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IES Grant

Title: Exploring the Effects of Heterogeneous Grouping on English Learners' Language, Reading Comprehension, and Social Network Development
Center: NCER Year: 2020
Principal Investigator: Kieffer, Michael J. Awardee: New York University
Program: Policies, Practices, and Programs to Support English Learners      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (07/01/2020 – 06/30/2023) Award Amount: $1,398,609
Type: Exploration Award Number: R305A200069

Co-Principal Investigators: Proctor, Patrick; Cappella, Elise

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to investigate the effects of linguistically heterogeneous grouping compared to homogeneous grouping for English learners (ELs) in the context of a small-group, language-based literacy intervention. Linguistically heterogeneous grouping refers to grouping ELs and non-ELs together, while homogeneous grouping includes only ELs. Grouping decisions are malleable factors under the control of the educational system and vary considerably across schools and classrooms, with plausible justifications for different approaches. This study will explore effects of grouping on ELs' language, reading comprehension, and social network ties. The researchers will also explore potential moderation by English language proficiency and potential mediating effects of specialized supports for ELs, quality of teacher talk, and quality of peer talk.

Project Activities: This study will use original data collection and a randomized controlled design to explore the effects of grouping in the context of language- and discussion-based literacy instruction.

Products: Researchers will produce preliminary evidence about the relationship between grouping strategies within the context of intervention delivery and student academic outcomes and peer networks. The researchers also will produce peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This study will take place in 64 fourth and fifth grade classrooms in 16 elementary schools with high proportions of Spanish-speaking ELs in New York City.

Sample: In each classroom, 8 ELs and 4 non-ELs will participate. Participants will be selected based on scoring below proficient on the previous year's English-language arts standards test, and for ELs, above the lowest two levels on the state English-as-a-second-language proficiency test. Across the 64 classrooms, a total of 768 students (512 ELs; 256 non-ELs) will participate.

Research Design and Methods: Within each class, the researchers will individually randomly assign students to three groups: four ELs to a linguistically homogeneous group and four ELs and four non-ELs to two linguistically heterogeneous groups (two ELs and two non-ELs per group). To control for instruction, all participants will receive the same small-group literacy intervention, but the format in which they receive this intervention—heterogeneous or homogeneous groups—will be randomly assigned to differ. Thus, the study will yield evidence on the effects of grouping in the context of intervention, rather than evidence for the efficacy of the intervention per se. Student outcomes will be assessed before and after the 12-week intervention on targeted discrete language skills (semantics, morphology, syntax), core academic language skills, and reading comprehension. Data on students' social networks will also be collected before and after the intervention to assess effects of grouping on cross-linguistic social ties (ELs with non-ELs), number of ties, and strength of ties. Small groups will be observed and videotaped on 3 occasions, and a subsample of videos will be coded for the hypothesized mediators (EL supports, teacher talk, and peer talk).

Key Measures: The project team will administer researcher-developed measures of semantics, morphology, syntax; a recently validated measure of academic language skills; Gates-MacGinitie and New York State reading comprehension tests; and a peer social network survey. The team will also transcribe and code video observations of small group activities.

Data Analytic Strategy: The researchers will fit multilevel models with students nested within small groups within classrooms and fixed effects for schools. Consistent with individual random assignment, the grouping effect will be estimated at Level 1. Moderation analyses will explore whether effects differ by English proficiency. Exploratory mediation analyses using multiple approaches will investigate whether grouping effects are mediated by differences in teachers' use of EL supports, quality of teacher talk, and quality of peer talk.