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Elementary School Writing Project: July 2006- June 2011

Attention, Memory, and Executive Functions in Written Language Expression in Elementary School Children

U.S. Department of Education, Institute for Education Sciences






Who participated?

205 students across two cohorts from seven elementary schools participated in this study. The students participated for 4 years from first to fourth grade.

What did we learn?

This study produced a variety of outcomes in the examination of written language in young, elementary school children. First, this study showed that the co-morbidity of reading problems in written language varies over grades 1 through 4, with rates generally suggesting about a 47% overlap of both reading and writing problems. Second, the measurement of cognitive functions underlying early written language is stable, with the latent variables of motor, language, and executive functions being stable across grades 1 through 4. Third, these latent variables are predictive of later writing problems, although they did not perform as well as individual measures of orthographic choice, working memory, inhibitory control, visual memory recognition, and planning in identifying risk status in grades 2 through 4. Surprisingly, the presence of internalizing or externalizing problems did not differentiate children who were at-risk for writing disabilities versus typical controls during these early grades. Fourth, the use of curriculum-based measures in the assessment of written expression is challenging. Finally, the use of the Process of the Learner Lesson Plans for written language contributed to improvements in writing skills for our students at-risk in the second grade, but these positive findings did not persist into the fourth grade–even with ongoing Teir 2 interventions.

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In this project, we examined the developmental trajectories of written expression in young, elementary school children, the cognitive contributors to the development of written expression, and the effectiveness of an evidence-based intervention in altering the trajectories of children at-risk for written language disorders.