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IES Grant

Title: First Grade, Second Language: Uniting Science Knowledge and Literacy Development for English Learners
Center: NCER Year: 2013
Principal Investigator: Billman, Alison Awardee: Regents of the University of California
Program: English Learners      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (7/1/2013-6/30/2016) Award Amount: $1,499,873
Goal: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A130610

Co-Principal Investigators: P. David Pearson and Jacqueline Barber (University of California, Berkeley)

Purpose: This grant will develop a model of literacy and science integration and associated curriculum materials to help English language learners (ELLs) in first grade become proficient readers, language users, and comprehenders. Building off an existing program for students in grades 2–5 called Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading, the new curriculum will create an authentic language-rich context in which students have systematic opportunities for reading, writing, talking, and 'doing' science to promote mastery of science knowledge, science discourse, and vocabulary.

Project Activities: Design-based research methodology will be used in a series of iterative design experiments to: (1) define the elements of an integrated literacy/science curriculum; (2) develop and pilot two units based on the model; and (3) conduct two Classroom Implementation Trials (one for each unit). Expert teachers with experience teaching ELLs will participate in all development and refinement work. The curricular units will be field-tested in one classroom, revised, and then field-tested in a different classroom to provide new evidence of feasibility and potential effects on student learning. A randomized trial will be conducted for each unit in which one of three treatment classrooms will serve as an in-depth case study of the implementation of the curriculum.

Products: The grant will create a model of literacy/science integrated curriculum for grade 1 and two units of the new curriculum and accompanying assessments that align with the model. Peer-reviewed publications will also be produced.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This study will take place in urban schools in California that have classrooms with at least 60 percent ELLs.

Sample: The project sample includes approximately 200 ELLs in first grade. Most students are Spanish-speaking, but some students may speak Mandarin, Cantonese, and Vietnamese.

Intervention: Each curricular unit will be designed to integrate instruction in literacy and science through promoting mastery of science knowledge, science discourse, and vocabulary. Researchers are extending an existing intervention called Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading that has evidence of improving both science learning and reading comprehension for students in grades 2–5, with particular benefits for ELLs. Modifications for use with first-grade ELLs will include more use of audio materials, additional scaffolds and supports, more emphasis on oral language development, and adjustment to cover science concepts addressed in first grade. The length of units and instructional time will also be adjusted to match the capacity of first-graders. Each unit includes a teacher's guide, custom-written instructional books, student investigation notebooks, a system of formative and summative assessments, and a materials kit.

Research Design and Methods: The research will be conducted in three phases. Phase I will include development and testing of the model of literacy and science integration for first-grade ELLs and will take place in two first-grade classrooms. Researchers and curriculum developers, in collaboration with classroom teachers, will deliver, observe, and analyze instruction. Activities will focus on instructional routines and grouping strategies. Lessons will be developed in one classroom and tested in the second classroom. The research team will work with expert teachers who have at least 5 years experience teaching first grade and who are certified to teach ELLs to develop lesson sequences and materials. Teachers will help identify focal students in each classroom for observations and informal interviews. This phase is designed to develop an integrated literacy-science intervention that increases the frequency and quality of relevant practices for both teachers and students, including specific inquiry, reading, writing, and discourse practice.

In Phase 2, two curricular units will be developed, field-tested, and refined using design-based research techniques. This phase is designed to provide evidence of how change in the frequency and quality of teacher and student practices that are enacted in the full model are related to student learning, and to make revisions to the curricular units to improve the likelihood of supporting student learning.

The pilot studies in Phase 3 will recruit four demographically similar classrooms with at least 60 percent ELL students (a total of 100), and randomly assign each classroom to one of three conditions: one case study treatment classroom, one of two treatment classrooms, or one business-as-usual comparison classroom. Key research questions in this phase include the study of fidelity of implementation, whether the model promotes greater student learning within each unit, and whether students in the intervention improve in their ability to read novel science texts.

Control Condition: Classrooms will be randomly assigned to participate in one of the three treatment conditions or the control condition in the pilot studies.

Key Measures: A large number of measures (both standardized and researcher-developed) of student learning in science, vocabulary, comprehension and English language will be used, including the Test of Word Reading Efficiency-2 the Teacher Rating of Oral Language and Literacy (TROLL), the Science Learning Assessment (SLA), and the Concepts of Comprehension Assessment. State assessments of home language abilities and English language proficiency will also be used. In addition, the Observation Survey of Early Literacy (Hearing and Recording Sounds in Words subtask), will be used in this study.

Data Analytic Strategy: The data analysis will vary depending on the phase of the project. In Phase 1, information collected in classroom observations and teacher reflections will be discussed in weekly group reflection sessions and used to make decisions regarding revisions to the curricula. Phase 2 will include analysis of student assessments before and after using the curriculum as well as student work products, review of field notes, observations, and protocols that document instructional practices. In the pilot tests in Phase 3, regressions using treatment condition as a predictor will be used to examine effects on student learning, and effects of mediating and moderating variables will also be examined.


Book chapter

Pearson, P.D., and Billman, A.K. (2016). Reading to Learn Science; A Right that Extends to Every Reader—Expert or Novice. In Zehlia Babaci–Wilhite (Ed.), Human Rights in Language and STEM Education (pp. 17–35). The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Billman, A.K., and Pearson, P.D. (2013). Literacy in the Disciplines. Literacy Learning: the Middle Years, 21(1): 25–33.

Pearson, P.D., Knight, A.M., Cannady, M.A., Henderson, J.B., and McNeil, K.L. (2015). Assessment at the Intersection of Science and Literacy. Theory into Practice, 54(3): 228–237.