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IES Grant

Title: Malleable Instructional Factors Associated with Beginning Word Reading
Center: NCER Year: 2018
Principal Investigator: Vadasy, Patricia Awardee: Oregon Research Institute
Program: Literacy      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years (07/01/2018 - 06/30/2020) Award Amount: $1,382,994
Type: Exploration Award Number: R305A180005

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to explore how explicit training of orthographic knowledge (i.e., knowledge of conventions for written language that includes spelling, capitalization, emphasis) and cognitive flexibility (the ability to switch between thinking about two different concepts) may support kindergarten and first grade students who are at risk for word learning difficulties. Although access to high-quality materials that show the connections between sounds and written words is important for skilled reading, beginning reading instruction often focuses on phonology (i.e. teaching children about systematic sounds in language). The goal of this study is to explore benefits associated with explicitly teaching at-risk children who are beginning to learn to read in English both sounds and written language conventions.

Project Activities: In this study, researchers will conduct three small experiments. The first experiment will examine whether a slower or faster rate of instruction on sounds and written conventions is associated with better outcomes for students. The second will compare teaching sounds and written conventions together versus teaching single letter sounds only to see which instructional approach is associated with better reading and writing outcomes for students. The third will examine whether instruction that includes teaching students how to switch between thinking about two different concepts is associated with better literacy outcomes than instruction that does not.

Products: Products include preliminary evidence of the associations of teaching orthographic knowledge and cognitive flexibility with literacy outcomes for kindergarten and first grade students. In addition, researchers plan to publish papers in practitioner journals. They will also produce peer reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This study will take place in schools in Washington.

Sample: Approximately 256 kindergarten and first grade students and their teachers will participate in this research.

Malleable Factors: In this exploratory study, the researchers are examining the role of malleable factors including orthographic knowledge, orthographic-phonological connections, and cognitive flexibility. Current practice in kindergarten and first grade classrooms is often to teach associations between one letter to one sound, but research suggests that teaching children to attend to both phonological and orthographical aspects of print may be beneficial. Additionally, teaching children cognitive flexibility skills that will allow them to switch between attending to phonology and orthography, may also be beneficial for literacy outcomes for children at risk for word reading difficulties. The findings from the proposed study will provide critical information to the development of interventions to improve writing instruction and student writing outcomes in kindergarten.

Research Design and Methods: Researchers will conduct three small-scale experiments over two years. In year 1, researchers will randomly assign students to participate in either Study 1 or Study 2.Participants in Study 1will be randomly assigned to either the slower rate or the standard rate of orthographic-phonological connections instruction. Participants in Study 2 will be randomly assigned to receive either the best-paced orthographic-phonological connections instruction found in Study 1, or to instruction featuring single letter correspondences only. In Study 3, the research team will randomly assign students to a cohort. Then, within each cohort, researchers will randomly assign students to receive either the optimal instruction identified in Studies 1 and 2, either with or without additional cognitive flexibility training.

Control Condition: Comparison conditions vary by study. For Study 1, the comparison condition is the standard rate of orthographic-phonological connections instruction. For Study 2, the comparison condition is the instruction featuring single letter correspondences. For Study 3, the comparison condition is instruction without cognitive flexibility training.

Key Measures: Researchers will use a variety of measures to assess literacy outcomes including the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test — 4, the Test of One Word Reading Efficiency, and subscales of the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test. Additional measures will assess listening comprehension, alphabet knowledge, word reading accuracy and efficiency, paired associate learning, cognitive flexibility, and orthographic learning. Observation forms and attendance records will provide information on fidelity.

Data Analytic Strategy: The researchers will use multilevel models to examine pretest-posttest gain outcomes. Students will be nested within classrooms. Final models will include treatment, grade level, and fidelity as predictors.


Vadasy, P.F., Sanders, E.A. Introducing grapheme-phoneme correspondences (GPCs): exploring rate and complexity in phonics instruction for kindergarteners with limited literacy skills. Read Writ (2020).

Vadasy, P.F., Sanders, E.A. Introducing phonics to learners who struggle: content and embedded cognitive elements. Read Writ (2021).