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IES Grant

Title: Vocabulary CHAAOS: Creating Habits that Accelerate Academic Language of Students
Center: NCSER Year: 2016
Principal Investigator: O'Connor, Rollanda Awardee: University of California, Riverside
Program: Reading, Writing, and Language      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (8/1/2016 7/31/2019) Award Amount: $1,437,123
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R324A160019

Co-Principal Investigator: Kristen Beach (University of North Carolina, Charlotte)

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to develop an intervention to improve the academic language of adolescents with disabilities in Grades 6 8. Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (2013) indicate that adolescents with disabilities have poor reading comprehension. More research is needed on how to develop the academic language of adolescents with disabilities. This project seeks to fill this gap by developing three sets (one per grade) of a 12-week intervention with vocabulary and writing instruction that introduces and provides practice in academic vocabulary. The lessons are designed specifically for adolescent learning strategies for effective instruction for students with learning disabilities.

Project Activities: The researchers will develop, refine, and field test three sets of the intervention (one set each for grade) for adolescent students with learning disabilities with the goal of improving academic language. In Year 1, the research team will develop and implement sixth grade lessons and assessments. In Year 2, a new group of sixth grade students will receive the refined lessons, and the researchers will develop and implement seventh grade lessons with the prior year students, now in seventh grade. In Year 3, a new group of sixth and seventh grade students will receive the refined lessons, and the researchers will develop and implement eighth grade lessons with the prior year students, now in eighth grade. The first year a set of lessons is developed, it is implemented by the coach and the classroom teacher. In subsequent years, the teacher implements the lessons independently. Each year the research team will gather feedback from teachers to inform the refinement of the lessons. In addition, each year the researchers will conduct a quasi experimental study to compare the intervention and comparison students on reading and writing outcomes and compare their teacher's vocabulary instruction. As a multi year study, the researchers will investigate the longitudinal accumulation of academic vocabulary over time with ongoing intervention.

Products: The products of this project include 48 integrated and validated vocabulary lessons that can be implemented as a 12-week intervention in each grade (144 lessons total) and an assessment of vocabulary and reading comprehension. In addition, products will include peer-reviewed publications and presentations.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study will be conducted in middle schools in California and North Carolina.

Sample: In Year 1, five special education teachers and 65 special education students in Grade 6 will participate. Twice as many students and teachers will participate over the next 2 years (130 students and 10 teachers) across four middle schools. Students will be primarily from low-income areas and ethnically diverse.

Intervention: Each version (one per grade level) of the 12-week intervention will consist of 48 vocabulary and writing instruction lessons. The lessons provide vocabulary in contexts that would be both familiar to adolescents (e.g., determining what to do if a teen has a broken cell phone) and in academic contexts. The lessons also include teacher/student and student/student discussion to improve motivation and extend usage of the words. Peer and independent reading and writing activities are designed to provide students with opportunities to use the newly acquired vocabulary. The researchers will gradually release responsibility of instruction. Research staff will teach the first four lessons (week 1) while the special education (SPED) teachers observe and assist. In week 2, the SPED teachers implement 25% of the lessons while the researchers implement the rest. In weeks 3 to 12, the SPED teachers implement the lessons while researchers engage in coaching and modeling as needed. The following year, the teachers will implement the intervention independently.

Research Design and Methods: The intervention will be developed in a series of iterative steps involving development, testing, and refining each year. The research team will use a quasi-experimental design to compare intervention and business-as-usual (BAU) groups across the 3 years of instruction. The researchers will collect data from teachers on elements of quality vocabulary instruction and compare instruction for the intervention and BAU groups. Next, the researchers will compare outcomes for each group of students using near-transfer measures of vocabulary knowledge and far-transfer measures of reading and writing. The outcomes of interest include comprehension of passages that contain explicitly taught words, oral expression, and sentence writing, with data collected during the fall and spring of each cohort's first year and during the spring only for each subsequent year. Observations of instruction will be used to understand whether teachers implement lessons with fidelity. As a multi year study, the researchers will investigate the longitudinal accumulation of academic vocabulary over time with ongoing intervention for students receiving instruction in Grades 6 (Year 1), 7 (Year 2) and 8 (Year 3) compared to students receiving typical vocabulary instruction.

Control Condition: Students in the control condition will receive business-as-usual reading and vocabulary instruction.

Key Measures: For student outcome measures, oral vocabulary will be measured using the Comprehensive Receptive and Expressive Vocabulary Test. Written language will be measured with the Spontaneous Writing subtest of the Test of Written Language. Three subtests of the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement III will be used to measure reading skill—Word Identification, Word Attack, and Passage Comprehension. Verbal, performance and full-scale intelligence will be measured with the Vocabulary and Matrix Design subtests of the Wecshler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence. Silent reading speed and comprehension will be measured with the Test of Silent Reading Efficiency and Comprehension. Reading progress in word reading, fluency, and comprehension will be measured using the Curriculum-based Maze. Finally, the researchers will develop assessments specific to the target words included in the intervention to measure how deeply the students learn the words. Student perceptions about the usefulness and effectiveness of the intervention will be measured using a confidential social validity questionnaire. The researchers will use a number of researcher-developed measures to assess usability, feasibility, and fidelity, including a survey on teacher experience, beliefs, skills, and current practices in vocabulary instruction; a post-workshop quiz; vocabulary instruction prior to implementation; observation fidelity guides; teacher audio reflections; and coach logs.

Data Analytic Strategy: Within-year repeated-measures analysis of variance will be used to assess change over time in student outcomes. The research team will use analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) to determine whether the intervention has promise for improving vocabulary knowledge outcomes, incorporating moderators to determine factors related to outcomes (e.g., treatment integrity, reading ability). ANCOVA will also be used to determine the promise of the intervention when implemented over multiple years. Observations of students during lesson implementation will be analyzed qualitatively to inform the iterative development of the lessons.

Project website:


Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

O'Connor, R.E., Sanchez, V., Beach, K., Bocian, K. (2017). Special education teachers integrating reading with 8th grade U.S. History. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice,32, 99–111

O'Connor, R.E., Sanchez, V., Beach, K., Bocian, K., Roberts, S. & Chan, O. (2017). Building better bridges: Teaching adolescents who are poor readers in 8th grade to comprehend history text.Learning Disability Quarterly,40, 174–186.