A 4-Year Efficacy Study (2017-2021)

The purpose of this 4-year study is to investigate the efficacy of the SIWI professional development program for improving teacher knowledge and practices, and to examine the writing and language outcomes of deaf students receiving SIWI in grades 3-6 compared to a business-as-usual group.

Additional Project Information

The purpose of this study is to investigate the efficacy of the Strategic and Interactive Writing Instruction (SIWI) professional development (PD) program for improving the knowledge and instructional practices of teachers and the writing and language outcomes for students in third through sixth grade who are deaf or hard of hearing (D/HH). The language experiences of children who are D/HH are extremely diverse and directly influence their writing. There is a need to identify effective programs for building teacher capacity to provide evidence-based literacy instruction that is tailored to the unique needs of students who are D/HH. This project seeks to fill this gap by evaluating the efficacy of the SIWI PD program for improving teacher knowledge and practices and subsequent writing and language outcomes for students who are D/HH.

Read the IES Abstract

Demographic Data Years 1-3

Project Staff

kimberly wolbers

Kimberly A. Wolbers is a Professor of the Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing program at the University of Tennessee. She earned her PhD from Michigan State University in 2007 with a focus in special education and literacy. Her research has focused on the design and implementation of writing and language instruction for deaf and hard of hearing children and adolescents. She has conceptualized an approach called Strategic and Interactive Writing Instruction (SIWI), which aims to be responsive to the varied language needs of deaf learners. SIWI draws upon evidence-based approaches to teaching writing such as strategy instruction in writing and collaborative, interactive writing. SIWI also contains language-specific elements that provide teachers with direction on how to, for example, navigate between ASL and English when teaching developing bilinguals, or facilitate greater expressive language clarity and complexity among children with language delays. There is growing evidence to suggest SIWI has a positive impact on students’ expressive language, word identification, motivation, and writing outcomes at the word-, sentence-, and discourse-levels. Recent SIWI publications and grants are listed below.
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Hannah Dostal is an Associate Professor of Reading Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and a Researcher in the Social Justice and Equity Research Cluster at the University of Connecticut. Hannah is a certified reading specialist and holds a Ph.D. in Education with a concentration in literacy studies and Deafness from the University of Tennessee, where she also earned both graduate and undergraduate degrees in education (MS, BS), American Sign Language interpreting (BS), and human services (BS).

Hannah has served as a middle school teacher and a writing intervention coordinator for students in grades K-12. She also has worked with school districts and professional associations to build capacity for implementing literacy practices that support the development of reading and writing. Hannah is currently a co-PI on a four-year Institute of Educational Sciences (IES) efficacy grant, and has served as a co-PI on an IES development grant and five state teacher quality grants. Her work has been featured at national and international conferences and in both national and internationally published books and journals.

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Dr. Steve GrahamSteve Graham is the Warner Professor in the Division of Leadership and Innovation in Teachers College. For over 30 years he has studied how writing develops, how to teach it effectively, and how writing can be used to support reading and learning. In recent years, he has been involved in the development and testing of digital tools for supporting writing and reading through a series of grants from the Institute of Educational Sciences and the Office of Special Education Programs in the U.S. Department of Education. His research involves typically developing writers and students with special needs in both elementary and secondary schools, with much of occurring in classrooms in urban schools.

Steve is the former editor of Exceptional Children, Contemporary Educational Psychology, Journal of Writing Research, Focus on Exceptional Children, and he is the current editor of the Journal of Educational Psychology. He is the co-author of the Handbook of Writing ResearchHandbook of Learning DisabilitiesAPA Handbook of Educational Psychology, Writing Better , Powerful Writing Strategies for all Students and Making the Writing Process Work . He is also the author of three influential Carnegie Corporation reports: Writing Next , Writing to Read , and Informing Writing.

Steve has served as an advisor to a variety of organization, including UNESCO, National Institute of Health, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Zuckerberg Initiative, National Writing Project, Institute of Educational Sciences, and the What Works Clearinghouse. He was the chair of the What Works Clearinghouse Practice Guides for both elementary as well as secondary writing. Steve was a member of the National Research Conference committee on adolescent and adult literacy. He has provided background information for a wide variety of magazine, newspaper, television, and radio reports including National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, La Monde, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, National Public Radio, CBS Sunday Moring News, and NBC Today Show.

He is the recipient of the Sylvia Scribner Award from Division C of the American Educational Research Association, Career Research Award from the International Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), the Kauffman-Hallahan Distinguished Researcher Award from the Division of Research (CEC), Samual A. Kirk Award from the Division of Learning Disabilities (CEC), Distinguished Researcher Award from the Special Education Special Interest Group of the American Education Research Association, J. Lee Weiderhot Lecture Award from the Council of Learning Disabilities, and the Don Johnston Literacy Lectureship Award for career contributions to literacy. He was elected to the Reading Hall of Fame for 2018.

Steve is a Fellow of the American Educational Research Association, Division 15 of the American Psychological Association, as well as a Fellow of the International Academy for Research in Learning Disabilities.

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Dr. Thomas AllenThomas E. Allen, Ph.D.  has had long and productive career in the field of deaf education research spanning over 30 years.  It includes many years of conducting and directing national demographics and assessment projects with large samples of children who are deaf, holding the position of Dean of the Graduate School and Research during a period of expansion of Gallaudet’s Ph.D. programs, and being the Founding Director of the NSF-funded Science of learning Center for Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2) at Gallaudet University, for which he now serves as the Co-Principal Investigator.  He brings to the SIWI project strong abilities in the areas of complex project management, survey design and psychometrics, statistical modeling, and directing collaborative teams of researchers from different disciplines.   He led the design and execution of the Early Education Longitudinal Study from within the Gallaudet Early Education and Literacy Lab (EL2), which he directs.  EL2 is one of four resource hubs within the VL2 Center.  Dr. Allen is currently the Program Director of the interdisciplinary Ph.D. Program in Educational Neuroscience.  He also led in the development of an online portal for ASL Assessment, an online strategy for soliciting research participants providing a means for investigators access to samples, and an online Data Sharing Portal for archiving and sharing federally-funded datasets.

