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IES Grant

Title: Fostering Comprehension and Knowledge-Building in Middle-School Struggling Readers
Center: NCER Year: 2011
Principal Investigator: Caccamise, Donna Awardee: Regents of the University of Colorado
Program: Cognition and Student Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years Award Amount: $1,694,353
Goal: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A110467

Co-Principal Investigators: Walter Kintsch (University of Colorado at Boulder), P. David Pearson (University of California at Berkeley), and Sally Hampton (America's Choice)

Purpose: This project will develop and refine an intervention designed to improve reading for struggling readers through explicit comprehension instruction in a content-area context. The intervention, called Literacy Navigator, will teach readers how to build a coherent representation of the informational text they are reading and how to integrate the new content with their existing knowledge. The intervention will be designed for use in remedial classes to help students who have adequate decoding skills but poor comprehension skills. Instructional materials will be developed along with accompanying professional development for teachers.

Project Activities: Literacy Navigator will be designed, field-tested, and refined with poor and average readers throughout the first two years of the project. Information will be collected to identify which instructional methods best serve the needs of students with different profiles of reading skills. In Year 3, a pilot study will be conducted that compares the full version of Literacy Navigator with a version that does not include knowledge building activities.

Products: The project will produce curricular texts and materials for Literacy Navigator, accompanying professional development activities, and peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study will take place in middle schools in Denver, Colorado and San Francisco, California.

Population: Included in this study will be 640 middle school students and their respective teachers in Colorado and California.

Intervention: The Construction-Integration Model, which explicitly defines the cognitive processes involved in skilled reading, serves as the blueprint for a prototype comprehension intervention program called Literacy Navigator. In an 8-week program students are guided through the process of establishing coherence, deriving a text macrostructure and using their own knowledge to create a situation model. Crucial to this approach is the use of carefully sequenced texts related to a single over-arching topic, which enables students to use their expanding prior knowledge while reading complex expository texts. The curriculum contains a set of interrelated texts on different aspects of a single important topic, such as "adaptation." Instruction focuses on explicitly teaching text-based processes that focus on deriving meaning from text and instruction to help students construct their own meaning of text. Instructional methods will include both didactic instruction and constructivist activities (such as guided practice and reciprocal teaching). Assessments unrelated to the focal topic will be developed for use as pre- and post-tests.

Research Design and Methods: During the first two years of the project, iterative testing will lead to revision of materials, instructional practices, and professional development protocols. Four classes of remedial students and four classes of average readers (20 students in each class) will participate in the development studies. Different classes and teachers will participate in each round of development. Assessments of comprehension will be developed for pre-, mid-term, and post-testing of students. Students will also take quizzes on lesson content and participate in structured writing tasks. Weekly, videotaped classroom observations will provide information on the quality of classroom discussion and structured interviews with teachers will provide information on use of metacognitive strategies and satisfaction with the intervention. A subset of students will participate in think aloud tasks to provide in-depth information about use of strategies and level of processing.

The pilot study in Year 3 will include 8 classes in Denver and 8 classes in San Francisco. The study will evaluate the effectiveness of Literacy Navigator, which uses a coherent set of texts focused on building specific knowledge, to comprehension instruction that uses a variety of texts on different topics. Literacy Navigator will be administered in pull-out classes during the school day with approximately 20 students per class.

Control Condition: There is no control condition.

Key Measures: Student outcome measures include Literacy Navigator assessments, state achievement tests, and the Gates-McGinitie comprehension subtest. The Center for Improvement for Early Reading Achievement classroom observation model will be adapted to measure the quality of classroom discussion. Structured interviews and questionnaires with teachers will gather self-appraisal of effective and less effective aspects of instruction as well as suggestions for modification of the Literacy Navigator materials. Think aloud tasks with students will be used to gather detailed information on strategies used in reading complex text. Student and teacher satisfaction with Literacy Navigator will be assessed through direct interview and questionnaires.

Data Analytic Strategy: Data collected on student and teacher performance will be reviewed after each iteration of development and findings will be used to refine Literacy Navigator for the next field trial. Student learning will be assessed by comparing performance on assessments before and after receiving the intervention. The appropriateness of Literacy Navigator for different kinds of poor comprehenders will be studied by clustering students into groups that vary in the depth of cognitive processing exhibited in assessment results. The effectiveness of teacher practices will be analyzed by creating scales from the coding of classroom observations that capture such factors as focus, time on task, level of engagement, and levels of processing (based on the construction-integration model). Analyses for the pilot test will compare general pre- and post-tests for summative measures, pre- and post-test differences on Literacy Navigator assessments, changes in student classroom performance, and changes in written output over the course of participation in Literacy Navigator.


Book chapter

Caccamise, D., Friend, A., Littrell-Baez, M.K., and Kintsch, E. (2015). Constructivist Theory as a Framework for Instruction and Assessment of Reading Comprehension. In S.R. Parris, and K. Headley (Eds.), Comprehension Instruction: Research-Based Best Practices (3rd ed.). New York: Guilford.

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Littrell-Baez, M.K., Friend, A., Caccamise, D., and Okochi, C. (2015). Using Retrieval Practice and Metacognitive Skills to Improve Content Learning. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 58(8): 682–689.


Caccamise, D., Friend, A., Groneman, C., Littrell-Baez, M.K., and Kintsch, E. (2014). Teaching Struggling Middle School Readers to Comprehend Informational Text. In Learning and Becoming in Practice: The International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS), Volume 2 (pp. 1002–1006). Boulder, CO: International Society of the Learning Sciences.