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Publication: Exceptional Children
Date published:
Language: English
PMID: 17896
ISSN: 00144029
Journal code: GEXC

Although some progress has been made in identifying effective instructional practices for students with disabilities who are poor writers (Graham & Perin, 2007; Rogers & Graham, 2008), most of this intervention research has focused on elementary and middle school students. In the present study, we examined the effectiveness of teaching high school students a strategy for planning and drafting persuasive text. We focused our attention on persuasive writing for three reasons. One, persuasive texts written by youngsters with disabilities are typically poorly developed and incomplete (PageVo th & Graham, 1999). Two, persuasive writing is an important skill for success in high school. A majority of language arts and social studies high school teachers assign multiple persuasive writing tasks during the school year (Kiuhara, Graham, & Hawken, 2009), persuasive writing is a typical staple of high-stakes tests in most states (Hillocks, 2006), and persuasive writing is crirical to success in college (ACT, 2008). Three, the capacity to communicate and defend a position about controversial issues, orally or in writing, is central to participation in a democratic society (Ferretti, Lewis, & Andrews-Weckerly, 2009).

We took a strategic approach to teaching persuasive writing to high school students with disabilities because of the success of this approach with other groups of adolescents. Intervention studies with younger, middle school students with disabilities shows that their persuasive writing can be improved by teaching them strategies for planning and drafting such text (e.g., De La Paz, 2005; De La Paz & Graham, 1997, 2002; Wong, Butler, Ficzere, & Kuperis, 1996). There is also evidence from at least one experimental study that such instruction improved the persuasive writing of typical and struggling high school writers without disabilities (Bryson & Scardamalia, 1996). Moreover, Chalk, Hagan-Burke, and Burke (2005) demonstrated that strategic instruction improved the petsuasive writing of lOth-grade students with disabilities in a study involving a single group who were tested before and after instruction (expetimental control was not established). In addition, in a single subject design study by Jacobson and Reid (2010), the persuasive writing of three students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was improved by teaching them a persuasive writing strategy for planning and drafting text. Based on these promising results with other adolescents who were typical and poor writers, including some students with disabilities, we believed that such instruction was likely to be effective with the lOth-grade poor writers with disabilities in the present study. With the exception of the Jacobson and Reid study, which focused just on students with ADHD, this is the only other controlled study to examine if strategy instruction for persuasive writing or any other type of writing is effective with high school students with disabilities.

A second reason we took a strategic approach to instruction is that it provided a good match to the needs of high school students with disabilities. We adapted a strategy developed by De La Paz and Graham (1997) for younger middle school students, upgrading it so that it would be more pertinent for high school students. The De La Paz and Graham strategy centered on two sets of mental operations encapsulated in the mnemonics STOP and DARE. STOP concentrated mostly on the planning process and reminded students to (a) Suspend judgment by listing reasons for each side of a position before deciding on a premise, (b) Take a position after evaluating the listed ideas, (c) Organize ideas from strongest to weakest or most important to least important, and (d) Plan and write more while writing the essay. DARE served to remind students about basic elements they needed to include in their paper: (a) Develop a topic sentence, (b) Add supporting ideas, (c) Reject possible arguments for the other side, and (d) End with a conclusion.

In upgrading this strategy, we developed a thitd mnemonic, AIMS, that was placed between STOP and DARE. It was designed to help the student construct an introduction that would appeal to the reader and allow the writer to contextualize information about the topic for the audience. The basic operations in AIMS were (a) Attract the reader's attention, (b) Identify the problem of the topic so the reader understands the issues, (c) Map the context of the problem or provide background information needed to understand the problem, and (d) State the thesis so the premise is clear. We made a small change in the last step of STOP, so it now reminded the student not only to continue planning when writing, but to remember to use AIMS and DARE as well. Each step in DARE was also expanded to remind the student to use appropriate transition words, whereas Add supporting ideas and End with a conclusion were further expanded to emphasize elaborations of ideas and provide a recommendation, respectively. This modified persuasive writing strategy is consistent with the types of persuasive writing tasks emphasized in high school and recommended for college readiness (ACT, 2008).

The STOP, AIMS, and DARE strategy tested in this study provided a mechanism for enhancing how struggling writers typically compose text. Their general approach to writing involves forming a mental representation of the writing assignment, by defining the writing topic (e.g., the value of homework for high school students) and drawing on their knowledge about writing (i.e., knowledge about different genres and specific rhetorical structures) to identify the type of text to be written (i.e., a persuasive essay). During writing, this mental representation serves to guide the search and retrieval of relevant content (e.g., what I believe about the writing topic) and discourse knowledge (e.g., knowledge about the specific elements of a persuasive paper) from long-term memory. Retrieved content is assessed to determine if it is consistent with the nature of the writer's mental representation of the assignment. If it is appropriate, it is transcribed into written text. The text produced at that point then serves as a stimulus for conducting the next search of long-term memory (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1987; Graham, 2006).

The success of this retrieve-and-write approach depends heavily on the breadth and depth of students' discourse and content knowledge. For students with disabilities this is often very shallow (Graham, Schwartz, & MacArthur, 1993), resulting in persuasive text that is incomplete and not particularly persuasive. In addition, this approach is primarily directed at producing the next sentence, so litde attention is devoted to developing rhetorical goals, considering the organization of text and the relationship of ideas, or attending to the needs of the reader. The STOP, AIMS, and DARE strategy addresses these issues by prompting students to think in advance about what they believe, what they want to say, and how they want to organize these ideas. It encourages them to consider die needs of the reader by contextualizing the writing problem and thinking about what the reader needs to know. It reminds them to think more broadly about persuasive writing and their stance on the topic by considering and addressing both sides of the argument, which is something that they don't typically do (De La Paz & Graham, 1997; Wong et al., 1996).

