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Three Studies Exploring the Influence of the Pathway Project on Teacher and Student Learning

  • Author(s): Godfrey, Lauren
  • Advisor(s): Olson, Carol
  • et al.

The UCI Pathway Project is an intervention program that provides professional development (PD) to teachers working in districts with high enrollments of ELs. The definitive characteristic of the program is its cognitive strategies approach to academic reading and writing. Although the program has had a history of success in raising the achievement of ELs and their native English-speaking peers in the area of text-based analytical writing, little is known about how and why the program continues to be effective across a range of contexts.

This three-article dissertation deepens our understanding of the Pathway Project PD by using a case study approach to explore the changing teaching practices of three teachers and the writing development of their students in the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District (NLMUSD). Field notes from classroom observations, transcripts of teacher and student interviews, teacher surveys, students’ Pathway Project pre and post-tests, and student writing samples are analyzed using qualitative methods to unpack the complex ways in which the program influences both teacher and student learning.

The first study follows the case of Mrs. Cruz and Mrs. Keyes, two teachers participating in the Pathway Project, and analyzes how, through the cultivation of reform ownership, agency was achieved for the development of teacher professionalism and expertise, and the advancement of student learning. Findings reveal that the cultivation of reform ownership was marked by three stages: 1. Emerging Reform Ownership; 2. Developing Reform Ownership; and 3. Deepening Reform Ownership. It was when Mrs. Cruz and Mrs. Keyes developed the belief that using cognitive strategies could support their students in engaging in the moves of experienced readers and writers (and they moved beyond the view that the program was simply a matter of implementing materials), that there was a transfer of ownership of the Pathway Project to teachers, and agency for the advancement of student learning could be achieved.

The second and third studies are informed by cognitive and sociocultural perspectives of learning and focus on the writing development of students participating in the Pathway Project. Findings from the second study, a case study of sixteen students, demonstrate that students experienced overall growth in their writing development from the pre to the post-test. An examination of the students’ pre and post-tests indicate that students demonstrated significant growth in their writing in three areas: 1. the structure and organization of ideas; 2. the integration and use of textual evidence; and 3. the development of commentary and ideas. In addition, students reasoned that their writing had developed because of their engagement in the following practices: 1. supporting ideas with evidence from the text; 2. writing introductions with hooks, TAGs, and claims; and 3. identifying themes within a text and creating theme statements. Although students’ perceived that they had experienced overall growth from the pre to the post-test, and this was reflected in their performance on the assessments, students reported that the following areas of writing were still challenging for them: 1. providing commentary on the text; 2. pulling relevant evidence from the text; and 3. finding the words to express their thoughts.

The third study investigates how an EL student, Leo, developed a positive writerly identity and the role of his teacher, Mrs. Cruz, in this journey. Five critical moments are identified in Leo’s development: 1. reading the Steve Irwin article; 2. writing the introduction of the Steve Irwin essay; 3. revising the pretest; 4. writing the posttest essay; and 5. receiving the most improved student award. Within each of these moments Leo demonstrated that he was acquiring the following skills and strategies of an experienced writer 1. moving from knowledge-telling to knowledge-transformation (through the use of declarative, procedural, and conditional knowledge); 2. revising for content and viewing writing as non-linear; and 3. taking ownership and displaying a sense of self-efficacy. Mrs. Cruz helped Leo to acquire these skills through explicit strategy instruction, modeling, and the use of gradual release. Mrs. Cruz also assigned competency to students and gave them time to reflect on their own learning, so that Leo could see that an experienced writer was someone he, too, could become.

Together, the three studies included in this dissertation point to the many ways in which the Pathway Project influences teacher and student learning. Illuminating the complexity of the program, can contribute to a better understanding of how to create improved and more equitable learning opportunities for all students, including those of diverse backgrounds.

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