National Writing Project

The Pathway Project Demonstrates Success with Cognitive Strategies for Reading and Writing for English Language Learners

By: Carol Booth Olson, Robert Land
Date: November 2007

Summary: Can sustained writing project professional development in cognitive strategies for reading and writing lead to improved academic literacy outcomes for English language learners? The Pathway Project demonstrates that it can.


In this award-winning article by Carol Booth Olson and Robert Land published in NCTE's Research in the Teaching of English, the authors describe their study of a long-term partnership between the UC Irvine Writing Project and the Santa Ana Unified School District, a large, urban district in California where 93 percent of the students speak English as their second language.

The Pathway Project

Called the Pathway Project, the partnership introduced teachers and students to an extensive set of cognitive strategies in a manner designed to cultivate deep knowledge and regular application of these strategies in reading and writing. Over an eight-year period, a relatively stable group of 55 secondary teachers implemented this approach with their 2000 students.

Olson and Land, along with members of the UC Irvine Writing Project and the Santa Ana USD, conducted a study of the project intended to assess the impact of this approach on the reading and writing abilities of English language learners. The consistency of positive outcomes for students whose teachers used the Pathway Project's cognitive strategies approach strongly points to the efficacy of using this approach with ELL students.


The Pathway Project was not just an abstract research study; it was a concrete attempt to level the playing field for specific ELL students in a large urban school district through sustained, ongoing collaboration with a dedicated and committed group of teachers for almost a decade. Although this study was eight years in duration, for the two of us, as university researchers, this line of inquiry has been ongoing for more than 20 years. Our experience has led us to believe that longterm, positive, professional relationships among teachers, researchers, and school administrators are necessary for successful school reform. Equally necessary, we believe, are the teachers' regard for the identity of their students and the reformers' regard for the professionalism of teachers. Indeed, the success of this particular intervention owes much to the teachers-teaching-teachers model of the National Writing Project, with its inherent respect for the capacity of practitioners to generate and use knowledge to improve their practice. Ultimately, the most meaningful aspect of the project has been to cultivate in students the confidence and competence as readers and writers to succeed in advanced educational settings as independent learners.

Copyright 2007 by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Carol Booth Olson and Robert Land's article "A Cognitive Strategies Approach to Reading and Writing Instruction for English Language Learners in Secondary School" from Research in the Teaching of English 41 (3) is used with permission of NCTE. The PDF file should be downloaded for personal use only.

Related Resource Topics

© 2023 National Writing Project