Using a multiple probe multiple baseline design, the current study tested whether the STOP, AIMS, and DARE strategy improved the writing of lOth-grade students with disabilities. We anticipated that instruction would result in more complete, longer, and qualitatively better essays. We further anticipated that instruction would increase how much time students spend planning their essays in advance as well as how much time they spend writing them.

The study also assessed at what point in instruction changes in students' performance occurred. In most, but not all, of the previous writing strategy instructional studies conducted with students with disabilities, strategies were taught via the Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) model (Harris & Graham, 1996). Only one of these previous studies (Danoff, Harris, & Graham, 1993) assessed students' performance during instruction. In this study, students' writing performance did not improve until the genre knowledge needed to use the strategy had been taught and the strategy was introduced, discussed, and modeled. Similar outcomes were expected in this investigation.



This study took place in a suburban high school in a western state. Approximately 2,000 students, Grades 10 through 12, attend the school. The students were mostly White (89%), but included Hispanic (6%), Asian American (3%), African American (1%), and Native American youngsters (<1%). Approximately 20% of the school population came from economically poor families as indicated by the number of students receiving free or reduced lunch.

After receiving institutional review board permission to conduct this study, nine 10th grade students were identified for possible participation in the study at the beginning of 2008. Each student was receiving special education services and was concurrently enrolled in a study skills and a language arts class. Seven of these students met the following stepwise criteria participation in the study: (a) scored at or the 25th percentile on the Test of Written guage, 3rd Edition (TOWL-3; Hammill Larsen, 1996); (b) were identified as a writer by the student's special education (this teacher was most familiar with the student's writing); and (c) produced just 0 to 3 elements on a persuasive writing prompt (procedures for scoring persuasive elements are described later). The administration and scoring the TOWL-3 followed the standardized procedures outlined in the TOWL-3 manual (alternate form reliability of this test for ages 14 to 17 was .85, interscorer reliability was .92, and test scores correlated .50 with the Writing Scale of the Comprehensive Scales of Student Abilities (CSSA: Hammill & Hresko, 1994)).

One of the seven students decided not to participate in the study because he would lose time to complete homework during study hall (SRSD instruction took place at this time). The six students who participated in the study were all in 10th grade (two females and four males). General Intellectual Ability (GIA) scores from the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Cognitive Abilities, 3rd Edition (WJ-III; Woodcock, McGrew, & Mather, 2001), disability status, and historical information were obtained from each youngster's educational file. Fot all students, English was die primary language spoken in the home. Although the students' special education teacher indicated each youngster experienced writing difficulties, none of them had individualized education program (IEP) goals to improve writing. All students had IEP goals for improving math and reading, except for Victor and Evan who had behavioral and assignment completion goals.

Adtianna and Victor were the first pair of students instructed. Adrianna was 15 years old, placed into special education in Grade 9, and had a medical diagnosis of ADHD. At the time of placement into special education, she was passing less than 50% of het classes. Adrianna scored at the 1st percentile on the TOWL-3. She indicated she was African American and Mexican American. Her WJ-III GIA standard score was 91 (mean for this test was 100, standard deviation was 15). At the end of the first semester of 10th grade, she earned C or higher grades in 60% of her classes. Victor was 16 years old, placed into special education in Grade 9, and was identified as having emotional disturbance (ED). His behavioral problems included fighting with peers, using profanity, and exhibiting noncompliant behavior with teachers. He indicated he was Mexican American. Victor scored at the 23rd percentile on the TOWL-3 and had a standard score of 1 19 on the WJ-III GIA. At the end of the first semester of 10th grade, he failed all of his classes. Toward the end of the intervention phase of the study, Victor was suspended from school for 3 days for fighting with a peer at school.

Brianna and Evan were the second pair of students instructed. Brianna was a 16-year-old European American who first received special education services in kindergarten, at which time she was identified as having developmental delays and speech and language impairments. She scored at the 2nd percentile on the TOWL-3 and had a standard score of 73 on the WJ-III GIA. At the end of the first semestei of 1 0th grade, she earned C or higher grades in 60% of her classes. Evan was a 1 5-year-old European American who began receiving special education services in Grade 5 for speech and language problems (i.e., articulation problems). He exited special education in Grade 6 and was reclassified in Grade 8 with a primary diagnosis of ADHD and a secondary diagnosis of anxiety disorder. He scored at the 3rd percentile on the TOWL-3 and had a standard score of 91 on the WJ-III GIA. At the end of the first semester of 10th grade, he passed 30% of his classes with C or higher grades, and his teachet reported that he was frequently absent from school.

Cameron and Brandon were the third pair of students instructed. Cameron was 15 years old and was identified as having specific learning disability (SLD) in Grade 8. He indicated he was African American and Caucasian. Cameron scored at the 1st percentile on the TOWL-3 and had a standard score of 100 on the WJ-III GIA. At the end of the first semester of 10th grade, Cameron passed 40% of his classes with C or higher grades. Toward the end of the study, Cameron was involved in domestic violence with a sibling and was detained in a juvenile facility for a weekend. He was also suspended from school for 2 days for fighting with a peer. Brandon was 15 -year-old European American who was identified as SLD in Grade 6. He scored at the 8th percentile on the TOWL-3 and had a standard score of 94 on the WJ-III GIA. At the end of the first semester of 10th grade, he earned C or higher grades in 60% of his classes.


The persuasive writing strategies taught in this study were embodied in diree mnemonics: STOP, AIMS, and DARE. The planning strategy STOP reminded students to make planning notes before they started to write. AIMS and DARE provided strategies to help students organize and write an academic essay. The students were taught that the "I" and the "M" could be used interchangeably. For instance, the writer might decide to provide the reader with background information before defining the problem of the topic. The steps in DARE focused on die body and concluding paragraphs of the essay. All instruction was provided by the first author.

