2015 Program Grant Winner

Katy Mezher, Sarah Watt, and Leah Wasburn-Moses

Special Education, Educational Psychology

Workshop to Improve Student Writing

Project Summary

Faculty in the Special Education Program recently held a working meeting to update course materials and improve the sequence of courses for our undergraduate students. One priority that was identified during this meeting was the need to develop a workshop to systematically target the improvement of students' writing skills. We determined that we would formally integrate a writing workshop into the 1-credit hour sophomore course required of all Special Education Majors. This program-level grant would assist our faculty in planning and executing this writing workshop for students, beginning with the 2015-2016 academic year. We are thankful for the timely opportunity presented by this grant.

We would like to experimentally assess the writing improvement of all sophomore undergraduate special education students following a structured workshop. The workshop would consist of resources from both the Howe Writing Center and direct instruction by our program faculty. The workshop will take place over three sessions in Fall 2015, although more sessions are available if deemed appropriate following consultation with Howe Writing Center staff. Although the content of the workshop will be consistent for all students, the delivery of the information will vary. Sophomores would be assigned to participate in one of two versions of the workshop: either a workshop emphasizing instructor-guided support or a workshop emphasizing peer support.

A unique aspect of this project is that it links advanced writers to novice writers. Two advanced undergraduate students would be selected to participate in the experimental aspect of this project, with the goal of enhancing their professional writing and research skills. Specifically, the two advanced students would assist in the research process assessing the effectiveness of the writing workshop for novice writers (i.e., sophomore special education students).

Potential Impact (Need, Benefits for Students, Number of Students Benefited)


As previously noted, Special Education Faculty recently identified a need for a writing workshop for our undergraduate students. Many undergraduates in the program (arguably all undergraduates) would benefit from structured and individualized writing support. Writing support is primarily needed in the areas of (1) developing ideas and creating an outline prior to writing a paper, (2) using and citing research, (3) editing a written product, and (4) miscellaneous technical aspects of writing. Most students demonstrate difficulty using correct APA style. Faculty in our program indicated that writing difficulties are evident across courses and type of writing assignments. At the present time, instructors refer students to the Howe Center for Writing Excellence, the APA Publication Manual, and a variety of tools (website and videos) that support writing. However, we believe the resources provided to students by faculty are frequently overlooked. We believe that our students need more structure and guidance, including a moment to self-assess their writing skills and determine areas that could be improved.

Benefits for Students

All sophomores in the Special Education Program (60+ students per year) would derive significant benefit from a writing workshop. The writing workshop could allow for individualized peer and/or faculty support. Given that the writing workshop will be repeated each year with all sophomores, we expect continued growth with each incoming cohort. We also anticipate that students' writing improvements will generalize to other course writing assignments. Survey feedback from students may help to inform our efforts to incorporate writing support for graduate students in our program as well.

In addition to the core benefits of instituting the workshop for a large number of sophomores, we would be pleased to support two advanced undergraduate students in the development of their professional writing and presentation skills. The two advanced students selected by the Project Team will obtain significant faculty support to develop their writing skills in order to conduct and present a research project from start to finish. For example, they will obtain support in learning to find and read relevant articles, properly citing articles and developing a reference list, writing several portions of a manuscript (potentially for publication), and presenting research findings. With a shortage of doctoral students in the field of special education, we hope that this type of mentoring support encourages and empowers some of our advanced undergraduate students to consider graduate-level work.

Project Objectives

  • Work alongside Howe Writing Center staff to develop and refine a structured
  • 3-session writing workshop for sophomore students in the Special Education Program
  • Experimentally assess the impact of two versions of the writing workshop on sophomore's writing via a pre- and post-assessment
  • Examine students' perceptions of the workshop and obtain feedback for improvement for future cohorts of sophomores in the Special Education Program
  • Determine sustainability of the workshop for future students
  • Involve 2 advanced undergraduate students in the experimental aspects of the project. Selected students would participate in all aspects of the research project, guided by faculty (primarily Katy Mezher). Specifically, these students would be involved in completing a literature review, writing up portions of the methodology, creating a database for statistical examination of findings, writing up portions of the findings, editing the final draft, using correct APA style formatting, and creating a poster to present the results.
  • Submit the research findings for presentation at the Lilly Conference (Evidence-Based Learning and Teaching), on Miami's campus in November 2016

Project Plan (Include Plans for Working with the Howe Center's Staff)

Project Team Members will select two advanced undergraduate students who show interest in research and have demonstrated a desire to expand professional writing, research and presentation skills. Katy Mezher and the selected advanced students will meet with a Howe Writing Center consultant(s) during the Fall 2015 semester, preferably in August. The consultant(s) can provide input for the design of the workshop at the first meeting. A subsequent meeting within two or three weeks will allow details of the workshop to be reviewed by all parties. In between these meetings, Katy Mezher and the advanced students will develop details for the workshop and create rough drafts of needed materials. All program faculty will also meet once to provide input during the planning stages. Leah Wasburn-Moses will further review the workshop details, as well as collect assessments of student work. The workshop for sophomores will take place in the Fall 2015 semester. The two advanced students will meet with Katy Mezher to assess the effectiveness of the workshop and write up the results. The advanced students will be mentored by Katy Mezher on a weekly basis and by Sarah Watt periodically throughout the year.

Assessment Strategy

The efficacy of the writing workshop for sophomore Special Education Majors will be examined via a pre- and post-assessment. Specifically, sophomores are assigned to write a paper in one of their courses and they will be instructed to rewrite the paper following participation in the workshop. The assessment will be scored with a rubric developed by the Project Team. A secondary assessment will be developed to collect data on students' perceptions of the workshop, including feedback for improvement.

Project Faculty Team Members

  • Katherine (Katy) Mezher, Ph.D.
  • Sarah Watt, Ph.D.
  • Leah Wasburn-Moses, Ph.D.


Fall 2015

  • Program faculty meeting for development of the writing workshop (brainstorming and initial planning with all program faculty)
  • Develop workshop with a Howe Writing Center consultant(s)
  • Institutional Review Board submission for research
  • Implement workshop for sophomores
  • Survey sophomores to obtain reports of perceived effectiveness of the workshop, as well as areas for improvement for future cohorts
  • Advanced students write up portions of a literature review and methodology section with help from Katy Mezher, in addition to correctly citing research on a reference page
  • Attend Nov 2015 Lilly Conference (Katy Mezher and advanced students) and prepare for a 2016 presentation submission

Spring 2016

  • Score assessments
  • Create database for statistical analysis
  • Advanced students write up portions of a results and discussion sections with help from Katy Mezher
  • Analyze survey findings and create a one page summary to inform the workshop for future cohorts of students

Summer 2016

  • By early June, submit proposal for Nov 2016 Lilly Conference


[originally formatted in table]

Compensation for time ($4,400)
Approximately 80 hours of time for project team faculty members, at $35 per hour ($2,800)

  • Mezher (50)
  • Watt (20)
  • Wasburn-Moses (10)

Approximately 40 hours of time for two advanced students, at $20 per hour ($1,600)

Lunch meeting ($100)
Lunch provided for all Special Education Program faculty during initial planning meeting

Poster printing ($90)
Cost to print a poster to present at the Lilly Conference

Lilly Conference attendance ($100)
Nov 2015 and 2016 attendance for Mezher (student attendance is free)

Misc. workshop costs ($225)
Refreshments and handouts for workshop participants

APA Publication Manuals ($60)
Two copies of the APA Publication Manual, 6th Edition (one for each advanced student), at $30 per manual

Total anticipated costs: $4,975