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IES Grant

Title: Project Connect-IT (Connecting Text by Inference and Technology): Development of a Text-Integration Intervention for Middle School Students with Comprehension Difficulties
Center: NCSER Year: 2016
Principal Investigator: Barnes, Marcia Awardee: Vanderbilt University
Program: Reading, Writing, and Language      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (7/1/2016 – 8/31/2019) Award Amount: $1,500,000
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R324A170150

Previous Award Number: R324A160052
Previous Awardee: University of Texas, Austin

Co-Principal Investigators: Sharon Vaughn, Greg Roberts, and Nathan Clemens; Melissa Fogarty (Texas A&M University)

Purpose: The purpose of this study is to design and test a technology-based intervention aimed at improving how middle school students with reading disabilities make inferences while reading. Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress indicate that students with disabilities continue to perform at the basic level with little change in comparison to their typically developing peers in the past few administrations of this assessment. There is preliminary evidence that improvements in reading comprehension for younger readers occur when they participate in inference-making interventions. Interventions for older readers with reading comprehension difficulties focused on making inferences are rare. This project seeks to fill this gap by designing such an inference-making intervention for middle school students with reading disabilities.

Project Activities: The researchers will design Connecting Text by Inference and Technology (Connect IT), a technology-based inference-making intervention for students with reading disabilities, as well a face-to-face version of the same inference-making intervention. They will iteratively develop and test the intervention in Year 1 to understand usability and feasibility. In Year 2, they will conduct small-scale experimental studies to inform the final intervention design for pilot testing. In Year 3, they will conduct a randomized controlled trial to test the computer-delivered intervention compared to a face-to-face version and business as usual.

Products: The products of this project include a fully developed Connect-IT intervention, both a computerized version and a teacher-led, face-to-face version, and evidence of the promise of each approach. The products also include peer-reviewed publications and presentations.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study will be conducted in middle schools in Texas.

Sample: The intervention testing in Years 2 and 3 will involve 360 students in seventh and eighth grade who have been identified with reading disabilities or meet screening criteria for a reading disability. For those assigned to the face-to-face group, their teachers will also participate. An additional 20 students and 4 teachers will participate in the initial intervention development in Year 1.

Intervention: The intervention, Connect-IT, will consist of 36 lessons focused on making inferences. The content will include text-connecting and knowledge-based inference making, instructional routines, the use of avatars in need of students' help, key word and graphic organizers, and inference-eliciting questions. The instructional approach includes frequent retrieval through testing, interleaved practice (i.e., mixed practice on several related skills together instead of blocking on same skill), cumulative practice, and immediate feedback.

Research Design and Methods: In Year 1, the researchers will iteratively develop off-computer lesson modules implemented by teachers with groups of two students and on-computer modules to understand the feasibility and fidelity of implementation of the intervention. Information collected from focus groups of teachers and students will inform revisions to the lessons. In Year 2, small-scale experimental studies will be conducted to compare pre- and post-test inference-making accuracy and reading comprehension performance of students using the intervention compared to a control group to prepare a final version of the intervention for the pilot study in Year 3. Small experiments in Year 2 will also test whether the teacher-led version of the intervention can be conducted in 30 minutes and to understand the optimal methods of presenting the information when converting the off-computer activities to on-computer format. The pilot study in Year 3 will use a randomized design to compare outcomes for students among the three groups—computer delivered Connect-IT intervention, teacher-led face-to-face version of Connect-IT, and business as usual.

Control Condition: Students in the control condition receive business-as-usual instruction while participating in the pilot study.

Key Measures: Revisions to the intervention will be informed by data collected from teacher and student usability surveys, student and teacher focus groups, and fidelity assessments. The fidelity assessment will capture important components of Connect-IT to document whether teachers are using the intervention as intended. Participant screening measures will include the Sight Word Reading Efficiency subtest of the Test of Word Reading Efficiency and the comprehension subtest of the Gates MacGinitie Reading Test, which will also be given at post-test. Pre- and post-test measures of inference making include the Bridging Inferences Task, the Knowledge-Based Inference Test, and a curriculum-based vocabulary measure developed by the research team.

Data Analytic Strategy: Descriptive statistics will be used to summarize the feedback from teachers and students from the usability surveys. Feedback from the focus groups will be summarized to provide feedback to the developers to inform lesson revisions. Student outcome data will be analyzed using a multilevel generalized linear model. In addition to the main effect, analyses will also be conducted to understand how learner characteristics (word reading ability and pretest reading comprehension) and fidelity moderate learner outcomes.

Related IES Project: Understanding Malleable Cognitive Processes and Integrated Comprehension Interventions for Grades 7–12