These strategies were taught with the SRSD model (Harris & Graham, 1996) to students during their study hall. With SRSD, the instructor defined the context and purposes for learning the target strategies and explicitly and systematically modeled how to apply them. Instruction was scaffolded as students gradually mastered the strategies and took on full responsibility for using the writing and self-regulation strategies independently. Instruction in the six stages was criterion based (see box "The Six Stages of SRSD"). Finally, students were viewed as collaborators in the learning process and were taught to monitor their progress and set individual goals.

During the first stage of SRSD instruction, Develop Background Knowledge, the instructor introduced the knowledge students needed to learn to use the target strategies effectively. The instructor and students discussed how there were different purposes and genres for writing (e.g., writing notes for class, writing in a journal, and writing a report for school). The instructor explained that students would learn how to write persuasive text. They discussed how a persuasive essay has three sections. The introduction section establishes the context for the reader and introduces a thesis statement. The body section, which is one or more paragraphs, involves the presentation of evidence and examples to support the thesis. The concluding section, where the writer summarizes what was presented, also leaves the reader with a recommendation or something more to think about. The instructor and students also discussed how writers use transition words or phrases or repeat key words from their thesis statement to connect their ideas together and as a way to guide the reader through the essay.

Stage two of SRSD, Discuss It, involved the instructor discussing with students the purpose of a persuasive essay, the qualities that make a good persuasive essay, and when persuasive writing takes place (e.g., for class assignments or state writing tests). It was emphasized that a good persuasive essay starts by attracting the reader's attention and then provides the reader with context for understanding the scope of the topic. The instructor stressed that writers need to address their position, but also the opposing point of view, so the reader can better understand the writer's position and possibly be persuaded to consider a different point of view. The instructor explained that students would learn a planning strategy and two writing strategies to help them compose a good persuasive essay She passed out a graphic organizer that contained STOP, AIMS, and DARE and discussed the purpose and steps of each strategy with die students. The instructor showed examples of persuasive essays, and together the instructor and students analyzed the model texts to identify the audience for the paper, the writer's purpose, the position of the writer, the evidence the writer used, and how the opposing position was addressed. Together, they further discussed how transition and key words were used in the essay.

Also during this stage, students were introduced to several self-regulation strategies to help them apply the procedures they were learning. First, the instructor and students discussed how even good writers find writing challenging and what they do to overcome those challenges. The instructor distributed a goal planning sheet as a way for students to evaluate their writing, monitor their progress, and set goals for writing the next essay. The goal planning sheet listed STOP, AIMS, and DARE with specific prompts for each step. This sheet was used to remind students of the steps of the strategy and as a check sheet to make sure each step was completed. It also prompted them to identify specific goals for writing their upcoming essay, indicate whether a previous goal had been met for this essay, and explain what they would do next time a persuasive essay was written. The student used the goal planning sheet, with instructor assistance, to evaluate a previously written essay and set goals for their next essay. The instructor encouraged the students to set a goal that would be higher than the previous one. As the lessons progressed, the students began analyzing the essays they produced during the lessons.

Next, the instructor and students discussed the importance of self-instructions and how positive self-talk facilitated performance. They further addressed how negative attitudes or perceptions interfere with the writing process, and how they could use self-reinforcement strategies and positive praise statements. Students were encouraged to verbally talk about their writing in positive ways, identify what they liked about rheir writing, and state what they would change or do differently the next time they wrote.

During stage three, Model It, students chose a topic from the ones provided by the instructor. The instructor modeled how to plan and write an essay that included all the important elements for a persuasive essay by using STOP, AIMS, and DARE. The instructor used a think-aloud process following the guidelines provided by Harris, Graham, Mason, and Friedlander (2008). Before starting STOP, the instructor modeled how the students could create their own planning sheet by drawing a large capital "T" on their paper to denote both sides of an argument. She wrote AIMS and DARE under the T as a reminder of what to do when writing each part of the essay. She proceeded with each step of STOP. During the "suspend judgment" step, she emphasized the importance of understanding both sides of the topic. One way to do this was to rephrase the two positions, modeling how to do so. She then listed ideas for both sides of the argument. Next, she "took a position" by putting a star above the side she planned to defend. She "organized ideas" by numbering them in order of importance. She also circled ideas from the opposing side that she would refute. She underscored the importance to "plan more as you write" and to use the planning sheet as a reminder to apply AIMS and DARE.

An important component of modeling included the instructor talking about what was difficult about the topic and what she would say when working through a difficult idea (e.g., this is hard, but I can do this if I set my mind to it). While the instructor modeled the use of STOP, AIMS, and DARE on the whiteboard, students copied the planning notes and the written essay into their notebooks.

For stage four, Memorize It, students memorized each step of STOP, AIMS, and DARE and explained the function of each step. Starting with the first lesson, students were told they would be quizzed at the beginning of each lesson on the steps represented by each mnemonic. To help them remember this information, students made their own flash cards or used the cue cards provided by the instructor to memorize the steps. The Memorize It stage continued until a student could quickly write out each step of the strategies on a blank sheet of paper.

During stage five, Support It, the students moved toward independent practice in using the target strategies to plan and write a persuasive essay. At this stage, students began self-regulating the planning and writing of their own essays. They set their own goals for each essay, and evaluated their success in meeting them. Examples of the types of students' goals included writing a statement of fact instead of a question to attract the reader's attention, replacing transition words with transition phrases, using sequencing words rather than ordinal numbers as transitions, or providing two more elaborations for the supporting position.

