo, C. M., Shankland, R. K., Moxley, K. D., Courtad, C. A., et al. (2009). The learning-to-learn strategies of adolescent students with disability. Highlighting, note taking, planning, and writing expository texts. Assessment for Effective Intervention, 34, 147–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fletcher, J. M., Lyon, G. R., Fuchs, L. S., & Barnes, M. A. (2007). Learning disabilities. From identification to intervention. New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  19. Gersten, R., & Baker, S. (2001). Teaching expressive writing to students with learning disabilities: A meta-analysis. The Elementary School Journal, 101, 251–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gleason, M. M., & Isaacson, S. (2001). Using the new basals to teach the writing process: Modifications for students with learning problems. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 17, 75–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Graham, S., & Harris, K. R. (2005). Improving the writing performance of young struggling writers: Theoretical and programmatic research from the center on accelerating student learning. The Journal of Special Education, 39(1), 19–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Graham, S., & Harris, K. R. (2009). Almost 30 years of writing research: Making sense of it all with The Wrath of Khan. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 24, 58–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Graham, S., Harris, K. R., & Mason, L. (2005). Improving the writing performance, knowledge, and self-efficacy of struggling young writers: The effects of self-regulated strategy development. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 30, 207–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007). A meta-analysis of writing instruction for adolescent students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99, 445–476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Harris, K. R., & Graham, S. (2009). Self-regulated strategy development in writing: Premises, evolution, and the future. Teaching and Learning Writing British Journal of Educational Psychology Monograph Series II, 6, 113–135.Google Scholar
  26. Harris, K. R., Graham, S., Mason, L. H., & Friedlander, B. (2008). Powerful writing strategies for all students. Baltimore: Brookes.Google Scholar
  27. Hayes, J. R. (2000). A new framework for understanding cognition and affect in writing. In R. Indrisano & J. R. Squire (Eds.), Perspectives on writing (pp. 6–44). Newark: International Reading Association.Google Scholar
  28. Hooper, S. R., Costa, L.-J., McBee, M., Anderson, K. L., Yerby, D. C., Knuth, S. B., et al. (2011). Concurrent and longitudinal neuropsychological contributors to written language expression in first and second grade students. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 24, 221–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hooper, S. R., Knuth, S. B., Yerby, D. C., & Anderson, K. L. (2009). A review of science supported writing instruction with implementation in mind. In V. W. Berninger & S. Rosenfield (Eds.), Translating science-supported instruction into evidence-based practice (pp. 49–83). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Hooper, S. R., Roberts, J. E., Nelson, L., Zeisel, S., & Kasambira Fannin, D. (2010). Preschool predictors of narrative writing skills in elementary school children. School Psychology Quarterly, 25, 1–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hooper, S. R., Swartz, C., Montgomery, J., Reed, M. S., Brown, T., Wasileski, T., et al. (1993). Prevalence of writing problems across three middle school samples. School Psychology Review, 22, 608–620.Google Scholar
  32. Hooper, S., Swartz, C., Wakely, M., de Kruif, R., & Montgomery, J. (2002). Executive functions in elementary school children with and without problems in written expression. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 35, 37–68.Google Scholar
  33. Hooper, S., Wakely, M., de Kruif, R., & Swartz, C. (2006). Aptitude-treatment interactions revisited: Effect of metacognitive intervention on subtypes of written expression in elementary school students. Developmental Neuropsychology, 29(1), 217–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Isaacson, S. (1995). Written language. In P. J. Schloss, M. A. Smith, & C. N. Schloss (Eds.), Instructional methods for adolescents with learning and behavioral problems (2nd ed., pp. 200–234). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
  35. Katusic, S. K., Colligan, R. C., Weaver, A. L., & Barbaresi, W. J. (2009). The forgotten learning disability: epidemiology of written-language disorder in a population-based birth cohort (1976–1982), Rochester, Minnesota. Pediatrics, 123, 1306–1313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kulberg, J. M. (1993). What school psychologists need to know about writing disabilities. School Psychology Review, 22, 685–686.Google Scholar
