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IES Grant

Title: Digital Scaffolding for English Language Arts
Center: NCER Year: 2015
Principal Investigator: Warschauer, Mark Awardee: University of California, Irvine
Program: Education Technology      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (7/1/2015-6/30/2019) Award Amount: $3,500,000
Type: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305A150429

Co-Principal Investigator: Collins, Penelope; Farkas, George

Purpose: In this project, researchers will examine the efficacy of Visual Syntactic Text Formatting (VSTF), a technology for reformatting text to make it easier to understand, on 7th and 8th grade students' reading and writing outcomes. Students are expected to read and understand more and more complex texts as they get older, and many of these texts are complicated both in their language and their structure. One way to help students better understand the complex text they read is to adjust the print itself; even changing the size or spacing of letters can help students' reading comprehension. VSTF is a new type of organization for text that arranges phrases so that it highlights the meaning of the text. Researchers will examine whether reading text in VSTF improves students' reading and writing as compared to reading text in standard blocks.

Project Activities: VSTF separates phrases and clauses onto short, separate lines. It also uses a cascading pattern and different colors to highlight active verbs. The result is a streamlined column of text that makes reading easier and more efficient. In this project, classrooms of students will be randomly assigned either to read their language arts text in VSTF on an iPad or Chromebook, or to read their language arts text in traditional block format on an iPad or Chromebook. Researchers will also examine whether reading VSTF on an iPad or on a Chromebook makes a difference in how well the intervention works to improve students' reading and writing outcomes.

Products: The products of this project include evidence of the efficacy of the VSTF intervention for 7th and 8th grade students, and peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This project will take place in urban schools in southern California.

Sample: In this study, participants will include approximately 4,800 students in 7th and 8th grade, as well as their 57 teachers.

Intervention: VSTF is a technology that visually scaffolds texts so that phrases and clauses are displayed in patterns that indicate sentence structure. VSTF uses natural language processing techniques to automatically parse sentences and arrange them into a streamlined column of text that allows more efficient eye movement and syntactic processing. The VSTF intervention also includes professional development for teachers. Teachers can implement the intervention on iPads or Chromebooks. VSTF will support readers in skimming text, lexical processing, and text comprehension.

Research Design and Methods: Researchers will use a randomized control trial to study the efficacy on VSTF 7th and 8th grade students' reading and writing outcomes. The research team will randomize classrooms within teacher, so each teacher will have both treatment and control classrooms. Additionally, half of the schools in the study will implement the intervention on iPads and the other half will implement on Chromebooks. Students in the VSTF condition will receive regular language arts curriculum and all reading materials digitally in VSTF. Students will read in VSTF for 50 minutes each week. Additionally, teachers will provide explicit instruction in language structure. Students in the control condition will use the same curriculum as students in the treatment condition. Also, readings will be presented digitally, but not in VSTF. Students in the control classrooms will read for 50 minutes a week and will receive the same explicit instruction from teachers as students in the treatment classrooms.

Control Condition: Students randomly assigned to the control condition will receive the same texts and same instruction as students in the treatment condition. They will also read their texts on iPads or Chromebooks, but in block text formatting instead of in VSTF.

Key Measures: Student measures will include grade point average in language arts and scores on the California English Language Development Test and the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Teacher measures will include the Teacher Practices inventory and the Measuring Teacher Content Knowledge for Teaching Elementary Rescore Items. The team will adapt the Pathway Observation Measure to assess the quantity and process of implementation of the intervention.

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will use hierarchical linear modeling to assess the impact of VTSF on student outcomes with students at level 1 and teachers at level 2. The research team will include interaction terms between the treatment condition and the iPad/Chromebook condition to examine whether the effect of VSTF varies depending on technology. The research team will conduct a cost analysis to examine the cost of the VSTF intervention as compared to reading text digitally in block formatting.


Tate, T. P., Collins, P., Xu, Y., Yau, J. C., Krishnan, J., Prado, Y., ... & Warschauer, M. (2019). Visual-Syntactic Text Format: Improving Adolescent Literacy. Scientific Studies of Reading, 1-18.