During the Support It stage, the student chose a topic from the ones provided by the instructor and wrote a persuasive essay with assistance from the instructor, as needed, relying on graphic organizers, cue cards representing each step of the strategies, handouts, and other instructional materials until they were no longer necessary. After writing each essay, the writer and another student reviewed each essay with each student providing feedback to the other. Instruction ended when students could write two consecutive essays with all parts. The instructor, however, continued to individually support each student for four additional 1 0- to 1 5-min sessions once per week. During these four sessions, each student was given a self-evaluation graphic organizer. The self-evaluation graphic organizer prompted students to evaluate their previously written essay for present or missing elements, choice of words, use of transition words or phrases, and how a particular sentence or a phrase could be improved. The instructor's role was to offer support only as needed. At the end of each support session, the student set goals for writing the next essay.

As the students increasingly took more responsibility for applying the target strategies, they moved to die sixdi stage of SRSD instruction, Independent Performance. At this stage, the student independendy used the self-evaluation graphic organizer to identify parts that were included or missing from their previous essay, made suggestions for how they would elaborate, and expressed what they would do differently the next time they wrote. They also independently set goals and wrote complete essays that included all persuasive element parts.


During die study, a token economy system was in place. At the onset of the study, the instructor worked with each pair of students to establish a reinforcement system. Students determined small, medium, and large items as reinforcers, and the instructor and students established a point system to earn these items. Example of items included chips, candy, computer time, and art supplies, which were awarded to students every 2 to 3 weeks. Students earned points for coming to class prepared with writing utensil, notebook, and folder; participating during discussions; providing feedback during writer's workshop; and completing in-class activities, such as writing in their notebooks and using cue cards to memorize the strategies. Students were also reinforced at the end of the study for completing the writing assessments administered throughout the investigation with theii choice of sports magazines, two movie tickets, or a $15 iTunes gift certificate.


The instructor used a checklist for each lesson to ensure that each instructional step was presented. As a step was completed, the instructor placed a check mark next to it. All steps were checked in each lesson for each student. To further ensure treatment fidelity, each instructional session was tape recorded. A research assistant who was unfamiliar with the design and purpose of the study independently listened to a random sample of 25% of the tape recordings. Using the same checklist as the instructor did during the lesson, the research assistant checked off each step if it was completed. The average percentage of steps completed across each of the lessons was 91% (range 66%-100%; median and mode = 100%). The explanation for the 66% score was that the recording for this lesson terminated before the instructor was able to complete the lesson, requiring the second scorer to score "0" for each step beyond that point. Instruction for each student averaged 6.5 hr of time.


Twenty five content-related persuasive writing prompts were developed by two language arts teachers in the school (with help from the first author). The prompts were designed so that they were relevant for lOth-grade students (e.g., should the voting age change, should cell phones be banned from school, or should students be allowed to work part-time while going to school?). To maintain consistency of the writing prompts, each prompt was formatted and structured in the same way. Each included a heading to convey the topic; a situation describing the context, a problem, and an opposing side of the topic; and directions for the student to consider the situation as well as write an essay to a specific audience about which position they would take. The following was an example of a writing prompt used in this study:

Changing the Voting Age

Situation: Many people are discussing the candidates who are campaigning to be the presidential nominee of the Democratic and Republican parties. The media has expressed much surprise about the large increase in young voters. Currently, the age to vote for President of the United States is 18 years old. However, some people believe that the voting age should be lowered to 16 years old.

Directions: Based on the above situation, discuss whether the voting age should be lowered to 16 years old. Write an essay in which you persuade your teacher of your opinion.

The 25 probes that were developed were ordered randomly, with the first 14 probes used for assessment purposes only (baseline phase = 4 probes, intervention phase = 7 probes, and postinstruction phase = 3 probes). These writing probes were administered to each student in the same order. The following conditions were established to obtain the student's best writing: (1) each student was individually tested in a quiet room, (2) the student responded to only one essay prompt in a day, (3) administration of the writing probe never occurred on the same day as instruction, and (4) the students were given as much time as they needed to complete their essay. The remaining 1 1 writing probes were used during the instructional phase of the study.


Before they were scored, all essays (N = 82) were typed into a word processing program with no corrections to punctuation, capitalization, or spelling.


Each essay was scored for the number of functional and nonfunctional persuasive elements included in a persuasive essay (see De La Paz & Graham, 1997). Each essay was parsed into (a) functional elements for writing a persuasive essay or (b) nonfunctional text. Functional persuasive elements were defined as directly supporting the writer's argument, whereas nonfunctional text included verbatim repetitions of text or text that was unrelated to the writer's argument.

The procedures used to score functional elements followed the guidelines recommended by Graham (1990). Seven essential elements provided the criterion for writing a persuasive essay and included the following units;

1 . Context of the problem, which involved appealing to the reader and providing necessary background information about the topic (e.g., "In the past 5 years, teachers have noted that cell phone use by teenagers during class has increased.").

2. Problem statement where the writer defined the problem and allowed the reader to understand why the writer was taking a specific position (e.g., "Cell phone use during class creates distraction from learning.").

3. Premise statement that specifies the writer's position (e.g., "I think students should only be allowed to use their cell phones at school between classes.").

4. Reason to support the premise statement (e.g., "Because sometimes you need to be able to contact your parents.").

5. Reason to refute the position the writer did not take (e.g., "Although teenagers can text their friends during class.").

6. Concluding statement (e.g., "There may be times when students need to use their cell phones during school.").

7. One type of elaboration that provides further information about either a premise, reason to support a premise, reason to refute the opposite position, or conclusion (e.g., "I forgot my homework.").

If an element was presented, it received a score ofl.

