The Steps-to-literacy project is a multi-year research study investigating ways to improve the academic writing of emergent Spanish-English bilingual middle school students. The focus of the research is on the effectiveness of a novel curricular approach, STEPS+G, and enhanced online writing tools. Matt was a key researcher for the entire life-cycle of the project. He was the lead technologist informing the design of the writing platform, as well as the sole programmer implementing the decisions. He taught a civil rights curriculum in 2 trial sessions, testing progressive iterations of the software. In total, he led 20 sessions with bilingual Spanish-English students from the Bronx, NY. He was central in analyzing the results and preparing them for publication, presenting findings at the American Education Research Association and American Anthropological Association annual meetings. He was also invited to present at a special seminar on digital literacies at Tamkang University in Taiwan.
The STEPS+G approach introduces a cognitive scaffold that encourages students to synthesize social and scientific knowledge when they analyze and write about texts. STEPS+G is an acronym for Social Technological Economic Political Scientific and Geographic.
The web-based writing platform created for the project tries to reduce the technical impediments to writing fluency while introducing specific support for bilingual writers. The initial protoype for STEPS was built using the Python programming language, on top of the existing Zope/Plone web content management system. Enhanced features include an integrated note-taking system that allows students to keep a “notebook” open across web pages — side-by-side with the video, audio, or text documents they are studying. It features customized authoring tools for teachers and curriculum authors to create multimedia text and multimedia writing prompts (i.e. essay questions). A specially programmed bilingual dictionary uses AJAX to provide an inline dictionary where students can highlight any text on the screen and get monolingual English or Spanish definitions, or a two-way bilingual machine translation of a troubling selection they are reading. This approach seeks to reduce the cognitive load on students and preserve their focus on understanding texts.