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IES Grant

Title: Alphabet Instruction Details
Center: NCER Year: 2015
Principal Investigator: Vadasy, Patricia Awardee: Oregon Research Institute
Program: Cognition and Student Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (7/1/2015-6/30/2018) Award Amount: $1,499,820
Goal: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A150005
Description:

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to develop and pilot test guidelines for alphabet instruction in the context of preschool classrooms. Alphabet knowledge is important for students' success with word reading and spelling development. Although learning letter names and sounds may appear to be a simple task, research suggests that many children from low socioeconomic status families, including many with limited English proficiency, enter and exit preschool with limited alphabet knowledge. In addition, to date, evaluations of widely-used curricula designed to support these skills show inconsistent and modest effects, and there is limited information on the components of alphabet instruction that are effective. In this project, the research team will develop guidelines for alphabet instruction through a sequence of studies that examine the content of alphabet instruction, the activation of underlying cognitive processes embedded in instruction, and the contextualized nature of instruction in relation to preschool literacy skills.

Project Activities: In Year 1, the research team will develop the initial alphabet instruction lessons and then will conduct a study to implement different variations in alphabet instructional content. In Year 2, the research team will revise the lessons based on the Year 1 study and then will conduct a study to address how the activation of different underlying cognitive processes through variations in instruction affects alphabet knowledge and early literacy learning. In Year 3, the research team will revise the lessons based on the Year 2 study and then will conduct a pilot study to demonstrate the alphabet instructions guidelines' evidence of promise for improving preschool students' literacy skills as well as to determine whether or not these guidelines should be contextualized in storybook reading, choral reading, and name writing tasks.

Products: The products of this project include a fully developed set of guidelines for alphabet instruction for preschool children and peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This project will take place in preschools in an urban area in California.

Sample: Study participants will include approximately 320 four- and five-year-old children (96 students drawn from 6 classrooms in Year 1, 96 students drawn from 8 classrooms in Year 2, 128 students drawn from 8 classrooms in Year 3). Students will be drawn from classrooms that serve a large, language diverse population of low-income children.

Intervention: The research team will develop guidelines for alphabet instruction intended for use in preschool classrooms. These guidelines will be developed as lessons, intended for use in small groups for 15 minutes a day, four days a week, for 10 instructional weeks.

Research Design and Methods: In Year 1, the research team will develop the initial alphabet instruction lessons and then will conduct a study to implement different variations in alphabet instructional content. Students within each classroom will be randomly assigned to one of four instructional conditions. In all conditions, instruction will occur in small groups for 15 minutes a day, four days a week, for 10 instructional weeks. All students will complete pre-tests of early literacy prior to any instruction, mid-tests halfway through the 10 instructional weeks, and post-tests immediately after instruction is complete. In addition, over the course of the 10 instructional weeks, the research team will videotape sample lessons, gather fidelity of implementation observations, and obtain weekly feedback from implementers.

In Year 2, the research team will revise the lessons based on findings from the Year 1 study and feedback from teachers and then will conduct a study to address how the activation of different underlying cognitive processes through variations in instruction affects alphabet knowledge and early literacy learning. Students within each classroom will be randomly assigned to one of three instructional conditions intended to activate different underlying cognitive processes (paired associate learning, articulation referencing learning, and orthographic learning). Procedures will be the same as those for the Year 1 study.

In Year 3, the research team will revise the lessons based on the Year 2 study and feedback from teachers and will conduct a pilot study to demonstrate the alphabet instructions guidelines' evidence of promise for improving preschool students' literacy skills. In addition, researchers will determine whether or not these guidelines should be contextualized (alphabet instruction embedded in storybook reading, choral reading, and name writing tasks) or decontextualized (alphabet instruction not embedded in other tasks). Students within each classroom will be randomly assigned to one of four small groups. Small groups will be randomly assigned to one of two instructional conditions (contextualized or decontextualized alphabet instruction). Procedures will be the same as those from the other studies, except that mid-tests will not be administered to students.

Control Condition: Across the three studies, the comparison conditions differ depending on the research question. In all cases, variations on instruction are compared to each other to identify the optimal combination of instructional guidelines for improving children's early literacy skills.

Key Measures: Primary measures of children's early language and literacy skills include both norm-referenced assessments (e.g., the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-IIIA, the Pre-Idea Oral English Language Proficiency Test, the Phonological Awareness Test), and experimenter developed tests (e.g., tests of paired associate learning, orthographic learning). General cognitive ability will be measured using Raven's Coloured Progressive Matrices. Engagement and motivation will be measured with researcher developed tasks. Researchers will measure fidelity of implementation through observations and weekly feedback from implementers.

Data Analytic Strategy: The research team will conduct analyses of variance, planned contrasts, and multiple regressions to test for main effects and interactions (analyses adapted for multilevel modeling as needed), with specific attention on whether child English Learner status and pretest skills moderate treatment effects.


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