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IES Grant

Title: English Learner Vocabulary Acquisition (ELVA): Promoting the Vocabulary and Language Proficiency of Spanish Speaking English Learners in Second Grade
Center: NCER Year: 2014
Principal Investigator: Luft de Baker, Doris Awardee: Southern Methodist University
Program: English Learners      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (8/1/2014 – 7/31/2017) Award Amount: $1,499,586
Goal: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A140471

Co-Principal Investigator(s): Stephanie Al Otaiba; Ron Cole and Wayne Ward (Boulder Language Technologies)

Purpose: Converging evidence indicates that English language learners (ELLs) can perform as well as their English-only peers on word-level skills but do not attain the same levels of performance on reading comprehension and writing. This is due, in part, to students’ lower vocabulary knowledge, listening comprehension, and syntactic skills in English. The purpose of this project is to create and test an intelligent tutoring system that will increase the vocabulary knowledge, text comprehension and English language proficiency of Spanish-speaking English language learners (ELLs) in second grade. ELVA (English Learner Vocabulary Acquisition) is intended to provide teachers and students with highly effective and engaging tools that will increase ELL’s comprehension of science and social studies texts. In addition, ELVA will assist students in meeting the vocabulary goals included in the Common Core State Standards and the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills Standards.

Project Activities: This grant will iteratively develop, refine, and test ELVA for use by Spanish-speaking ELLs. In the first two years of the project, researchers will develop six ELVA modules (3 in science and 3 in social studies). In each iteration, researchers will elicit feedback from teachers and students on the passages and functionality of ELVA. Excerpts from students engaging in a Questioning the Author exercise with a human teacher will be used to program a virtual tutor named ‘Eva.’ A study will be conducted in Year 2 to investigate the feasibility of incorporating ELVA into classroom instruction. The final version of ELVA will be piloted in Year 3 in a randomized study.

Products: The products of this grant include a fully developed intelligent-tutoring system, ELVA, for second-grade Spanish-speaking ELLs and teacher training for using ELVA. Peer-reviewed publications for research and practitioner audiences will also be produced.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This project will take place in public and independent schools in Texas with a large percentage of Hispanic students. The schools have varying percentages of students who are on free and reduced lunch. The students have different levels of English language abilities.

Sample: All studies will include second-grade ELLs. Studies in the development phase will include 30 students and 6 teachers. The feasibility study will include 60 ELLs in approximately 12 classrooms. The pilot study will include 216 ELLs in 24 classrooms.

Intervention: The proposed intervention will include approximately 27 passages of 250-300 words related to themes in social studies (e.g., famous people, professions) and science (e.g., animals, plants, weather). Researchers will select 5-6 target words per passage for in-depth teaching (e.g., admire, polite, survive, habitat) and 1 or 2 topics to build student linguistic and syntactic knowledge for each theme (e.g., recognizing morphemes such as prefixes and parts of speech). Target word selection will be based on Beck & McKeown’s definition of Tier 2 and Tier 3 words. Comprehension activities will use a Questioning the Author approach. The passages and activities will be included in an interactive book. Each week, the virtual tutor, Eva, will read a book aloud to ELLs that contain the target words. After reading the book, Eva engages students in a dialogue around the content of the book. ELLs will then work through a series of activities designed to facilitate deep learning of the target words, their associated concepts, and linguistic realizations with Eva’s guidance. At the end of the week, Eva will read the book again and engage students in a deeper conversation that elicits explanations in which Eva facilitates the use of the words and the linguistic features students have learned.

Research Design and Methods: Researchers will use an iterative design-test-refine process that involves tutors and students to produce intuitive and engaging activities. Researchers will first develop content for 6 modules (3 in science and 3 in social studies). After each passage is identified, graphic information will be added and a Spanish version of each passage will be created. Passages and activities will be tested with either a human tutor reading the passages or an electronic voice. The ELVA system will record student responses and a speech recognizer will analyze student responses in comparison to expected answers. Based on student responses, the passage and activities will be revised and retested with students until ELVA is functioning as expected.

Information for improvement of ELVA will be obtained from student interviews, student language samples, student logs in the computer system, and observations of students using ELVA. A study conducted in the second year of the grant will test the feasibility of using ELVA in classrooms, including ease of use by students, scheduling issues, availability of necessary equipment, and student engagement. Teachers will receive one half-day of training prior to this study.

The pilot study will randomly assign 24 classrooms to either use ELVA or to a control condition. Researchers will investigate whether students who use ELVA have higher scores in vocabulary, language proficiency, oral reading fluency, and listening comprehension. They will also investigate whether the effects of ELVA vary for students with different levels of oral reading fluency and English language proficiency, and whether vocabulary knowledge mediates this relationship.

Control Condition: In the control condition, 108 second grade ELLs in 12 classrooms will receive standard classroom vocabulary instruction using ELVA passages.

Key Measures: Assessments include Depth of Vocabulary Knowledge (DOK) in Spanish and in English; coding of language samples; researcher-developed end of module comprehension assessment; Test of Oral Language Development-Primary, Third Edition (TOLD-P3); DIBELS Oral Reading Fluency (DORF); Gates-MacGinitie Test of Reading Comprehension, Listening Comprehension Subtest; Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT); Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System (TELPAS), and the Test de Vocabulario en Imágenes (TVIP) to measure student initial Spanish vocabulary knowledge.

Data Analytic Strategy: Descriptive data from surveys, classroom observations, and student performance will be used to iteratively revise ELVA and determine feasibility. For the pilot study, researchers will use analysis of covariance to examine the promise of the intervention. Researchers will also examine the mediation effect of vocabulary on oral reading fluency on reading comprehension, and the moderating effect of ELVA on such mediation effects.


Book chapter

Baker, D.L., Basaraba, D., Polanco, P., and Sparks, A. (in press). Linking theory to practice: review of empirical studies on second language acquisition. econd Language Acquisition. Methods, Perspectives, and Challenges. Nova Science Publishers.

Baker, D.L., Richards–Tutor, C., Gersten, R., Baker, S.K., and Smith, J. (2017). Building Literacy for English Learners Within Response to Intervention. In Emilia C. Lopez, Sara G. Nahari, and Sherrie L. Proctor (Eds.), The Handbook of Multicultural School Psychology, An Interdisciplinary Perspective. Routledge.

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Baker, D.L., Basaraba, D. L., and Polanco, P. (2016). Connecting the Present to the Past: Furthering the Research on Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. Review of Research in Education, 40(1): 821–883.

Baker, D.L., Basaraba, D., Smolkowski, K., Conry, J.s, Hautala, J., Richardson, U., English, S., and Cole, R. (2017). Exploring the Cross–Linguistic Transfer of Reading Skills in Spanish to English in the Context of a Computer Adaptive Reading Intervention. Bilingual Research Journal, 40(2): 222–239.

Baker, D.L., Mogna, V., Rodriguez, S., Farmer, D. and Yovanoff, P. (2016). Building the Oral Language of Young Hispanic Children Through Interactive Read Alouds and Vocabulary Games at Preschool and at Home. Journal of International Special Needs Education, 19(2): 81–94.

Richards–Tutor, C., Baker, D.L., Gersten, R., Baker, S., and Smith, J.M. (2015). The Effectiveness of Reading Interventions for English Learners: A Research Synthesis. Exceptional Children, 82(2): 144–169.