In many instances, participating students provided more than one functional element for each of the seven basic categories (e.g., wrote more than one reason to support the premise or provided more than one elaboration for a reason to refute). Consequently, we scored each of these additional elements by type of elements, giving a score of 1 to each. The first author scored all essays for persuasive elements, and a trained rater unfamiliar with the design and purpose of the study independently rescored all essays. Pearson product moment correlation between the two raters for the total essential elements and total functional elements was .93.


Total words written (TWW) was the total number of words in the students' persuasive essay A word was any letter or group of letters separated by a space regardless of spelling. Pearson product moment correlation between the two scorers was 1.00.


A primary trait scale was used to obtain a general index of the overall writing quality for each persuasive essay. The holistic rubric scale consisted of die following seven anchor points:

0 = off topic or no response

1 = no position or takes a position with no support, shows little or no understanding of the issue with litde or no evidence of organizational structure or sequencing

2 = takes a position but shows little understanding of the issue, takes an unclear position with minimal support, and organization is unclear

3 = takes a position, shows some understanding of the issue but may not remain focused, reasons may be limited or repetitious, mentions a refutation, uneven organization with clusters of sequenced or related reasons

4 = takes a position, shows an understanding of the issue, generally focused, supported adequately with a mixture of general and specific reasons, shows some complexity of arguments that oppose the writet's position, uneven but sequenced and related reasons

5 = takes a position, shows clear understanding, focused response supported with specific and logical reasons, evaluates the implications of counterarguments, organization is controlled with occasional lapse in sequence or relationships among reasons

6 = takes a position, shows clear understanding, maintains focus, supported thoroughly and consistently with specific logical reasons or examples, demonstrates insight and complexity of counterarguments, controlled organization and logical sequence of reasons with strong transitions

All essays were scored independendy by the first author and a university writing instructor. This second scorer was unfamiliar with the purpose and design of the study. Each essay was read attentively, but not laboriously, in order to obtain a general impression of overall quality. Errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar were only considered when scoring if these errors affected the overall meaning of the text. Pearson product moment correlation between the two raters for writing quality scores was .85.


To separate planning from writing time, the student was asked to use the inside cover sheet of a booklet for planning what to write (e.g., notes, mnemonic devices, STOP diagram, etc.) and the white-lined sheets for writing the essay. The time planning was defined as the duration in minutes students made notes on the inside cover sheet; time writing was defined as the duration in minutes the student wrote on the white-lined paper of the booklet. Planning and writing time were added together to obtain total composing time.


Questionnaires for teachers, parents, and students were developed to assess the social validity of the intervention. The questionnaires used a Likettrype scale ranging from 1 to 6 (1 = Strongly Disagree; 2 = Disagree; 3 = Somewhat Disagree; 4 = Somewhat Agree; 5 = Agree; 6 = Strongly Agree; and no opportunity to observe) and one open-ended prompt for the respondent to share any additional comments. The parent and teacher questionnaires had four questions, asking the respondents the extent to which instruction (a) improved the overall writing of the student, (b) specifically improved the student's persuasive writing, (c) was worth recommending to other students who struggled with persuasive writing, and (d) increased the student's confidence about writing. The student questionnaire consisted of eight questions assessing the extent to which instruction (a) improved their persuasive writing, (b) improved their confidence about their writing abilities, (c) improved their planning skills, (d) improved their writing skills using AIMS, (e) improved theit writing skills using DARE, (0 was worth their time and effort, (g) would continue to be used, and (h) was worth recommending to other students who want to improve their persuasive writing. Social validity measures were administered at the end of the study.


The effects of teaching the target strategies were assessed using a multiple-probe, multiple-baseline design across three pairs of students. Multiple data points for each student were taken during the three phases of the study: baseline, intervention, and postinstruction. For each probe, the student wrote one persuasive essay on a topic unrelated to the ones written during instruction. Once baseline data were stable or declining across four data points for the first pait of students, the intervention phase began. During the intervention phase, students were instiucted during their study skills class. Seven data probes were taken during the instruction phase. The first three data probes were taken after specific instructional objectives were met. The first probe was taken after the student was familiar with the purpose and basic parts of a persuasive essay; the STOP, AIM, and DARE strategy had been presented and discussed; and performance on a baseline paper had been analyzed and graphed. The second probe was taken after the instructor modeled the application of the target strategies and the instructot and students collaboratively wrote their first essay. It was at this second testing time that we expected to see an increase in essential petsuasive elements, as students' petformance is unlikely to change until they have seen the strategy modeled and had a chance to apply it with some assistance. The third probe was taken after the students individually had written their first persuasive essay during the Support It stage. Once students had completed the first four stages of insttuction, wrote at least one essay during stage five (Support It) where they took the lead in writing theit paper, and had seven essential elements on at least one of the intervention probes, instruction for the next pair of students began. The remaining four probes were administeted on a weekly basis after the instructor continued to meet individually with the first pair of students once a week until each student met criterion and applied the target strategy independently (criterion of seven basic elements across three essays). At this point, insttuction ended and the postinstruction phase began. This process was repeated for the third pair of students.

During postinstruction, the first data probe occurred approximately one week after the intervention ended. All instructional support had been withdrawn at this point. If the student's score fell below seven basic elements on the first postinstruction essay, the instructor gave a verbal reminder or booster to write down STOP, AIMS, and DARE and to cross off each step before she administered the second postinstruction probe. Instructional support was then withdrawn for the third postinstruction probe. Pairs 1 and 2 participated in three postinstruction probes. Pair 3 completed just two probes as the school year ended before a third probe could be administered.


