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IES Grant

Title: A Process View of Reading Among Adult Literacy Learners
Center: NCER Year: 2013
Principal Investigator: Stine-Morrow, Elizabeth Awardee: Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
Program: Postsecondary and Adult Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (7/1/2013-6/30/2017) Award Amount: $1,600,000
Goal: Exploration Award Number: R305A130448

Co-Principal Investigator: Kara Federmeier

Purpose: Most of the existing research with adult literacy learners has focused on the component skills related to reading.  In contrast, this project will explore the nature of reading processes as they occur online. Researchers will examine how struggling adult learners read texts relative to age-matched controls with a focus on individual differences in comprehension processes, in particular, addressing the extent to which difficulties in decoding print (“cracking the code”) compromise semantic and situation construction processes. The team will also explore individual differences among literacy learners, relating variations in process to measures of vocabulary, working memory, and speed of processing.

Project Activities:  Researchers will conduct 13 experiments including a series of reading progress assessments, behavioral measures, and a neuropsychological battery to create profiles of differences in comprehension processes for various subgroups of adults, both those who do and do not struggle with reading.

Products: The products of this project will be an identification of specific targets for literacy instruction (e.g., decoding, vocabulary learning, predictive use of context, suppressing irrelevant meanings, conceptual integration, mental simulation) among adult learners and peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This project will take place in a small urban community in Illinois.

Sample: Adults between the ages of 16–60 that are enrolled in adult literacy programs (e.g., adult secondary or GED preparation programs) as well as age-matched adults not in literacy programs. The sample is expected to be highly diverse with respect to race, ethnicity, and socio-economic status.

Intervention: This 4-year project will focus on understanding the nature of reading processes by exploring how struggling adult readers (e.g., those who read below the high school level) process texts relative non-struggling adults. In particular, the researchers will examine how struggling readers activate and suppress features of texts (e.g., contextual or lexical information), integrate meanings to understand sentences, and use discourse and situational context to activate and isolate meanings and simulate events. Furthermore, they will explore how demands in surface-form processing may differentially affect struggling adult readers’ ability to comprehend texts.

Control Conditions: Adult learners assigned to the control condition are age- and IQ-matched with the comparison adult literacy learners. Age-matched controls will be recruited through local high schools, universities, and the local community.

Research Design and Method:  Researchers will use eye-tracking, self-paced reading and listening, and event-related potentials (ERPs) over the course of 13 experiments to explore how reading occurs in typical and struggling adult readers. Experiments 1 and 2 examine how contextual constraints (i.e., the semantic constraints in a sentence) affect word-level processing using ERPs in auditory and visual modalities (Experiment 1), as well as eye-tracking measures during reading (Experiment 2). Experiments 3 and 4 explore whether adult literacy learners are able to suppress information (e.g., multiple meanings associated with a word such as spade) while isolating the correct word meaning in context (e.g., in discussions of gardening versus playing cards). Experiment 5 explores the effects of predictive and suppression mechanisms on decoding (word recognition)—i.e., how easily participants can respond to words that are highly probable given a sentence context or that have highly probably competitor words.

Experiments 6, 7, and 8 explore how easily adult literacy learners can regulate cognitive resources while reading. Experiment 6 explores the effects of self-paced reading/listening and using explicit comprehension strategies on text recall. Experiment 7 explores whether pre-exposure vocabulary facilitates subsequent word-level processing and concept integration. Experiment 8 explores how resources are allocated over longer, discourse-length texts and whether adult literacy learners build, or don’t build, situation models and  macro-level representations of arguments.

Experiments 9 and 10 explore how flexible adult literacy learners are in their activation of word meanings depending on differences in the context (e.g., the feature of roundness or juiciness of an orange based on whether the sentence is about an orange rolling off a table or a child eating an orange). Similarly, Experiment 11 explores how flexible these learners are in enhancing and suppressing discourse focus (e.g., the referent or entity that is under discussion).

Finally, Experiments 12 and 13 explore whether adult literacy learners mentally simulate events during comprehension and whether decoding difficulty hampers mental simulation. Experiment 12 uses auditory and visual modalities for the presentation of materials with picture identification measures, and Experiment 13 will replicate this paradigm with ERPs.

Key Measures: Researchers will collect both behavioral and physiological data. They will assess reading time (total, gaze duration, regression path duration) and collect response time, recognition accuracy, and recall data. Additionally, they will measure the amplitude of the N400 component of ERP. They will also collect data from a neuropsychological battery from all participants. This battery includes the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence (WASI), the Letter and Pattern Comparison tasks, Slosson Oral Reading Test (SORT), Rapid Automated Naming and Rapid Alternating Stimulus tests (RAN/RAS), the Test of Silent Reading Efficiency and Comprehension (TOSREC), the Loaded Listening Span test, and the Spatial Span test.

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will use generalized linear mixed models (GLMM) that allow the research team to simultaneously model the effects of subject variables, experimental conditions, items, and their interactions. Researchers will conduct a qualitative comparison of N400 measures and eye-tracking measures.