Reading and Writing Education Research

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CAST, Inc. Project Abstract
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Current information about this program can be found under the Education Research program.

Principal Investigator: Bridget Dalton
RFA Goal: Development Project
Title: Improving Reading Comprehension for Struggling Readers: Understanding the Roles of Vocabulary Development, Guided Strategy Use, and Spanish Language Supports in a Digital Reading Environment

Purpose: In today’s knowledge-based, technology-driven economy, the need for strong literacy skills is great. Yet millions of U.S. students—especially students of color, students who are poor, and English language learners (ELLs)—struggle to read at even basic achievement levels. Closing this achievement gap is impeded by our lack of knowledge about how to teach the diverse range of students included in the catch-all category of “struggling reader.” The purpose of this project is to develop and test a technology-based instructional approach to improving reading comprehension among diverse 5 th-grade struggling readers, including English language learners. Over three years, the researchers are conducting three studies to develop and refine a digital reading environment called a Universal Learning Edition (ULE), which has strong, embedded supports for reading strategies and active vocabulary learning. At the end of this project, the researchers will have a final version of the ULE prototype, teacher guide materials, and preliminary data on the potential effectiveness of this intervention to improve reading comprehension among struggling readers and ELLs. The results of this work will contribute to our understanding of how to design and implement digital reading environments that are customized to the needs of diverse readers.

Setting: The studies are being conducted in 5 th-grade urban/semi-urban classrooms in the Northeast United States.

Population: The students participating in this research project include both typical and struggling readers, as well as students for whom English is a first language. Over three years, approximately 320 5 th-grade students are participating. In addition, 14 teachers are participating in the research project.

Intervention: The digital reading environment being developed is called Universal Learning Editions (ULE). ULE embeds vocabulary and reading strategy instruction in interactive scaffolded digital versions of narrative and informational texts.

Research Design and Methods: In Year 1, the research team is developing a ULE with interactive vocabulary supports. This ULE is being formatively evaluated with 40 students in two classrooms. To assess the relative contribution of vocabulary versus reading strategy supports to reading achievement, a small evaluation to obtain evidence of the potential efficacy of this intervention is being conducted in Year 2, with 6 classrooms randomly assigned to condition, and a total of 120 students participating. The three conditions being compared are 1) ULE with vocabulary supports, 2) ULE with reading strategy supports, and 3) ULE with both vocabulary and strategy supports. In Year 3, the research team is randomly assigning 8 classrooms either to a full ULE treatment with both vocabulary and strategy supports or a control condition. Approximately 160 students will participate in the Year 3 experiment.

Control Condition: In Year 3, students in the control condition read the same digital texts with only text-to-speech capacity and a glossary.

Key Measures: Measures include pre/post standardized and researcher-developed reading comprehension and vocabulary tests, student ULE worklogs, event-usage tracking data, and field notes. Both quantitative and qualitative methodologies are being used to assess reading outcomes and gain insights on students’ ULE use and teachers’ implementation.

Data Analytic Strategy: For the quasi-experimental studies, the researchers are using multiple regression techniques to determine differential effects of each condition on vocabulary and comprehension outcomes, for struggling readers and for ELL students. The researchers are also examining the relationship among students’ use of ULE supports, student characteristics, and reading outcomes. This development project is intended only to obtain evidence of the potential effectiveness of the intervention; the study is under-powered for analysis at the unit of random assignment (classroom) and will be analyzed at the level of the student.

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Last Modified: 11/30/2006