Study #3

Iterative Development of Educative English Language Arts Curriculum Materials

Co-Principal Investigator: Aída Walqui  |  Co-Investigator: Mary Schmida

As part of the Center’s second line of inquiry, Innovative Approaches to Disciplinary Studies, the ELA study focuses on developing and strengthening Language Arts disciplinary practices for English Learners. As such, this study will design, test, and refine four 8th grade replacement units that focus on central ELA practices, and on the gradual appropriation of these practices by English Learners. Each unit will consist of three lessons, each lasting about five or six class periods. The four units add up to a total of approximately 12 weeks, or 60 class periods, of instruction. The curriculum is specifically directed to 8th grade students, and especially to long-term English Learners.

Using an iterative process of development, researchers will design four replacement 8th grade ELA units in Year 1 of the study; in Years 2 and 3, researchers will support teachers in the implementation of the units and refine them based on feedback and observations of practice. In Year 4, researchers will conduct a randomized pilot study.  

Iterative Design and Development Process

Researchers will use Design-Based Research to iteratively create, refine, and test the ELA curriculum materials with students and teachers. We will address:

  • the usability of the materials,

  • the feasibility of their use in authentic educational settings, and

  • the fidelity of their implementation at scale.


For each pedagogical component of the curriculum, we will engage in cycles of inquiry:

  • enacting each component in practical trials,

  • studying implementation to describe how the component works and identify what may be improved, and

  • refining the component through focused revisions to be validated by additional field testing.


The educative curriculum materials developed for the four units will consist of five key components:

  • Disciplinary Practice Bookmark. The disciplinary practice bookmark is a metacognitive/metalinguistic discussion tool that supports English Learners as they engage in a disciplinary practice with peers (Koelsch et al., 2014), gradually building their awareness and autonomy as learners.

  • Rich, Engineered Text. Text engineering is a text-modification practice designed to increase text accessibility for English Learners (Bunch et al., 2014; Walqui & van Lier, 2010). Coupled with teachers’ guidance, engineered texts direct students to focus on central ideas and to distinguish them from ideas that are more peripheral or secondary.

  • Writing Extension Activities. Writing extension activities are tasks that integrate students’ reading, writing, and interaction in integrated, coherent ways across lessons and units.

  • Educative Materials. A teacher manual for each module will provide guidance to enable teachers to implement the units independently. Drawing on research on teacher learning, the teacher manual serves as representation of practice to guide teachers’ classroom work (Ball et al., 2014) and also deepens educators’ understanding and expertise of quality teaching for English Learners. The educative component will discuss purposes and appropriateness of practices to build teachers’ sense of how to act during specific student learning circumstances.

  • Professional Development. Prior to implementing the curriculum with students, we will engage teachers in professional development to strengthen their understanding of the materials. This professional development will also deepen teachers’ understanding of the purpose and use of the educative materials for each unit and transferability beyond.  


Pilot Study

The Pilot Study in Year 4 will be an efficacy study in which a total of 30 LAUSD middle schools participate. In all, 13,500 8th grade students will participate. Approximately 4,500 of these students are expected to be English Learners. To carry out this study, schools will first be matched in pairs based upon covariates including EL concentration, prior student academic achievement, and student demographics. One school from each block will be assigned to the intervention condition. Each school will have three 8th grade teachers participate, for a total of 90 teachers in the study. Teachers at schools assigned to the intervention condition (n = 45) will participate in the professional development workshop introducing the intervention and will receive a copy of the educative materials. Intervention group teachers will use these resources to implement the four intervention units in their classrooms. Teachers assigned to the comparison condition will not receive any extra professional development or resources and will carry out ELA instruction as usual. The outcome measure for the pilot study is English Learners’ scores on the summative 8th grade Smarter Balanced ELA (SBELA).