Grant requested: $300,000 over 2 years Project name: Write Now Web Site Development Purpose

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Citigroup Foundation

Grant: Educating the Next Generation

Investigator: Jessica Warne, M.A. Computers and Educational Technology



Grant requested: $300,000 over 2 years

Project name: Write Now Web Site Development
Purpose: 1) Expand instructional content of the Write Now beta web site, and make it available to all schools nationally via the Internet;
2) Measure learning results of at least 500 students using the site program in southern California, Arizona and New Mexico
Project rationale: Funding is requested for extended development of the Write Now web site for the reasons below. These reasons are discussed in this proposal.

  1. Since many students, especially English Language Learners (ELLs), are not able to get the requisite skills for passing the high school exit exam from classroom instruction alone, supplemental instructional media are needed.

  2. Computer based instruction, such as the Write Now web site, addresses this issue by providing instruction to anyone with Internet access inside or outside of traditional classroom instruction with only minimal teacher intervention.

  3. Extensive research since the 1980s has shown computer based instruction allows for self-teaching and self-pacing, is inherently motivating, encourages positive attitudes towards learning, and successfully results in student achievement.

  4. Research also indicates that instructional content based on dual coding theory (used to develop the site content) enhances and accelerates learning.

Principal Investigator Background
As a High School English teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) for the past 6 years, I am aware of the disadvantages English learners face in public schools on a daily basis. These students must navigate through coursework hearing and using a language that is only partially accessible to them. With this limited ability to speak, read and write, many cannot acquire knowledge and skills enabling them complete required courses for earning a diploma or for passing the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE). Without a diploma and the successful completion of the CAHSEE, these students are barred from most higher education, and certainly from an open-ended career path. Statistics released by LAUSD show that 43% of all students are English learners; as of March 2006, 31% of this group had not passed the CAHSEE exam. For the same 2006 test, results tabulated for the state show that Hispanic/Latino African American students had the lowest passing rate for the English Language Arts portion of the test (
Certain portions of CAHSEE require a knowledge of sentence and paragraph structure for writing essays, as well as the ability to identify faulty sentence grammar. In the fall of 2006, I conducted an action research project in a high school English class (for California State University Northridge) based on a web site I created called “Write Now.” I designed this web site specifically to teach basic sentence structure required for passing the CAHSEE; it allowed students to work independently and self-directedly through a series of instructions with a minimal amount of teacher intervention. The site was also designed using the principles of Dual Coding Theory, which requires the integration of graphics and text to maximize learning (more about that in the next section).
Students emerged from the instruction after 12 weeks with a new-found ability to recognize and write grammatical sentences. Their use of this site was so startlingly successful, I want to expand the scope of the instruction on this web site, and do two things:
1) Expand the instructional content of the site and make it available to English learners nationally — or to learners at any location where there is Internet access — so they can realize the same benefits. The site would be of value to teachers and students in classrooms, in distance learning programs, or even in home schooling.
2) Gather data on the use of the use of this site (in its more expanded state) in areas of southern California, Arizona and New Mexico; positive learning results could indicate that the dual coding design of the web site might be effective in other content areas using a similar web site environment.
I have a California Clear Life Standard Credential, with a major in English from the University of Southern California; I also possess a Clear Life Supplementary/Subject Matter Authorization for Literature and English Composition. Prior to resuming a teaching career in 2001, I worked for 25 years as a corporate writer and web/graphic designer in marketing, advertising and communications departments.

More about the problem
Some of the specific grammar standards that are assessed on the CAHSEE include the following (from the state Department of Education web site

    1. Identify and correctly use clauses (e.g., main and subordinate), phrases (e.g., gerund, infinitive, and participial), and mechanics of punctuation (e.g., semicolons, colons, ellipses, hyphens).

    2. Understand sentence construction (parallel structure, subordination, proper placement of modifiers) and proper English usage (e.g. consistency of verb tenses).

    3. Demonstrate an understanding of proper English usage and control of grammar, paragraph and sentence structure, diction, and syntax.

