Published by J. Gregory McVerry, Sandra Schamroth Abrams, Troy Hicks on

Updated on

#QuestionTheWeb is a two phase intervention that recognizes agrumentation as a discourse. We first teach students to own their truth from their own domain and then understand how perspectives shape truth through the use of biased avatar based read alouds.

1.0 Significance

1.1 Statement of the Problem and Rationale for the Proposed Research

Almost twenty percent of the 21st century has passed, and authors of national reports continue to bemoan youths’ inability to read and write critically, underscoring the continued writing crisis in this country (Graham & Perin, 2007). The most recent NAEP report card for writing (NCES, 2011) reveals that only 27% of eighth graders performed at or above a proficient level, and only 3% of eighth graders performed at the advanced level. It comes as no surprise, therefore, when national performance statistics indicate that adolescents consistently “still do not read or write well enough to meet grade-level demands” (Graham & Herbert, 2010, p. 3). Furthermore, adolescents are not engaging in enough academic writing, with many students typically composing responses less than one paragraph in length (Wilcox & Jeffery, 2014).

Relatedly, for almost two decades, literacy researchers have noted the imminent need to teach critical evaluation skills. Studies have demonstrated a generation of students could not or would not examine multiple sources beyond very surface level cues (Bråten, Strømsø, & Britt, 2015; Coiro & Dobler, 2007; Ey & Cupit, 2011; Goldman, Wiley, & Graesser, 2005; Kulikowich, 2008; Kuiper & Volman, 2008; Lawless & Schrader, 2008; Leu, et al., 2007; Mayer, 2008; Metzger et al., 2015; Rouet, 2006).

This Goal Two proposal, which centers on the #QuestionTheWeb instructional model, not only offers pathways for middle-school students to think critically, to write cogent and convincing arguments, and to be aware of bias, but also to help students hone collaborative, digital literacy practices.

To address these problems, we have developed an instructional model that focuses on students creating their own space on the web. More specifically, students will blog and maintain websites while and engaging in writing, peer review, and reflective practice. This approach will (a) target national concerns of the deficient writing abilities of US youth, (b) support students’ development of necessary skills for source evaluation, and thus (c) help students hone their digital literacies so that they become critical thinkers, readers, and writers on the web.

As such, our #QuestionTheWeb: Supporting Argumentative Writing and Critical Evaluation intervention (QTW) is inspired by approaches to learning in which all learners complete activities from their own blogs and student responses and class feeds can be aggregated and assessed. This approach has been successfully used at the higher education levels since 2008 (Downes & Siemens, 2009) and modified for the -12 level (McVerry et al, 2015).

Our aim is to conduct research that will lead to an intervention that can be effectively implemented and thus useful to school leaders, teachers, and policy makers. The instructional model will help school leaders to define a vision of what could be accomplished with innovative approaches to an important challenge: how to support struggling adolescent learners who cannot write well, all the while honing critical digital literacy practices. Teachers also will have a testable model for teaching in the content areas using web-based technologies. For policy makers, it will provide new directions for thinking about how best to serve our adolescent youth in all contexts, especially economically challenged districts and students who typically struggle with reading and writing. Specifically, this Goal Two research project seeks to answer three questions:

  • What effect does writing from their own domain have on participants’ self-efficacy?
  • What effect does the QTW have on performance of the Analytic Writing Continuum-Source-Based Argument over time when controlling for prior internet use and writing ability?
  • What effect does the QTW have on performance on a measure of critical evaluation over time when controlling for prior internet use and writing ability?

At the conclusion of the study we will have the data and fully developed materials to investigate the effect sizes of our model when we scale the grant to a Goal Five measurement grant.

1.2 The Proposed Intervention: #QuestionTheWeb: Supporting Argumentative Writing and Critical Evaluation Skills

In Phase I of QTW, students will consider how their identity and the perspective of others shape dominant narratives, or “truths,” online. They will practice sourcing skills, meaning the ability to evaluate and integrate multiple documents into understanding, and writing with claims and evidence when exploring the inquiry task, “What effect does social media have on me and society?” Students will focus on markers of credibility, examine an author's perspective, and identify how claims and evidence are used in mentor texts. Students will annotate and reflect on media across many different modes. They will be simultaneously designing “spoof” websites and a personal website to translate learning into text.

In Phase II of the study, students will encounter a variety of controversial topics that invite argumentative writing in the domain of social studies, history, or contemporary politics, depending on the standards deployed in each participating LEA.

Students will also encounter avatars that will read sources with a biased read aloud. The avatars will read and annotate two sources they agree with and a source they disagree with. For each topic, the avatars/will interject links into student feeds. These links will be to researcher created websites hosted on our servers. There will be a video file overlaid on the website that contains an avatar “reading” and “mousing-over” a website. How they interact with claims and evidence presented by the author will be determined by their perspective.

 As students complete their research they will utilize interactive graphic organizers. These graphic organizers will provide formative assessment data while also scaffolding student knowledge growth. The final essay, for example, may utilize an argumentative Vee diagram (Naussbaum, 2003) and other graphic organizers like Tolumin models (2003).

As students compose a digital essay they will publish reflective posts on the writing process and how they are shaping their truth. They will reflect on key revisions they made or steps they took to shape media. These reflections will also provide novel assessment data of student understanding specific online research and media skills.

1.2.1 Sample

The intervention will focus on 7th graders in the domain of social studies. We chose this population to draw our sample primarily based on extensive use of this 4th to 7th grade age group in previous research (Kuhn, 1991; 2005, Midgette, Haria, & MacArthur, 2008; Page-Voth & Graham, 1999; Reznitskaya & Anderson, 2002; Schwarz, Neuman, & Biezuner, 2000). This allowed us to draw on previous research in our theory of change. From the bracket of 4-7 we chose 7th grade based on the Common Core State Standards.

Seventh grade is the first time students are expected to address author perspective by the end of the year. Students need to “Analyze two or more authors write about the same subject,” “determine an author's point of view or purpose in a text”, “analyze how the author distinguishes his or her position from that of others”, “Analyze the structure an author uses to organize a text.” In the writing standards students must, “acknowledge alternate or opposing claims,” “use accurate credible sources,” and “link to and cite sources.” This is a major instructional shift for students to face. By concentrating on 7th grade we increase the feasibility of the grant and strength of our theory of change.

1.3 Theory of Change