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IES Grant

Title: An Intervention to Improve the Comprehension of Primary-grade At-risk Students by Providing Text Structure Instruction Embedded in Social Studies Content
Center: NCSER Year: 2011
Principal Investigator: Williams, Joanna Awardee: Columbia University, Teachers College
Program: Reading, Writing, and Language Development      [Program Details]
Award Period: 5/1/2011–8/31/2013 Award Amount: $1,011,117
Goal: Development and Innovation Award Number: R324A110095

Purpose: Students with reading disabilities may demonstrate comprehension problems for a number of reasons, including a lack of skill in relevant cognitive strategies such as the use of text structure. Readers without knowledge of text structure often do not approach text with any plan of action. Research suggests that identifying and using text structure can be an important tool for organizing reading and writing.

The purpose of this project is to complete the development of a classwide intervention that is embedded in social studies content and is focused on teaching expository text structures to improve reading comprehension. The complete intervention will teach five basic text structures commonly found in expository text. This project focuses on developing modules for instruction on two text structures, description and problem-solution, and pilot testing the complete intervention with all five modules. The intervention is designed to improve reading comprehension and knowledge of social studies content. Ultimately, the goal is to prevent reading disabilities among at-risk students in early elementary school.

Project Activities: Three of the five text structure modules for the intervention have already been completed (sequence, compare-contrast, and cause-effect). This project will develop the two text structure modules related to description and problem-solution. A multi-stage, iterative process will be used to develop, refine, and test the feasibility and promise of the two new modules. The research team will select the social studies content in consultation with experts, provide initial lessons, and revise the lessons based on the feedback of teachers and students as well as researcher observations. Additional steps will be completed in the same manner using a larger piece of the intervention and then the full intervention modules. Finally, the team will complete a pilot study that investigates the feasibility and promise of the complete intervention set of five modules for enhancing reading comprehension and knowledge of social studies content. Although all students in the classrooms will participate, the observations and results will focus on children identified as being at risk for developing a reading disability.

Products: The products of this project will include a fully developed intervention that teaches five text structures commonly found in expository text as well as published reports and conference presentations describing its feasibility and promise for improving student reading outcomes.

Setting: The research will take place in high-poverty elementary schools in New York City.

Population: Approximately 17 second-grade classrooms, including teachers and their students, will participate in this study throughout the project period. Although the intervention is designed to be delivered to the entire class, the researchers are particularly interested in the performance of those students who are most at risk for developing reading disabilities. These students are identified as those falling in the bottom third of the sample according to pretest scores on the reading comprehension subtest of the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Tests.

Intervention: The content of the text structure intervention will be aligned with the Elementary and Intermediate New York State Standards related to language arts and social studies. The two modules being developed will focus on teaching text structure strategies related to problem-solution and description. The overall structure of the lessons for both modules involves trade book reading and discussion; analysis of text using short, well-structured texts; use of graphic organizers; introduction and discussion of vocabulary words; and general content and lesson review. The lessons will emphasize teaching text structure with a particular focus on the use of cue words to signal specific text structures, generic questions, and graphic organizers to guide the reader to important text. The completed intervention with all five text structure modules will contain approximately 75 lessons, each lasting one class period of approximately 40 minutes, over the course of one school year.

Research Design and Methods: An iterative development process will be used to develop, refine, and field test the two new text structure modules. In the first phase, the description and problem-solution modules and accompanying professional development materials will be iteratively developed, field tested, and refined. In the next phase, researchers will conduct a pilot study of the entire intervention in six classrooms (four intervention and two control classrooms) to determine the promise of the text structure intervention for improving children's reading comprehension and knowledge of social studies content. There will be direct pre- and post-intervention assessments of children's use of strategies, reading comprehension, content knowledge, and motivation, as well as more qualitative information from teacher interviews and researcher observations.

Control Condition: A program will be developed that uses the same social studies content, general format, timing, and materials without the embedded teaching of text structure. This is intended to be a viable program that teachers would want to use.

Key Measures: Information about program implementation and acceptability will be collected through observations of classroom activities and teacher logs and interviews. In addition, the researchers will collect student data on acquisition of reading strategies, content, and comprehension (including the transfer of skills to new text). Finally, data will be collected on students' reading skills and motivation through the reading comprehension subtest of the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Tests, DIBELS Oral Reading Fluency Test, and Motivations for Reading Questionnaire.

Data Analytic Strategy: Analysis of covariance will be used to determine the promise of the text structure intervention for improving reading comprehension and social studies skills for the whole class and those most at risk for reading disabilities. In addition, qualitative data (e.g., classroom observation data, teacher interviews) will be coded and analyzed to evaluate feasibility of implementation.


Book chapter

Williams, J.P. (2015). Reading Comprehension Instruction: Moving Into a new era. In P.D. Pearson, and E.H. Hiebert (Eds.), Research-Based Practices for Teaching Common Core Literacy (pp. 79–92). New York: Teachers College Press.

Book chapter, edition specified

Pao, L.S., and Williams, J.P. (in press). The Elementary Classroom: Improving Comprehension of Information Texts. In S.R. Parris, and K. Headley (Eds.), Comprehension Instruction (3rd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.

Williams, J.P., and Pao, L.S. (2013). Developing a New Intervention to Teach Text Structure at the Elementary Level. In H.L. Swanson, K.R. Harris, and S. Graham (Eds.), Handbook of Learning Disabilities (2nd ed., pp. 361–374). New York: Guilford Press.

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Williams, J. P., Kao, J. C., Pao, L. S., Ordynans, J. G., Atkins, J. G., Cheng, R., & DeBonis, D. (2016). Close analysis of texts with structure (CATS): An intervention to teach reading comprehension to at-risk second graders. Journal of Educational Psychology, 108(8), 1061

Williams, J.P., Pollini, S., Nubla-Kung, A.M., Snyder, A.E., Garcia, A., Ordynans, J. G., and Atkins, J.G. (2014). An Intervention to Improve Comprehension of Cause/Effect Through Expository Text Structure Instruction. Journal of Educational Psychology, 106(1): 1–17. doi:10.1037/a0033215