If English Language Learners haven’t mastered these basic grammar skills by the time the CAHSEE exam comes due, the only recourse is to suddenly focus on their deficiencies and teach to them specifically for a few weeks. This is just what the Los Angeles Unified School District does. LAUSD conducts two-week “boot camps” for CAHSEE preparation and sponsors other types of preparation programs as well. This is not the same thing as learning, however. These boot camps really teach test-taking strategies.

There may be many reasons why these students’ deficiencies haven’t been corrected earlier. Possibly the requirement for standards-based instruction tends to coerce high school teachers into following a regimented program that does not invite deviation. That is, perhaps teachers are reluctant to abandon their required program for however long it would take to focus on students’ grammar deficiencies and overcome them. Whatever the cause, certainly teachers and students would benefit from some kind of program that would address student deficiencies while they continue to pursue all other required English standards.
The Write Now web site is designed to do exactly that: It allows students to acquire requisite skills any time they have access to a computer, before, during or after school. The instructional content is delivered through multi-media resources at the computer, and students are able to self-teach with a minimal amount of teacher intervention (although some teacher feedback is required throughout). Extensive research studies are available discussing the efficacy of this multimedia instructional approach. For example, “Comparison of hypermedia learning and traditional instruction on knowledge acquisition and retention” by Yildrm, Z. Ozden M. and Aksu, M. (The Journal of Educational Research, 2001) discusses not only successful student learning in computer based instruction, but other student benefits as well.
I am interested in specifically targeting the Hispanic learners in California, Arizona and New Mexico for this project primarily because they are the largest English Language Learner group available. Testing a group coming from the same culture and language, I can be more confident that measured learning results are less impacted by uncontrolled variables of mixed cultures and languages. Although I had Hispanic learners in mind when I designed the learning goals for the Write Now web site (because I teach them), there is nothing about the site that identifies it as Hispanic or for Hispanics. Quite the contrary, every effort was made to create a site the represents all ethnicities. The site is for anyone and everyone who needs to improve basic sentence structure. But certainly, the statistics below (published by National Council of La Raza, 2007) show why students in southern California, Arizona and New Mexico would benefit from a program that targets their need for language improvement:

English Language Learner (ELL) students represent a significant portion of the Latino student population

Nearly four-fifths (79%) of ELL students are Hispanic native Spanish-speakers, and 45% of all Latino children are ELL students in our nation’s public schools.

Limited English Proficient (LEP) student enrollment is concentrated in states with traditionally large Hispanic populations.

During the 2004-2005 school year, LEP students were 25% in California, 22.4% in New Mexico, 15.1% in

There are differences in the achievement scores in reading and mathematics between ELL students and non-ELLs

Only 29% of ELL 8th graders scored at or above the basic achievement level for reading compared to 75% of non-ELL 8th grade students.

Educational achievement among ELL students is linked to high school dropout rates.

Latino ELL students are less likely to complete high school than Hispanics who are fluent in English, and 59% of Latino ELLS age 16-19 are high school dropouts.

LEP student enrollment has significantly increased in nontraditional Latino and immigrant states.

Largest growth rates in ELLs included South Carolina (714%), Kentucky (417%, Indiana (408%) North Carolina (372%) and Tennessee (370%)

More about the learning solution the grant will support
The Write Now web site technology provides students with extensive imagery as they learn to write several types of grammatical sentences. As they complete all assignments on the site, they are forced to process both textual and visual information simultaneously. Why is this important? Since the 1950s research has indicated that learning is maximized, enhanced and accelerated when human beings process verbal and visual information simultaneously. This is the theory of dual coding which was pioneered by Alan Paivio in the early 1950s.
Paivio found that as we cognize the world around us, we are constantly capturing verbal and visual information that appears to us externally, and then we internalize it in the form of two types of symbol systems in our awareness. One symbol system is the verbal system which stores what he calls logogens (symbols such as words or text); and the other is the imaging system which stores imagens (symbols in the form of mental pictures). He, and many others who have researched this area until today, found evidence that the integration of both verbal and non-verbal cognitive processes — which is to say, the integration of language and imagery —synergistically creates internal mental and emotional structures involved in comprehension, meaning, memory and articulation, all of which are involved in learning. For more information see Alan Paivio’s “Imagery and memory” (M.S. Gazzaniga (Ed.), The cognitive neurosciences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press) or “Mental Imagery in Reading: A Sampler of Some Significant Studies” published by dual coding researcher, Mark Sadoski (posted December 1998 at
Additionally, other studies, many by R.E. Mayer at the University of California, Santa Barbara, have shown that the computer hypermedia environment 1) produced a higher level of motivation, including the desire to search deeper into the content; 2) enhanced individualized learning, creating greater levels of student engagement, self-management, and positive attitudes toward learning. Learners appeared to prefer the control which computers afforded them for self pacing and self management (as opposed to teacher-directed classroom instruction). I found all this be true during student use of the Write Now site.
All writing assignments on the Write Now web site require dual coding. Lessons are based on photographs and short movies, as well as sounds and music. Students have no choice but to integrate words, imagery and other sensory resources in order to complete assignments. The question arises, however: Why use a computer based environment for integrating multiple sensory channels?
There are at least five advantages of using computer based technology to support the learning goals of the Write Now web site:

