iCivics’ Drafting Board Module Boosts Students’ Writing Skills
iCivics is an online civic education platform founded in 2009 by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to prepare “young Americans to become knowledgeable, engaged 21st century citizens by creating free and innovative educational materials.” iCivics has already produced 16 educational video games and numerous teaching materials that have been implemented successfully throughout the United States.
With the support of the Gates and Hewlett Foundations via Educause’s Next Generation Learning Challenge, iCivics commissioned an ambitious, randomized clustered-design experiment to test the effectiveness of their new, computer-based teaching module called Drafting Board. Drafting Board was designed to teach students to conduct research and craft arguments on key civics topics, building multi-disciplinary understandings and skills. Drafting Board modules align to the Common Core Standards in History and Social Studies for grades 6-10. They also target deeper learning competencies such as complex communication, problem solving, and self-directed learning skills. Drafting Board modules are available at http://www.icivics.org/draftingboard.
CIRCLE, the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement at Tufts University, designed and conducted a randomized experimental evaluation of Drafting Board. The evaluation took place in three large counties in Florida during the spring semester of 2012.
Students were randomly assigned to use Drafting Board or the regular curriculum; 3,700 students then wrote persuasive letters on school policy that were blind-graded by trained research assistants at Tufts University. The experimental students performed better than the control students to a statistically significant degree. After accounting for race, ethnicity, gender, free or reduced-price lunch eligibility and use of outlines and drafts, we found that the intervention still had a significant and positive effect on essay scores. When differences in the students’ schools and neighborhoods (e.g., student/teacher ratios, size of schools, and poverty rates) were also taken into consideration, the students who used Drafting Board still performed better. Students used Drafting Board for only 2-3 class periods, but it had a significant impact on their writing skills.