Using Self-Regulation to Improve Writing

The project aimed to use memorable experiences and an approach called ‘Self-Regulated Strategy Development’ (SRSD) to help struggling writers in Years 6 and 7. SRSD provides a clear structure to help pupils plan, monitor and evaluate their writing. It aims to encourage pupils to take ownership of their work and can be used to teach most genres of writing, including narrative writing. Memorable experiences, such as trips to local landmarks or visits from World War II veterans, were used as a focus for writing lessons.

In this evaluation 23 primary schools and their Year 6 teachers in the Calderdale area of West Yorkshire were randomly allocated to receive training, from an external consultant, in the SRSD approach. Twelve schools were allocated to the comparison group and 11 schools to the intervention group. Children in the intervention schools were taught following the SRSD approach in the last six weeks of the summer term in Year 6 and in the first term of Year 7 at secondary school. The project was organised by the Calderdale Excellence Partnership.

The study was funded by the Education Endowment Foundation as one of 23 projects focused on literacy catch-up at the primary-secondary transition. It was one of three programmes with a particular focus on writing.

Key Conclusions

The following conclusions summarise the project outcome

  1. The approach had a strong positive effect on the writing outcomes of low attaining pupils at the transition from primary to secondary school among a sample of pupils in State schools in the West Yorkshire area

  2. The approach had beneficial effects for both FSM and non-FSM pupils.

  3. These findings, in combination with existing evidence from the United States and elsewhere, suggest that the Self-Regulated Strategy Development approach has substantial promise as a literacy catch-up

  4. A larger effectiveness trial could be commissioned to test the approach on a larger scale and with other age groups.

  5. Teachers were trained in the SRSD approach by the North American developers, but adapted it in some ways for an English context.

What is the impact?

Overall, the project appeared to have a large positive impact on writing outcomes. The overall effect size for writing, comparing the progress of pupils in the project to similar pupils who did not participate was +0.74. This effect size was statistically significant, meaning that it is unlikely to have occurred by chance, and can be envisaged as saying that participating pupils made approximately nine months’ additional progress compared to similar pupils who did not participate in the intervention.

The approach was also effective for pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM). Whilst there appears to be a larger effect for FSM pupils, the difference in the interaction test is not statistically significant, so chance is a possible explanation for the difference observed.

The approach had no statistically significant effect on the secondary outcomes relating to reading, spelling or grammar (i.e. the small differences between the groups could have occurred by chance). These outcomes were not the main focus of the study, but were measured as part of the same test.

Teachers were trained in the SRSD approach by the North American developers, but, with support from the Calderdale Excellence Partnership team, also adapted it in some ways for an English context. For example, a component of the approach which focused on developing positive ‘self-talk’ was Anglicised.

Intervention vs. control23 primary schools 3 secondary schools 261 pupils +0.74+9+0.26 to +1.22
Pupils eligible for free school meals86 pupils+1.60+18+0.21 to +2.98N/A

How secure is the finding?

The overall finding of the study is assessed as moderately secure. This assessment is based on the study’s design, its size and other factors such as the level of drop-out of participating pupils.

The evaluation was set up as an efficacy trial to test the impact of using SRSD in conjunction with memorable experiences at the transition from primary to secondary school. Efficacy trials seek to test evaluations in the best possible conditions, but they do not seek to demonstrate that the findings hold at scale in all types of schools.

Calderdale Excellence Partnership (CEP) recruited 23 primary schools and three secondary schools that were served by the recruited primary schools and a SRSD developer came from North America to deliver training. The 23 primary schools were randomly assigned by a statistician at the York Trials Unit so that Year 6 teachers in the 11 intervention schools [1] received training to deliver the intervention to their Year 6 pupils. Three secondary schools agreed to honour the randomisation by allocating intervention and comparison school pupils into separate Year 7 classes, and SRSD continued to be delivered, by secondary school English teachers, to the intervention children in the first term of their Year 7. All children (from both the intervention and comparison groups) were tested under exam conditions using the Progress in English 11 (Long Form) Test developed by GL Assessment as a measure of general writing ability. Primary schools allocated to the comparison group were offered the training in the SRSD approach at the end of the trial (known as a ‘wait-list’).

The study was well conducted with independent randomisation and a moderate sample size. Intention-to-treat analysis was used (i.e. pupils were compared in the groups to which they were originally randomly assigned), blind marking of the test papers was undertaken, and the analysis was adjusted for school randomisation. Attrition was 8.5% for comparison pupils and 8.0% for intervention of those who were eligible because they attended both the primary and participating secondary school, which should have resulted in relatively little bias.

A systematic review of all previous randomised controlled trials of SRSD, largely from North America, has shown that this approach to teaching writing is, on average, very effective, with large effect sizes reported. This trial suggests that the approach can also be effective in English schools.

To increase the security of the finding and to assess its applicability in other schools, a larger evaluation could be commissioned in the future. In addition, further work could be done to try and disentangle the role and importance of the individual components of the intervention (e.g. the training or memorable experiences), as this was not possible within this evaluation.

[1] Correction issued: 17th June 2014. A previous version of this report stated that there were 12 intervention schools.

How much does it cost?

The cost of the approach is estimated at £52 per pupil. This estimate includes training and materials (£60 per teacher or £2 per pupil), and the cost of memorable experiences (£50 per pupil). Estimates are based on a class of 30 pupils, and on training being delivered to a group of 30 teachers.