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Jen KilpatrickAfter completing a bachelors degree in Special Education at Liberty University, Jennifer Renée Kilpatrick began her education career teaching students with a wide range of low and high incidence disabilities at the elementary, middle, and high school levels in the rural Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  She then obtained a masters in Deaf Education from the University of Tennessee while employed as a residential education supervisor at the Tennessee School for the Deaf.  She ultimately found her niche as a middle school Intensive Reading and Language Arts teacher at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind (FSDB).  While teaching at FSDB, she completed an additional masters degree in Literacy at University of North Florida.  She left the classroom to accept a position as a research associate on a federally funded grant examining the efficacy of Strategic and Interactive Writing Instruction with d/hh students in Grades 3-5 and to obtain a PhD in Literacy Studies from The University of Tennessee.  As a research associate, she had the privilege of working with teachers of the deaf in listening and spoken language, total communication, and bilingual settings throughout more than 10 states.  Currently, her passion is the program evaluation and teacher training work she does at schools for the deaf throughout the beautiful, Caribbean nation of Haiti.  When not attached to a laptop, she can usually be found outside—watching sunrises, running half marathons, climbing mountains, paddling waters, and exploring new places.
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Lee MartinI am interested in issues in psychological and educational measurement, especially those applied to language and literacy. I pursue this interest in three main ways in my research.First, I am interested in empirically testing theory. If our ideas about psychology, the brain, and education have validity, we should be able to find measurable evidence of those theories. Such tests are most informative when we can weigh evidence of competing theories against each other to see which theories best describe what we observe.Second, most phenomena in education and psychology occur over time and within a social context. For example, we may observe multiple tests per child, or multiple children per classroom. I am interested in multilevel statistical models to disentangle social and contextual effects from the typical level of observation. Often, this can entail different types of measurement and theory at each level, such as those for individual learning versus those for instructional or social groups.Third, I am interested in language and literacy. My particular interest is in bilingualism and second language learning, where we might expect interesting and potentially complex patterns of skills across languages. These patterns can be suggestive for improving instruction and student learning.
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Rachel SaulsburryRachel Saulsburry is the Project Coordinator for Strategic and Interactive Writing Instruction (SIWI). Rachel implemented SIWI as an itinerant teacher of deaf and hard of hearing students, served as a graduate research assistant for a four-year SIWI development IES grant, designed and created many of the SIWI instructional materials, and wrote her dissertation on itinerant teachers’ implementation of SIWI, linked here.Rachel was an itinerant teacher of dhh students, preK-12, in urban and rural school districts.  She holds a Ph.D. in Education with specializations in Literacy and ESL Education from the University of Tennessee, where she also earned graduate and undergraduate degrees in Special Education for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MS, BS).  Rachel also has specialized training and experience in autism (Vanderbilt: Kennedy Center: Treatment & Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders) and assistive technology (California State University-Northridge). Her research interests include itinerant teaching in deaf education, collaboration between stakeholders in the lives of deaf children, and language access for deaf children (i.e., spoken and written language).

Leala HolcombLeala Holcomb eats, sleeps, and breathes Deaf education since the day ze was born. Leala comes from a multigenerational Deaf family with zir parents and grandparents passionately involved in improving the quality of education for Deaf children. After graduating from the California School for the Deaf, Fremont, Leala went on to earn a B.A. in International Education and Development from Gallaudet University and a M.A. in Deaf Education from National University. Leala returned to CSDF to teach in the Early Childhood Education department where ze was instrumental in developing American Sign Language (ASL) national standards, ASL-English bilingual resources, and ASL rhymes and rhythms. Since then, Leala has taught college level courses at Kapi’olani Community College, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville on topics pertaining to Deaf education. Leala is a co-founder of the company Hands Land that aims to create ASL rhyme and rhythm resources for young children and their families. Leala also enjoys providing consultations and professional developments to schools. In 2019, Leala obtained zir Ph.D. in Education from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Leala is currently working as the parent outreach specialist at CSDF and supporting SIWI research efforts. 


Kelsey Holton

Kelsey Spurgin is a teacher of the deaf in Houston, TX. In 2008, she started her teaching career with a B.S. in Art Education and a minor in Communicative Disorders from Northern Illinois University. After teaching art in various K-12 settings for five years, she moved to Knoxville and earned an M.S. in Deaf Education from the University of Tennessee. Kelsey continued her studies at UT and joined the SIWI research team. In 2020, she graduated with a Ph.D. in Deaf Education and cognate focus in literacy. She is happy to be back in the classroom where she enjoys engaging in SIWI with her students daily. When she’s not in a physical or virtual classroom, you’ll find her gardening, exploring state and national parks, or playing her banjo.  


Joan Weir Joan Weir is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at Southern Connecticut State University. Her focus is in Curriculum and Instruction- Literacy. She was previously a teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing (d/hh) in Wilton, Connecticut where she provided services to d/hh students in the mainstream. Additionally, she is certified as a reading specialist. She first started with SIWI as a teacher participant in an IES grant focusing on development. Weir has specialized training in various reading programs including Foundations for Literacy, Orton-Gillingham, and Lindamood Bell.

A 4-Year Efficacy Study (2017-2021)
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