Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

When It’s Good to Talk in Class

Most people remember being told not to talk in class or risk a trip to the principal’s office or a note sent home. But researchers in the Reading for Understanding Research Initiative (RfU) want students to talk in class as a way to improve reading comprehension.

Five research teams in the RfU network have designed and tested new interventions intended to provide a strong foundation for reading comprehension in students from pre-kindergarten through high school. And promoting high quality language use and talk among students is a central feature of many of these interventions. The goal is to improve reading outcomes by building students’ understanding of rich syntax and academic language to express and evaluate complex ideas.

RfU researchers have conducted studies in 29 states and interventions developed by the RfU network have been tested for efficacy with over 30,000 students (see the chart to the right for more information on the grantees and the map below to see where they conducted research).

While findings from these studies are still forthcoming, some interventions already show promise toward improving reading for understanding and/or supporting skills. New assessments have been field-tested with over 300,000 students across the country and have documented their capacity to collect valid and useful information for teachers, schools, and researchers.

Support for informative and instructional talk by students was provided in a variety of ways across different academic areas, including social studies, science, and English language arts classes. Some teams developed new classroom activities to structure whole class discussion through student debate on current topics of interest. Using a program like 

Word Generation, students discuss a focal question to stimulate various opinions on current topics, such as ‘Should students be required to wear school uniforms?’ or ‘Are green technologies worth the investment?’  In other interventions, such as PACT, students spend time talking in pairs or small groups to reinforce a new concept or idea.

Teachers are understandably concerned about how to manage a classroom in which students are talking. As part of RfU, curricula and materials were created to help teachers to improve their skills in managing constructive student talk, and several teams also provided extensive professional development for teachers.

Attention to the importance of student talk was also evident in a computer-based assessment called GISA developed by ETS which uses a scenario-based approach. Rather than talking with their peers during the assessments, students interact with avatars on a task that simulates a realistic classroom-based task.

Using student talk to improve reading comprehension is just one of many supports that have been explored by the RfU teams in their extensive body of work over the past six years. The RfU teams provided an update on their research during an event in May. You can watch a webcast of the event until July 31, 2016.

Visit the IES website to see a detailed agenda for the May event and to learn more about the work of the Reading for Understanding Research Initiative. In addition to providing an overview of the work, the abstracts include links to RfU team websites and many of these have examples of their materials. Materials for the Word Generation and PACT interventions are available for free on their websites, and several other RfU grantees will be making their materials freely available in the coming year.

Written by Karen Douglas, project lead, Reading for Understanding Research Initiative, National Center for Education Research

 

 

Beyond Wikipedia: Reading and Researching Online

By Becky McGill-Wilkinson, NCER Program Officer

Gone are the days of library card catalogs and having to consult the 26-volume hardbound encyclopedia gathering dust on your parents’ bookshelf. Students these days have seemingly infinite information at the tips of their fingers. Most households in the U.S. have a computer, and most teachers report at least one computer in their classrooms. Research shows that the majority of high school students use the Internet to complete school assignments, and 71 percent of students use their laptop computers for school. In this changing world, it becomes more and more important to understand how reading and researching on the Internet are different from performing those tasks with books and other paper texts.

Don Leu and his team at the University of Connecticut have been examining this topic for several years. First on their agenda was studying whether reading online is the same as reading on paper. They discovered that students who are poor readers on paper may be good readers online, and students who are good readers on paper are not necessarily good readers online, suggesting that reading online requires some unique skills. Leu and his collaborators argue that reading online requires that students be able to: (1) use search engines; (2) choose appropriate search result; (3) judge whether the source can be trusted to be accurate and unbiased; and (4) consolidate information across multiple websites or online texts.

Of course, it’s not enough to understand the process of reading and researching online. As with any skill, some students are better at it than others, and as computers, tablets, and smart phones become more common, it becomes more and more necessary for students to hone their online reading and research skills if they are to succeed in college and career. Teachers need to be able to teach these skills, and teachers need to be able to identify when their students need extra help or practice. In 2005, Leu received a grant from NCER to study Internet use in adolescents at risk for dropping out of school, and developed an intervention to help teach seventh-grade students specific strategies to locate, evaluate, synthesize, and communicate information on the Internet.

Building on this earlier work, in a 2009 grant from NCER, Leu and his team set out to develop measures of online reading comprehension. The end result of this project is a set of Online Research and Comprehension Assessments (ORCAs) for use with seventh grade students. The team developed both a multiple choice version and a version that allows students to work in a simulated internet environment. In both versions, the student is tasked with answering a research question posed by a simulated peer, and must use a search engine, choose the appropriate search result, determine whether a source is trustworthy, and then tell their simulated peer about what they found. The ORCAs were tested with 2,700 students in two different states, and the researchers surveyed teachers and other practitioners to determine whether the ORCAs were usable.

