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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: University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Program: Postsecondary and Adult Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (7/1/2013-6/30/2017) Award Amount: $1,600,000
Type: Exploration Award Number: R305A130448

Co-Principal Investigator: Federmeier, Kara

Purpose: Over the course of this project, the researchers examined variation in sentence processing among adults with a wide range of literacy skill. Specifically, they explored the association of literacy skill with variation in the activation of word meanings, how these meanings are sculpted by context and integrated into conceptual representations, as well as the activation of situational representations.

Project Activities: Researchers conduct multiple 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.

Key findings: The main findings of this project are as follows:

  • Adults with lower levels of literacy skill showed poorer sentence memory, may be more sensitive to word-level features, and do not demonstrate longer sentence-final word processing ("wrap up"), which has been argued to reflect conceptual integration processing (Ng et al., 2020).
  • Regardless of literacy level, readers with better overall sentence memory engaged in a reading strategy marked by a larger sentence wrap-up effect (Ng et al., 2020).
  • Regardless of reading skill, older readers are more sensitive to context for meaning-integration processes, but adults with lower reading skills (regardless of age) depend more on a constrained semantic representation for comprehension (Steen-Baker et al., 2017).
  • Eye-tracking data indicate that adults with low literacy skills and those with intact literacy skills use sentence context similarly, though those with lower skills have overall slower reading times (Steen-Baker et al., 2017).
  • When processing spoken English, adults with underdeveloped literacy skills may be less likely to engage predictive processing, suggesting that the basic mechanisms of language comprehension may be recruited differently as a function of literacy development (Ng et al., 2018).

Structured Abstract

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

Sample: Participants included adults between the ages of 16 to 60 that were enrolled in adult literacy programs (such as adult secondary or GED preparation programs) as well as age-matched adults not in literacy programs.

Factors: This 4-year project focused on understanding the nature of reading processes by exploring how adult struggling readers, namely those who read below the high school level, process texts relative adults non-struggling readers. In particular, the researchers examined how readers activate and suppress features of texts (such as contextual or lexical information), integrate meanings to understand sentences, and use discourse and situational context to activate and isolate meanings and simulate events. They explored how demands in surface-form processing may differentially affect struggling adult readers' ability to comprehend texts.

Comparison Conditions: They compared adults with low literacy skills to age- and IQ-matched adults with intact reading skills.

Research Design and Method: The researchers used multiple research designs including (a) electrophysiological measures to examine meaning integration processes in ongoing comprehension in both reading and listening, (b) eye-tracking to examine comprehension as a function of contextual constraint and with ambiguity resolution, and (c) behavioral measures of efficiency and accuracy. They used simple texts that were generally well within the capability of readers with low skills so that the differences that they observed were not simply caused by text difficulty.

Key Measures: Researchers collected both behavioral and physiological data. They assessed reading time (total, gaze duration, regression path duration) and collect response time, recognition accuracy, and recall data. Additionally, they measured the amplitude of the N400 component of ERP and collected data from a neuropsychological battery from participants. This battery included 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 use generalized linear mixed models (GLMM) and conducted a qualitative comparison of N400 measures and eye-tracking measures.

Products and Publications

ERIC Citations: Find available citations in ERIC for this award here.

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Journal articles

Ng, S., Payne, B.R., Steen, A.A., Stine-Morrow, E.A.L., & Federmeier, K.D. (2017). Use of contextual information and prediction by struggling adult readers: evidence from reading times and event-related potentials. Scientific Studies of Reading, 21, 359–375. Full text

Ng, S., Payne, B. R., Stine-Morrow, E. A. L., & Federmeier, K. D. (2018). How struggling adult readers use contextual information when comprehending speech: evidence from event-related potentials. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 125, 1–9. Full text

Steen-Baker, A.A., Ng, S., Payne, B.R., Anderson, C.J., Federmeier, K.D., & Stine-Morrow, E. A.L. (2017). The effects of context on processing words during sentence reading among adults varying in age and literacy skill. Psychology and Aging, 32, 460–472. Full text.

Stine-Morrow, E.A., Hussey, E.K., & Ng, S. (2015). The potential for literacy to shape lifelong cognitive health. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 2 (1): 92–100. Full text.

Ng, S., Payne, B. R., Liu, X., Anderson, C. J., Federmeier, K. D., & Stine-Morrow, E. A. (2020). Execution of lexical and conceptual processes in sentence comprehension among adult readers as a function of literacy skill. Scientific Studies of Reading, 24(4), 338–355.