Keri Franklin

Transforming student writing in the Ozarks

How does a person become a writer? How does a teacher teach writing rather than assign it? How can a school-university partnership make an impact on improving student writing in high schools?

Keri Franklin conversing with colleaguesThose are the research questions Dr. Keri Franklin hopes to answer.

Franklin’s work has led to the establishment of the Center for Writing in College, Career and Community, an endeavor that seeks to support improving student writing for all students, and especially those teachers and students working in rural schools. This new center is the home to the Ozarks Writing Project.

OWP is supported by grants from the U.S. Department of Education, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Missouri Department of Higher Education.

Franklin, Missouri State University’s director of assessment and associate professor of English, is the founding director of OWP, which provides professional development to thousands of area teachers across disciplines —such as science, math, social studies, and career technical educators.

“Teachers have expertise to share and few opportunities to share it outside of the classroom,” she said. “The OWP model focuses on bringing teachers together to teach each other and research their own work.”

Over the last decade, Franklin has secured $1.3 million in grants to carry out the organization’s mission: to impact student writing outcomes as well as teachers’ beliefs and practices.

“I love getting community partners together and seeing people achieve and grow. To create a network that could go on without me — that’s bigger than me — I’m really proud of that.”

Measuring student improvement

Keri Franklin speaking with a group of peopleFranklin’s most recent research study was in partnership with National Writing Project and funded by the Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

She was one of 12 site directors chosen for the grant, which resulted in more than $600,000 in funding for OWP’s College-Ready Writers Program, a partnership between Missouri State and the Monett, Laquey, Branson and Richland school districts.

The study focused on improving academic writing in grades 7 through 10, supporting rural educators in teaching academic writing, specifically argument writing, and working with school districts to sustain the work beyond the grant period.

The results are promising.

Ultimately, CRWP had a positive, statistically significant effect on the four attributes of student argument writing—content, structure, stance, and conventions—measured by the National Writing Project’s Analytic Writing Continuum for Source-Based Argument. In particular, CRWP students demonstrated greater proficiency in the quality of reasoning and use of evidence in their writing.

Students of a Laquey, Missouri, teacher who participated in that program saw a 17 percent jump in scores on the state test in one year.

“These kinds of gains and partnerships are years in the making, and they are the result of a cadre of teacher-consultants in school districts around southern Missouri who are committed to the teaching of writing,” Franklin said.

Keri Franklin giving a presentation

Leading the way

OWP began as a satellite site in 2005 with 10 teachers from elementary, middle, high school and community colleges, including Franklin who was pursuing a PhD in English education. In 2008, with multiple support letters from teachers and school districts, OWP became a full National Writing Project site — one of nearly 200 located at universities across the United States.

Since starting at Missouri State, Franklin’s research areas have grown to include the impact of professional development on writing outcomes, digital writing and writing assessment.

While she continues that research, she faces her next challenge head-on: to bring the transformational experience of professional development to teachers in rural and high-needs schools for free.

It is a feat that looks likely for OWP, an organization on the forefront of shaping what the future of writing education will look like in the U.S.