Figures 1, 2, and 3 present the number of total essential elements in each student's essay (possible points = 7), total functional elements, and writing quality scores, respectively. A functional relation between strategy instruction and the treatment was established for each of these measures, as baseline scores for each student were stable or descending, and performance during the early stages of instruction improved for each student. A richer description of students' performance in each phase of the study follows.




As a group, students spent very little time planning and writing (i.e., composing time) their papers during baseline. They averaged 8 min 56 s of composing time (see Table 1). Only 4% of their total composing time, however, was spent planning in advance. The only notable exception to this was Brianna who spent 11% of her composing time planning (but this only accounted for 1:45 min). In fact, Brianna and Cameron were the only students who averaged more than 10 min total composing time, but even so, their time was less than 16 min on average. The only students who made written planning notes during baseline were Brianna (in all four baseline essays) and Evan (in 50% of baseline essays), but these notes were very limited, mostly involving stating a position and/or listing several possible supporting reasons.

Given the small amount of time students spent composing, it is not surprising that they generated impoverished essays. Their papers usually contained just three of the essential elements (see Figure 1). This generally involved a premise and at least one supporting reason. Other elements such as elaborations were infrequent, occurring in just 14% of baseline essays. The type of elaboration most common in these papers was expanding on the premise statement (25%) or on reasons to support the premise (65%). It was also notable that nonfunctional text material was quite common, accounting for 23% of all elements in baseline essays. Cameron had the highest proportion of nonfunctional material (38%), whereas Brianna, Evan, and Brandon had between 16% to 25% nonfunctional elements, and Adrianna and Victor had less dian 5%.

Although baseline essays averaged almost 120 words across the six students, overall quality of papers was low, averaging just 2.38 on a 7-point scale (see Table 1). The students who wrote the most during baseline, Brianna and Cameron, had the highest quality scores, but their average baseline scores for quality did not exceed 3.00. Overall, baseline essays were not complete or convincing persuasive documents. It must be noted that in many of the baseline essays, students merely repeated verbatim their premise statement, as either a topic sentence or a concluding statement with little elaboration or evidence to support their position.


It was expected that learning the persuasive writing strategies would enhance time spent planning and writing. As can be seen in Table 1, this occurred during treatment. Advanced planning time increased 19-fold, whereas writing time increased 244% on average. There was also a shift in how much of their composing time these students dedicated to planning in advance, increasing from 4% in baseline to 25% during instruction. It was interesting to note that the three students who did the most advanced planning (Evan, Brianna, and Cameron), spent the most time writing during treatment, and they created planning notes using the taught strategies on all of their intervention essays. Adrianna and Victor created planning notes starting with the second intervention probe, but Brandon did not write planning notes until the third probe.

Also, as expected, students' essays became more complete during instruction, averaging 6.45 of 7.00 essential elements for all participants. Individually, each student's essay during this phase averaged at least 6 of the 7 essential elements (see Table 1). For all instructional essays written after the third probe, the average number of essential elements across students was 6.96. Adrianna, Victor, Evan, and Cameron reached the criterion of seven essential elements on the third intervention probe; and Brianna and Brandon reached it on the fourth probe (see Figure 1).

Students consistently provided support for their positions (100%, 42 of 42 essays), included one or more elaborations (100%, 42 of 42 essays), wrote clear premises (98%, 41 of 42 essays), made concluding statements (93%, 39 of 42 essays), refuted the other position (88%, 37 of 42 essays), and described the context of the problem (88%, 37 of 42 essays). They also frequently defined the problem of the topic (76%, 32 of 42 essays). The average number of elaborations across all intervention essays more than doubled from baseline, and the type of elaboration occurring most frequendy from highest to lowest were: support (x = 29.00). conclusion (x = 9.67), refutation (x = 5.15), premise (x = 4.17), context (x = 4.00), and problem (x = 3.00). Although nonfunctional text units decreased from 23% in baseline to 5% during the instructional phase, the average amount of total words increased by 156% (Table 1).

The average score for quality across intervention essays was 4.02 (on a 7-point scale). This represented an increase of 169% from baseline scores. A score of 4 meant that students' essays showed an understanding of more than one side of an issue, maintained focus, supported the premise adequately, and was organized with sequenced relationships of reasons and support. Evan and Brandon more than doubled their scores for quality. The quality of the remaining students' essays increased from 133% to 161% during the instructional phase.


The amount of time students spent planning and writing their essays increased from the end of intervention through postinsttuction probes. For all students (see Table 1), total composing time increased by 128% (planning time increased by 112%, and writing time increased by 133%). Brandon showed the highest increase in planning time (133%). As during treatment, students who did the most advanced planning (Evan, Adrianna, and Brianna) spent the most time writing, with Adrianna showing the highest increase in writing time (171%).

During the postinstructional probes, students continued to generate complete persuasive essays, averaging 6.70 of 7.00 essential elements across all participants. On the first postinstruction probe when all instructional support was withdrawn, only Evan and Cameron met the criterion of seven essential elements. They continued to meet criterion on all remaining posttreatment probes. Because the remaining students did not meet criterion on the first posttreatment probe, the instructor administered a brief booster before the second probe. This involved reminding each of them to use the target strategies for writing a persuasive essay. Each student met the criterion of 7.00 on the second postinstructional probe. On the third postinstructional probe, Adrianna and Brianna maintained criterion, whereas Victor did not (Cameron and Brandon were not administered a third probe because the school year had ended). In addition, four of the students eliminated nonfunctional text from their postinstruction essays.

The overall quality and total words also increased slightly from intervention to postinstruction essays. The essays at postinstruction averaged 227 words across the six students, and the overall quality was 4.35 (on a 7-point scale). Evan had the highest overall quality average (5.33). An essay with a score of 5 showed a clear understanding of the issue, was focused through most of the response, and was supported with specific logical reasons, with occasional lapses in sequencing or relationship among ideas. Cameron was the only student whose quality scores did not increase from the intervention to postinstruction essays.

