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Keys to Writing Smarter

Woman sitting in front of a paper journey map

Project Title

Keys to Writing Smarter: An Online Writing Workbench for Students with High Incidence Disabilities


CAST has partnered with Arizona State University to develop and evaluate the impact of a professional learning ecosystem to support 7th- and 8th-grade teachers in providing more effective writing instruction to students with high-incidence disabilities. The project builds on a long line of CAST’s research and development to support improved student writing and teacher writing instruction through the application of the UDL framework.

Writer’s Workbench includes both online and face-to-face professional learning components. The online environment supports teachers in providing instruction around the four key factors in learning to write—skills, knowledge, strategies, and motivation for writing. Face-To-Face professional learning communities include supports and scaffolds to reduce the time and energy required to effectively address the diversity of learners in classrooms. The goal is to support significant and meaningful improvements in teachers’ writing knowledge and self-efficacy around writing instruction. These changes in writing instruction will, in turn, support improved student outcomes in two styles of writing—argumentative and informational—identified as critical areas of need.

Experience how we work

This stop-action video explains how journey mapping is used to examine the experience of a teacher and a student to better understand their successes, challenges and identify patterns to improve learning environments.

Journey maps: A critical tool

The project team has been busy researching and developing with teacher and student project partners. As part of this process, journey mapping activities are used to more easily identify pain points and successes in the writing process.

Journey maps have become a key tool to inform the development of teacher supports, professional development, and peer-mentoring sessions. Teachers have also unexpectedly adopted the activity as a self-reflection tool, allowing them to discover barriers and inform changes to their own instructional practices. Students have also been affected by journey mapping activities led by their teachers, improving self-reflection and awareness. The activity helps learners more clearly identify strengths, where they are feeling challenged, and where they can leverage strategies to build writing skills.

Building a better Workbench

With teachers and students as collaborators, current work focuses on:

  • Designing a teacher dashboard that delivers at-a-glance data on student work and progress
  • Creating an embedded suite of teacher resources and tools to support effective writing instruction for all students
  • Creating an “Open” writing genre to support narrative and journal writing — a specific request from our co-design partners
  • Testing the Writer’s Key tool with 7th- and 8th-grade students and their teachers to guide the development and refinement of the Writer’s Key suite of tools, supports, and professional development / professional learning communities




US Department of Education, Institute for Education Science


Arizona State University
Andover Public Schools
Hudson Public Schools
Wakefield Public Schools
Worcester Public Schools

Principal Investigators

Tracey Hall, PhD, CAST (PI)
Karen Harris, EdD, Arizona State University - (Co-PI)
Steve Graham, EdD, Arizona State University (Co-PI)