Leu has been especially interested in thinking about how changing ideas about literacy may impact low-income students differently from middle- and high-income students. In a recently published paper, Leu shows that students who came from families earning approximately $100,000 per year were more than a year ahead of students whose families earn approximately $60,000 per year on online reading abilities as measured by the ORCAs. This study highlights the importance of considering the achievement gaps between high- and low-income students on a variety of domains, including those not typically measured by standardized tests, such as online reading comprehension.

The ORCAs are available online for free, as is a professional development module to help teachers learn to use it. 

Questions? Comments? Please email us at IESResearch@ed.gov.

Investing in Scholars: NCSER Early Career Development Awardee Michael Hebert

By Liz Berke, NCSER Intern and Kristen Rhoads, NCSER Program Officer

Welcome to the last installment of our three-part series featuring the Principal Investigators of the inaugural NCSER Early Career Development and Mentoring grants.  To round the series out, we are featuring the work of Dr. Michael Hebert from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Dr. Hebert is a former reading specialist in California.

Dr. Hebert is being mentored by Ron Nelson, also from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.  In his Early Career project, Dr. Hebert is working to improve reading comprehension in the content areas for children with or at risk for learning disabilities.  His intervention Structures, takes place in small groups led by a teacher, and focuses on helping students understand text structure to enhance reading comprehension. 

 

We had the chance to interview Dr. Hebert and he gave us his insights on the challenges of being a young researcher.

What are some of the biggest challenges that you face as a young researcher? How do you hope this award will help you overcome those challenges?

This is a tough question to answer because I don’t know whether I am aware of all of the challenges I will face.  There are a lot of challenges (big and small) that I will not be aware of until they come up for the first time.  Sometimes these things have to do with the rules and regulations of my university with regard to budgeting or post award support, while others may be challenges to working with student research assistants.  This grant has been great for helping me identify the challenges of funded research projects and learn to work with entities like the Office of Sponsored Programs at my university.  Let’s face it, if I didn’t have these funds now, I wouldn’t learn to navigate these challenges until later in my career.  

Additionally, I find that it is simply a challenge to get research off the ground as an early career researcher.  Establishing relationships with schools, planning studies, establishing systems for collecting and analyzing data, and other tasks take time.  Although some of these things are probably a challenge for all researchers, people who are more established in their careers might already have a lot of strategies and systems in place.  This grant has given me some personnel resources that help with some of the more basic tasks, essentially creating more of the most valuable resource we have… time.

What advice would you give to young researchers? 

First, apply for the IES Early Career Grant award, of course.  It is an excellent way to get started in your research program, while allowing you to develop some additional skills at the same time.  The development aspect of the grant really forces you to focus on some skill areas that may not be your strong suit.  Second, take advantage of every resource you can at your university.  If you can find graduate assistant support or even undergraduate support, hire them even if you aren’t sure what you will do with them yet.   You’ll be surprised how much you can find for them to do.  Even if you have to spend some time training them, the return is worth it. Also, it is really rewarding to share what you know with the next generation of potential researchers.

What is your favorite aspect of working with your mentor?

Working with my mentor has been invaluable.  We work together on aspects of the grant multiple days each week, and sometimes on a daily basis.  We’re almost partners in the research, and he has challenged some of my ideas, while I have been able to challenge some of his, as well.  This type of working relationship has really been a collaboration of sorts, and given me good experience working together with a colleague on projects.   I’ve also had the opportunity to co-mentor one of his doctoral students, which is a nice way to learn.  

What made you decide to apply to for the early career development and mentoring award? 

The Request for Applications for this award came out while I was completing my dissertation, so I actually decided to apply before I started working at my university.  It seemed like the perfect fit, as I was not doing a postdoctoral position, but felt that I needed mentorship in my first position.  I had a research mentor in mind at the university and he agreed to mentor me, so it made the decision to apply very easy.  There were a lot of changes in my life at the time, including moving and starting a new position as an Assistant Professor, so I didn’t have much time to think it over.  That said, I wouldn’t go back and do anything differently.  

Questions? Comments? Please send us an email IESResearch@ed.gov.

