Skip Navigation
Funding Opportunities | Search Funded Research Grants and Contracts

IES Grant

Title: A Close Inspection of the Academic Language Used by K-3 Students
Center: NCER Year: 2018
Principal Investigator: Spencer, Trina Awardee: University of South Florida
Program: Literacy      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (07/01/2018 - 06/30/2022) Award Amount: $1,323,166
Type: Exploration Award Number: R305A180037

Co-Principal Investigator: Reppen, Randi

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to examine the vocabulary and grammatical features that students with above-average oral language abilities use but that students with below-average oral language abilities do not. Academic language, defined as language used in school to help students acquire and use information, is an important early skill that predicts later reading and writing outcomes for students. Unfortunately, reading achievement gaps in later elementary school and beyond may be traced back to gaps in academic language in early elementary school. In this project, researchers will collect oral language samples from both below- and above-average students to investigate how these groups use vocabulary and grammar differently.

Project Activities: Researchers will record students telling stories or giving information in response to pictures. They will collect these data from students who are below-average on oral language abilities and above-average on oral language abilities. Researchers will then examine the recordings for vocabulary and grammatical features.

Products: Products include preliminary evidence of how students with below- or above-average oral language skills use vocabulary and grammar and peer reviewed publications. In addition, researchers will publish in practitioner journals, present at practitioner workshops and professional development events, and record video-based reports of findings.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This study will take place in Florida.

Sample: Approximately 1,000 kindergarten through third grade students will participate in this study.

Malleable Factors: Researchers will investigate the distinct vocabulary and grammatical features that students with above- and below-average oral language abilities use. Academic language is the malleable factor as it can be improved upon through instruction and is associated with later achievement in reading and writing. The findings will provide critical information to develop interventions to improve academic language for early elementary school students.

Research Design and Methods: This research will take place in four phases. In Phase 1, researchers will develop a set of photo stimuli and scripted procedures for eliciting both narrative and expository academic language samples from students. In Phase 2, researchers will use the photos and procedures to gather narrative and expository academic language samples from 1,000 kindergarten through third grade students. Students in each grade will be screened on measures of oral language abilities, with the goal of having 500 students who are above-average in oral language and 500 students who are below-average. Each of the 1,000 students will produce 8 language samples (4 expository and 4 narrative). In Phase 3, researchers will analyze the language samples using corpus linguistic analytical tools to produce vocabulary lists and grammatical descriptions for grades and subgroups. In Phase 4, researchers will disseminate their findings through conferences and publications.

Control Condition: Due to the nature of the research design, there is no control condition.

Key Measures: Students will be screened for above- or below-average oral language abilities using subscales from the Woodcock-Johnson IV Tests of Oral Language. Researchers will code language samples for the full range of grammatical and lexico-grammatical features in English. These include grammatical features such as word classes, function word classes, stance features, and features reflecting grammatical complexity such as passive voice constructions and pre-modifying nouns. The research team will also produce vocabulary lists for grades and subgroups will be generated from the oral language samples.

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will use a corpus-based 'keyness' analysis to compare the frequency of vocabulary words in a language sample to the frequency of the same words in a reference text. In this study, researchers will compare the language samples from the below-average students to the above-average student samples. In addition, researchers will use analysis of variance to compare the two groups on grammatical features.