  • It allows the placement of all aspects of the assignment – i.e., the directions for the substance of the assignment, including how to start and finish, the exercises involving the use of words and language, the directions involving the imagery, the imagery itself, whether in the form of a movie, photograph or drawing, and sounds, whether in the form of language or music – all in one place.

  • This technology allows for multi-sensory integration without the delays of collecting it externally. Many different persons can be seen in movies, and language, music and other sounds from wind, water or animals, for example, can be heard right at the computer and mixed with text.

  • There is some evidence for the motivational potential that web-based instruction offers high school students. That is, even now in my classroom, when students are given the choice of working out of a book or online, they choose the online instruction with few exceptions.

  • The web site environment provides a structure for students who need to work in an individualized learning plan; teacher involvement is minimal, but necessary.

  • The same technology that is delivering the instruction, text and imagery, is also the place where the students can do the writing. Everything, literally, is seamed together, which, again, serves the goal of “integration” in general.

The Write Now web site was designed not only to provide a multisensory learning environment which continuously promotes the integration of visual and textual inputs, but also to present the instruction in a scaffolded manner. Students work on acquiring skills by following a set of assignments in a pre-determined specific order. The purpose of the order is to gradually awaken and develop students’ ability to constantly and continually visualize as they work with text.

Activities funded by the grant
Activities over a two-year period would be in two areas primarily: Year 1) expanding the instructional scope of the web site; and Year 2) monitoring and measuring student achievement.
Year 1. Expanding the instructional scope of the Write Now web site.
Presently the site provides instruction in the following:

  • Declarative, Interrogative and imperative sentences

  • Compound sentences

  • Compound subjects

  • Compound predicates

  • Sentences with dependent clauses using subordinating conjunctions of time and cause

  • Adjective clauses

  • Gerund clauses

  • Integrating quotes

The site also includes activities with two kinds of poetry, cinquains and haiku, as well as some art activities. These activities are designed to focus specifically on the cognitive goals of integrating visual and textual information. The site then moves into instruction targeted specifically to sentence creation. After completing assignments on the site, students reported that they did indeed grasp the material, and my assessments indicated their ability to write grammatical sentences improved dramatically.

Even though the content of the web site is limited, the development of the short list of lessons above required 6 months of planning, writing, and designing, as well as the hands-on development of each and every web page. Photographs and movies had to be shot or obtained, and music and lessons had to be written. Therefore, expanding the content would require consistent work throughout Year 1. Additional content to be created in year 1 would include:
1. Creating sentences that reflect increasing complexity.
2. Recognizing, understanding and using correct punctuation for more complex sentences, including the proper use parallelism, transitions, participial phrases, appositive phrases, prepositional phrases, etc.
3. Creating paragraphs, specifically:

  • Using different types of paragraph structures, i.e., direct, indirect, pivoting

  • Varying the types of sentences within individual paragraphs

  • Creating sentences transition well from one to the other within a paragraph

  • Developing a heightened awareness of cause/effect and sequential thinking that results in an orderly unfoldment of ideas

  1. Linking a series of paragraphs into the different forms of essays that are required by the CAHSEE. Presently students may be asked to write an essay that is expository, persuasive, a biographical narrative, a business letter or some form of literary analysis.