The ‘Not So Simple’ View of Reading

By Karen Douglas, NCER Program Officer

 

Improving students’ capacity to understand what they read in all subject areas is a primary focus of educators and policymakers. Educators and researchers have been focused on interventions to improve reading for decades, and a great deal of attention has been given to improving word level skills (such as phonemic awareness and decoding). In part, this focus can be traced to the ‘Simple View of Reading,’ a theoretical framework developed by Gough and Tunmer almost 30 years ago.

The Simple View states that readers need to both understand language and decode the symbols on the page in order to comprehend written text. The influential role of decoding on reading outcomes has been well studied, and many interventions have been developed that show good results in improving these skills for many students. But improvement in decoding skills, while necessary, has not generally been sufficient to improve reading comprehension.

In recent years, researchers have begun exploring the other part of the equation -- language. Most often, researchers use vocabulary knowledge as a proxy for language skills and a great deal of research is focused on improving vocabulary skills. Efforts to improve vocabulary generally show that students learn the new words they are taught, but generalized effects on vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension are elusive. It seems likely that in addition to understanding the meanings of individual words, students also need to know how words are constructed (morphology), how they are used in text (syntax and grammar), and how to make inferences from text in order to make sense of the wide variety of materials they must read.

The Reading for Understanding Research Initiative (RfU), funded in 2010 by IES, is addressing a broader conception of language in trying to improve reading comprehension. RfU provided funding for six research teams to study the basic processes that undergird reading comprehension, develop and test new curricula and instructional programs to improve it, and develop new assessments to provide a better measure of students’ capacity to read in authentic scenarios. Collectively, RfU researchers are studying the development of reading for understanding from prekindergarten through high school with the goal of creating new knowledge about what matters at each developmental stage in order for students to finish high school with sufficient reading skills for college and career. Each of these six teams has incorporated attention to aspects of language beyond vocabulary knowledge and several teams have published results that provide evidence of the potential of improved language skills for building reading comprehension. Abstracts for studies and publications to date can be found on the IES website.

In a recent article in Educational Psychology Review, my co-author Elizabeth Albro and I describe the purpose of the RfU Research Initiative, the goals of the six teams funded under the initiative, and progress made through 2014. As the work of the RfU Research Initiative comes to completion, the RfU researchers are positioned to make important contributions to what we know about the development of reading for understanding and how we can best improve it for all students. Expanded knowledge about the language skills that support reading for understanding and how to improve them will be a key component of this contribution. Stay tuned to Inside IES Research to learn more about what the teams are finding.

 

Congratulations Dr. Donald Compton and Colleagues at Vanderbilt University for Winning the Albert J. Harris Award!

By Sammi Plourde, NCSER Intern; Kristen Rhoads, NCSER Program Officer; and Becky McGill-Wilkinson, NCER Program Officer

IES-funded research by Dr. Compton and his colleagues was recently awarded the International Literacy Association’s (ILA) Albert J. Harris Award!  ILA is an advocacy organization that publishes current research on literacy and provides resources for practitioners, students, and leaders involved in facilitating literacy development across the world.  The Albert J. Harris Award is given annually to a recently published journal article or monograph that contributes to better understanding of prevention or measurement of learning disabilities or reading disabilities.

Picture of teacher reading a book to four children

The winning article by Jennifer K. Gilbert, Donald L. Compton, Douglas Fuchs, Lynn S. Fuchs, Bobette Bouton, Laura A. Barquero, and Eunsoo Cho entitled “Efficacy of a First-Grade Responsiveness-to-Intervention Prevention Model for Struggling Readers,” features findings from a NCSER-funded measurement study focused on identifying and intervening with struggling readers as early as first grade.  The article describes effects of intensive intervention within a multi-tiered prevention model. Struggling readers who were randomly assigned to receive an intensive, small-group intervention had better reading gains compared to students who received classroom instruction as usual. However, some students continued to struggle despite receiving the intensive intervention.  Those students were then randomly assigned to receive the intensive intervention in a one-on-one format or to continue in a small-group format. Results indicated that no differences in performance existed between the two formats.  They also found that more than half of the students who participated in the intervention failed to achieve average reading scores by the end of third grade.  These findings suggest that students with persistent reading problems need intervention as early as possible that spans multiple years.  They also suggest that instruction for the students should be tailored to meet individual needs.  

Dr. Compton and his colleagues are continuing this research with IES.  They were funded by NCER to conduct a follow-up research study to identify characteristics of children who begin elementary school with typical reading development but are then later identified as having a reading disability. This work will provide information on how to guide instruction for students who have these characteristics.

Congratulations to Dr. Compton and his colleagues for making such an important contribution to identifying, preventing, and treating reading disabilities!


Questions? Comments? Please send them to IESResearch@ed.gov