The following two essays (with spelling corrected), written by the same student, illustrate an average baseline essay and average postinstruction essay in terms of each writing measures.

Baseline Essay

I agree with banning them from class because if you do then there will not be near as many distractions. You will have to set a lot higher of a consequence to be able ro do this. I also think that by doing this there will be a lot less cheating and lot more paying attention.

Postinstruction Essay

Have you ever had to drive your kids places when you didn't want to? The governor wants to change the legal driving age to 18 because of the increase in teenage car accidents. The problem with changing the driving age to 18 is that kids won't learn responsibility at an early age. I am for keeping the legal driving age the same for these reasons.

My first reason for keeping the driving age at 16 is that kids would learn responsibility. Learning this stuff younger could help prepare them in the future. For instance kids would have to pay for their own gas and insurance. My second reason is that kids would be able to take themselves to school and work. Kids need to work to be able to make money so they can drive to school.

My last reason for not changing the driving age is that parents would want their kids to run errands for them. If the driving age was changed to 18 kids wouldn't be able to run errands for their parents because they might be moved out. Parents wouldn'r like that because they wouldn't have ever gotten to take a break. Although kids would be a lot more responsible when they are 18, they would be even more responsible if they had been learning how to drive since they were 16.

In conclusion I am for keeping the driving age at 16. The governor is wrong because changing the driving age ro 18 won't make a difference. There will be just as many accidents because they're both still learning how to drive.


The response from students, teachers, and parents about STOP, AIMS, and DARE were positive. Students reported their persuasive essay writing improved (x = 5.50, SD = .84), they would continue to use the strategy (x = 5.83, SD = .41), and they would recommend it to other students (x = 5.83, SD = .41). All students felt more confident about their writing abilities (x = 5.33) and agreed that the writing lessons were worth their time and effort (x = 5.67). The language arts teachers (TV = 2) and parents (N = 6) shared similar views. They strongly recommended the writing strategies used in this study for other students (X = 6.00, SD = .00 for both groups). Both groups also agreed that the overall writing of the students improved as a result of learning the strategy (teachers: x =5.00, SD = .63; parents: x = 5.83, SD = .41) and that students were more confident about their writing (teachers: ? = 5.00, SD = .71; parents: X = 5.67, SD = .52). The first teacher agreed that the writing strategies were effective in improving students' persuasive writing (x = 5.00, SD = .82). The other teacher indicated she did not ask students to write a persuasive essay after the district writing exams, so she had no opportunity to observe if performance improved.

In addition, Adrianna indicated she learned to be a writer and was more confident now about writing, Victor and Evan indicated they learned how to write better, Brianna wrote how the strategy helped her organize her essay and "make it flow," Cameron stated that every time he wrote he tried to "write more than before." Brandon indicated that the strategies made writing easier, and he hoped to "pass the district writing exam and earn a regular high school diploma."


In the present study, the impact of teaching planning and drafting strategies for persuasive writing to lOth-grade students with disabilities was examined. In addition, we examined at what point during SRSD instruction changes in students' writing performance occurred.


Before strategy instruction was initiated, the participating students spent little time composing their persuasive papers (about 9 min), devoting virtually no time to planning in advance (less than one-half of a min). Their compositions were incomplete and of poor quality, containing little elaboration. Almost one fourth (23%) of what they wrote was repetitive or not related to their argument. These observations are consistent with studies of younger students with disabilities, where low persistence, little advanced planning, and impoverished persuasive writing are common (e.g., De La Paz & Graham, 1997; Sexton, Harris, & Graham, 1998). Thus, the ineffective approach younger students with disabilities typically apply when composing persuasive texts was evident in the writing of older students with disabilities in the current study.

Consistent with our expectations, teaching students the STOP, AIM, and DARE strategy had a pronounced and functional impact on writing and writing behavior. During instruction, total essential persuasive elements (the primary variable in this study) increased from three elements during baseline (out of a possible seven) to 6.4 over the course of the treatment. When only the last four treatment probes were considered, almost every student included all seven essential elements on each of these writing probes. In addition, total number of functional elements increased almost threefold and, most important, overall scores for writing quality almost doubled.

During instruction, collatetal improvements were also seen in the amount of time students spent composing and planning as well as in how much and how well they wrote. As a group, the participating students spent 28 min composing, with one quarter of this time spent planning in advance. There was a 66-word increase in how much they wrote, and students eliminated almost all nonfunctional information from their persuasive text.

The gains obsetved during instruction were maintained for a short period of time after instruction ended (2 to 3 weeks). For three variables, students' performance clearly increased on postinstruction probes. As a group, students' papers increased by another 43 words, they spent an extra 7 min composing, and they included three additional functional elements in their persuasive papers. Given the types of gains that students made, it is not surprising that students, teachers, and parents were positive about the treatment.

Although additional replication is needed and the collection of maintenance probes must extend beyond a 2- to 3-week window, the findings from this study are consistent with studies with younger students with disabilities showing that strategy instruction in planning and drafting persuasive essays is effective (e.g., De La Paz, 2005; De La Paz & Graham, 1997; Graham & Harris, 1989; Graham & MacArthur, 1988; Sexton et al., 1998; Wong et al., 1996). Based on the positive findings from this investigation and Jacobson and Reid (2010) as well as the nonexperimental Chalk et al. (2005) study involving strategy instruction for story writing, we encourage other researchers to assess the effectiveness of writing strategy instruction with other high school students with disabilities. This includes testing additional strategies for planning and drafting essays as well as strategies for revising and editing (such strategies have been effective with younger students with disabilities; Graham & Harris, 2003).

