Laura Allen is an Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at Mississippi State University, where she directs the Language of Learning Lab. She is an author on over 80 peer-reviewed publications, including 29 as first author. One prominent aim of Dr. Allen’s research has been to theoretically and empirically investigate the higher-level cognitive skills that are required for successful text comprehension and production, as well as the ways in which performance in these domains can be enhanced through strategy instruction and training. She has conducted a number of laboratory studies to understand how individual differences in cognitive skills and knowledge relate to performance on reading comprehension and writing assessments. This research has revealed a number of characteristics of successful readers and writers, such as their ability to generate inferences, their knowledge of vocabulary, and their ability to flexibly adapt their language across multiple tasks. Further research has endeavored to develop a more specific understanding of these individual differences through fine-grained, multi-dimensional analyses of the texts that students produce. Finally, she has drawn upon the findings from these studies to examine the impact of manipulating task instructions on task performance. For example, she has found that students’ learning behaviors and outcomes can be improved through instructions that prompt them to leverage their prior knowledge and generate inferences.
Dr. Allen’s research on learning skills and strategies has been accompanied by a second, closely related line of work that explores how educational technologies can be leveraged to facilitate learning. For example, she has worked toward the development and evaluation of the Writing Pal, which is an intelligent tutoring system designed to support adolescents’ writing development through explicit strategy instruction and writing practice with automated feedback. Across multiple studies, W-Pal training has been shown to have positive effects on students’ writing performance and motivation. In particular, W-Pal training has been shown to relate to increases in the coherence and quality of students’ essays, as well as in their engagement and motivation towards writing practice. More recently, Dr. Allen has worked on the development of the Writing Assessment Tool (WAT), which aims to provide researchers, students, and teachers with automated analyses of writing. The overall goal of this research is to develop a tool that will have a broad impact on current practices in writing research and instruction across multiple dimensions.