  1. Practicing more complex use of tense, i.e., future perfect, past perfect, present perfect, active v. passive voice.

  1. Creating short stories and plays as creative writing.

This is quite a sizeable amount of content. Over the first year, I will personally develop and write scaffolded lesson designs for all these learning objectives.

Concomitantly, a digital artist will create the correlated visual materials, original movies, photographs and other original multimedia sequences incorporating sound, video and animation, and also create the web pages for the site.
A set of pre- and post-assessments will be created to measure student achievement in participating schools. Specifically, I will determine if students using the site show a measurable improvement (based on a rubric I create) in three areas:

  1. Can they recognize and write a complete grammatical sentence that is:

    • Declarative

    • Interrogative

    • Compound

    • Containing dependent clauses

  2. Can they create a logical flow of thoughts expressed in a string of sentences within a paragraph?

  3. Can they write an expository, persuasive and informative essay replete with topic sentences and detail development?

During year 1, a web server with web application software will be obtained. A computer technician will be contracted for the 2-year period to set up the web server and service it as required. Web pages will be uploaded and tested for Internet access as each one is completed.

Also, a random sampling of targeted high students (10 students) will utilize the web pages as a preliminary check for content and user effectiveness before the site goes public.
Year 2: Monitoring and measuring student achievement
The web server with the completed web site will be readied for public access.
Next, teachers will be obtained who are willing to use the site with students and administer the pre- and post-assessment. First an introductory letter will be mailed to principals in the states; then two assistants will be employed for a period of one month to help me telephone principals in the three targeted states to briefly and verbally introduce the site. (If principals are interested and would like me to personally present the web site to staff, I will personally travel to the school site if this would help secure participation.)
This telephone call will be followed by the mailing of another letter and brochure asking the school to respond with an agreement to participate. Those that agree will receive instructions on the use of the site verbally, in a brochure and through email as needed.
Ideally, the initial letter to principals should be mailed at the end of the school year in June, and then telephone contact should begin two months later in August, a few weeks prior to the opening of school in the fall. At this time, many principals are more willing and able to talk and make plans.
Once 15-20 teachers are obtained who will use the site, I will be engaged full time with staying in touch with all of them, watching their progress, answering questions, visiting classrooms, and revising any aspect of the web site that may be required.
Beginning the project in the fall allows students to use the site for about 8 months, which includes one full sememster. This gives me ample time to collect sufficient data, and I could spend the last eight weeks of Year 2 synthesizing the results. I will then prepare a formal report for publication in educational journals.
When the report is complete, I will begin looking for opportunities to offer the site content as an online course for virtual learning communities in public schools across the United States, beginning with LAUSD. This process, however, requires a separate set of plans and actions apart from those covered in this grant.


Year 1

Year 2

























Set up multi-media computer work station to begin development of web pages for expanded instructional content and to serve as web/application server.

Create academic content.

Create all visual matierals – photographs, videos, animations, and create web pages

Prepare pre- and post-assessments to measure achievement in the three targeted assessment areas.

Prepare teacher instructional materials.

Secure sampling of students to test the pages as they are developed.

Prepare letters and brochures for mailing to schools and principals.

Employ assistants to contact principals by telephone and invite participation.

Mail brochure;

Follow-up with telephone calls to secure participation.

Mail agreements and teacher instructional materials.

Set up schedule for classroom visitation in participating schools.

Set up written log for data collection, i.e., record school visitations, observations, conversations, feedback, student progress, student difficulties, etc.

Use telephone as well as personal visits to conserve costs.

Assist teachers as necessary to administer assessments.

Begin synthe-sizing data;

Prepare formal report


Below is a preliminary estimate of general costs related to the Write Now development project.

Year 1



Principal investigatory salary and benefits compensation for development of web site content


Digital artist salary and benefits compensation


Multi-media computer work station for web site development and web server


Technician to set up and service web server for web site delivery.


Administrative costs (office overhead and digital graphics supplies)


Total Year 1:


Year 2

Salary and benefits compensation for principal investigator


Salary, temporary assistants for telephone solicitation and mailings


Printing and mailing costs of letters and brochures


Travel and expenses for school visitation


Technician to service web server


Administrative costs/overhead


Total Year 2


Total Year 1 and 2


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