Although there was some variability in how students composed and wrote during baseline, instruction, and following instruction, these differences were not pronounced and the types of gains students made as a result of treatment were generally similar. Nevertheless, future strategy instruction research in writing needs to examine student characteristics and the characteristics of treatments that are related to students' responsiveness to instruction. For instance, whereas strategy instruction is effective with both struggling and typically developing writers, it produces larger effects with the former (Graham & Perin, 2007).


In the present study, we collected persuasive probes during instruction. This allowed us to examine at what point during instruction a change in students' writing behavior occurred. In most previous SRSD studies, writing probes were taken before and after instruction and not during it (see Danoff et al., 1993 for an exception). As expected, most of the participating students' did not evidence a jump in essential persuasive essay elements until the second probe during instruction. By this point, the strategy had been modeled and each student had collaboratively practiced using it with the instructor. Although the probes administered during instruction in this study and Danoff et al. were not exactly aligned, both studies found that modeling had to occur before students' performance improved (see exceptions in the following).

It should be noted that the number of seven essential elements included in the persuasive papers written by two students (Evan and Cameron) increased considerably (by three points) on the first probe administered during instruction. Thus, for these two students, improvement was evident after they had learned about the purpose and basic parts of a persuasive essay; rhe STOP, AIM, and DARE strategy had been presented and discussed; and performance on a baseline essay had been analyzed and graphed. It is not clear why these two students' performance improved on the first probe, when the performance of other students did not. Although they produced die lowest number of essential essay elements on baseline probes, the mean difference between their output and that of other students was no more than 1 .0 or 1.5 elements. Clearly, additional research is needed to determine when change in students' writing behavior occurs during SRSD instruction and what variables are related to the timing of such changes.

In previous studies, SRSD improved the writing performance of students with a variety of different types of disabilities, including students with learning disabilities (Harris & Graham, 1985), behavioral difficulties (Lane et al., 2008), ADHD (Reid & Lienemann, 2006), developmental disabilities (Harris, Graham, & Mason, 2006), and Asperger's syndrome (Delano, 2007). SRSD has also been effective in improving the writing performance of typically developing writers and struggling writers without disabilities (Graham & Perin, 2007; Rogers & Graham, 2008). Although all of the students in the current study were similar in that they scored below the 25th percentile on the TOWL-3, they were a varied group of youngsters in terms of type of disability, age of diagnosis, race, gender, and school history. Despite these differences, the SRSD intervention tested was successful with each student in the study. This finding provides additional support for the overall utility of SRSD as a tool for teaching writing strategies to a broad range of youngsters.


This study demonstrates that teaching students with disabilities strategies for planning and drafting persuasive text can have a positive effect on how they write (mote time spent planning and writing) and what they write (more complete and qualitatively better essays). Such instruction can be provided in pull-out programs. In this study, students were taught the STOP, AIM, and DARE strategy in a study hall. Such instruction could also occut in other pull-out settings or within the context of a general classroom.

IfSTOP, AIM, and DARE is to be used as a strategy for writing persuasive essays in multiple disciplines, then teachers will need to provide students with practice applying it in different domains (e.g., science, social studies). In addition, the strategy will need to be adapted to the demands of different subject areas, as the warrants and claims needed to support a position in science are different from those applied in a discipline such as social studies. Moreover, students' effective application of the strategy across different domains is likely to be enhanced if the special education and content teachers work together to support its use. For example, once students learn how to use the strategy in one subject area, teachers in other content classes can teach youngsters how to adapt and apply it in their class.


Several limitations need to be noted. The study involved just six students, representing a range of disabilities. All teaching was delivered by the first author during students' study hall period. The writing probes were developed by language arts teachers and are not representative of petsuasive writing in all content areas. A token economy system was in place during the study, and this may have made it easier for the instructor to teach the strategy. Fidelity was measured by assessing if each step of instruction was completed. Such a measure may not capture all of the nuances involved in the SRSD model, especially in the Support It stage. Finally, long-term maintenance data was not collected.

The current study demonstrates that the persuasive writing of high school students with disabilities can be improved by teaching them strategies for planning and drafting their text. Because very little writing intervention research has been conducted with struggling high school writers (with or without disabilities), we hope that the positive outcomes obtained in this investigation will encourage other intervention researchers to focus their attention on helping these students become more skilled writers. As was done in this study, we also encourage singlesubject design researchers to collect probes during SRSD instruction to identify where in the instructional sequences changes in writing performance occur.


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Author affiliation:


Vanderbilt University



University of Utah


Vanderbilt University

Author affiliation:


SHARLENE A. KiUHARA (Tennessee CEC), Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Special Education, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee. ROBERT E. O'NEILL (Utah CEC), Professor, Department Chair; and LEANNE s. HAWKEN, Associate Professor, Department of Special Education, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah. STEVE graham (Tennessee CEC), Professor and Currey Ingram Chair in Special Education and Literacy, Department of Special Education, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee.

This article represents the dissertation research of the first author submitted to the Department of Special Education at the University of Utah in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the doctoral degree. The writing of this article was supported by Institute for Educational Sciences Grant (R324B0800005) from the Special Education Research Training-Post Doctoral Competition (84.324) to Vanderbilt University. The first author would like to diank John McDonnell and Thomas N. Huckin, as well as the co-authors, for their guidance and support.

Address correspondence concerning this article to Sharlene A. Kiuhara, Assistant Professor, School of Education, Westminster College, 1840 S 1300 E, Salt Lake City, UT 84105 (e-mail: skiuhara .

Manuscript received November 2010; accepted April 2011.

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