  37. Lesiak, J. (1992). The remediation of written expression problems: “Best” practices for teaching composition skills. Reading and Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties, 8, 5–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. MacArthur, C., Schwartz, S., & Graham, S. (1991). Effects of reciprocal peer revision strategy in special education classrooms. Learning Disability Research and Practice, 6, 201–210.Google Scholar
  39. Mercer, C. D., & Mercer, A. R. (2001). Teaching students with learning problems (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River: Merrill/Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  40. National Center for Educational Statistics. (2003). National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 1998 and 2002 Writing Assessments. Washington: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics.Google Scholar
  41. National Center for Educational Statistics. (2007). National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2002 and 2006 Writing Assessments. Washington: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics.Google Scholar
  42. National Center on Response to Intervention. (2010). Essential components of RTI—A closer look at response to intervention. Washington: Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, National Center on Response to Intervention.Google Scholar
  43. National Writing Project (2009, October 21). The National Writing Project. Retrieved from
  44. Raudenbush, S. W., & Bryk, A. S. (2002). Hierarchical linear models: Applications and data analysis methods (2nd ed.). Newbury Park: Sage.Google Scholar
  45. Reynolds, C. R., & Shaywitz, A. E. (2009). Response to intervention: Ready or not? Or, from wait-to-fail to watch them fail. School Psychology Quarterly, 24, 130–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Sandler, A. D., Watson, T. E., Footo, M., Levine, M. D., Coleman, W. L., & Hooper, S. R. (1992). Neurodevelopmental study of writing disorders in middle childhood. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 13, 17–23.Google Scholar
  47. Therrien, W. J., Hughes, C., Kapelski, C., & Mokhtari, K. (2009). Effectiveness of a test-taking strategy on achievement in essay tests for students with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 42, 14–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Troia, G. A. (2002). Teaching writing strategies to children with disabilities: Setting generalization as the goal. Exceptionality, 10, 249–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Troia, G., & Graham, S. (2002). The effectiveness of a highly explicit, teacher-directed strategy instruction routine: Changing the writing performance of students with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 35, 290–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Troia, G. A., & Graham, S. (2004). Students who are exceptional and writing disabilities: Prevention, practice, intervention, and assessment. Exceptionality, 12, 1–2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Wakely, M. B., Swartz, C. W., de Kruif, R. E. L., Hooper, S. R., & Montgomery, J. W. (2006). Subtypes of written expression: Studies of internal and external validity of an outcome-based approach. Developmental Neuropsychology, 29, 125–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Wechsler, D. (2002). Wechsler Individual Achievement Test-II. San Antonio: Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar
  53. Welch, M., & Jensen, J. B. (1991). Write, P.L.E.A.S.E: A video-assisted strategic intervention to improve written expression of inefficient learners. RASE: Remedial and Special Education, 12, 37–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Wong, B. Y. L., & Berninger, V. W. (2009). Instructional principles for composition in elementary, middle, and high school: Merging process writing instruction with cognitive processes of the writer and teacher. In B. S. Schulman, K. Apel, B. Ehren, E. R. Silliman, & A. Stone (Eds.), Handbook of language and literacy development and disorders. New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  55. Wong, B. Y. L., Butler, D. L., Ficzere, S. A., & Kuperis, S. (1997). Teaching adolescents with learning disabilities and low achievers to plan, write, and revise compare-and-contrast essays. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 12, 2–15.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The International Dyslexia Association 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen R. Hooper
    • 1
  • Lara-Jeane C. Costa
    • 2
  • Matthew McBee
    • 3
  • Kathleen L. Anderson
    • 4
  • Donna Carlson Yerby
    • 4
  • Amy Childress
    • 2
  • Sean B. Knuth
    • 2
  1. 1.Departments of Psychiatry, Psychology, Pediatrics, and Education, The Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities, CB#7255University of North Carolina School of MedicineChapel HillUSA
  2. 2.School of EducationUniversity of North Carolina-Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  3. 3.Frank Porter Graham Child Development InstituteUniversity of North Carolina-Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  4. 4.The Carolina Institute for Developmental DisabilitiesUniversity of North Carolina School of MedicineChapel HillUSA

Personalised recommendations