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IES Grant

Title: Increasing Opportunities-to-Learn in Urban Middle Schools
Center: NCER Year: 2008
Principal Investigator: Lesaux, Nonie Awardee: President and Fellows of Harvard College, Graduate School of Education
Program: Reading and Writing      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years Award Amount: $640,544
Goal: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305A080631

Purpose: Increasing opportunities-to-learn for all students in urban, public schools is imperative, especially for students who are English Language Learners (ELLs). ELLs are almost twice as likely as their native English-speaking peers to be retained a grade and/or to dropout of school. This study will evaluate the efficacy of the Academic Language Instruction for all Students (ALIAS) program in urban middle schools. ALIAS is an instructional intervention designed to improve the reading comprehension of ELLs and their classmates through explicit instruction in vocabulary and word-learning strategies. It has a strong theoretical foundation rooted in empirical developmental research on vocabulary, second-language learning, and reading comprehension as well as some pilot data. However, the efficacy of ALIAS has yet to be tested empirically using an experimental design and has yet to be investigated in a large number of urban middle school classrooms.

Project Activities: The Academic Language Instruction for All Students (ALIAS) instructional approach will engage students with sustained text-based vocabulary instruction for 45 minutes daily for 20 weeks, with explicit work on vocabulary knowledge and word-learning strategies. The study will employ a group-randomized design to investigate the effects of the intervention when used in 6th grade urban classrooms. The ALIAS intervention will be randomly assigned at the classroom level, with half of the English Language Arts classrooms receiving the ALIAS intervention and half of the classrooms receiving the standard English Language Arts curriculum. The key outcomes measure several aspects of vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension and are assessed using both standardized and researcher-designed measures.

Products: The expected outcomes of this research include published reports on the efficacy of the ALIAS program on the literacy development of both English language learners and their native English-speaking classmates in urban middle schools.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The setting for this study is middle schools in a large urban school district in the southwest United States.

Population: The population includes students in 6th grade language arts classrooms in 14 middle schools, each of which ranges in size from 700 to 1100 students. ELLs comprise between 30 and 80 percent of the student body.

Intervention: Students will receive 20 weeks of vocabulary lessons, to be delivered during the English Language Arts class for approximately 45 minutes a day, four days a week, totaling 45 hours of targeted instruction. Each lesson cycle (9 days) is built around a single informational or persuasive text in which 8 or 9 high utility academic words have been identified. The lessons are designed to provide direct instruction in this relatively small number of high-utility academic words and to simultaneously build students' word-learning strategies. The lesson cycle moves from direct instruction in the target words on the first days, through opportunities for deep processing of the words, toward instruction that uses the words as the basis for teaching word-learning strategies, and is completed with students' writing independently using the target words in a context other than that in which they appear in the text. In order to promote deep understanding of target words, ALIAS focuses instruction on a relatively small number of words that appear in different contexts throughout the program. It also features activities on the structural analysis of words.

Research Design and Methods: The study will employ a cluster randomized trial design in which the teacher (n=51) is randomly assigned to treatment or control condition within each participating school. Students in both the treatment and control groups will be assessed at three time points-pre- and post- intervention and six months after the end of the treatment period. The researchers will pay special attention to variation in implementation of the program as a predictor of treatment effects.

Control Condition: The control condition teachers will not receive professional development in ALIAS until the year following the trial. Hence, students will receive regular classroom instruction.

Key Measures: Targeted aspects of vocabulary knowledge include global reading vocabulary assessed using a standardized measure, as well as mastery of taught words and word-learning strategies (e.g., analyzing word parts), assessed using researcher-designed measures. Similarly, targeted aspects of reading comprehension include global comprehension skills using a standardized measure. Specific comprehension skills, including comprehension of passages with ALIAS target words and morphological skills will be assessed using researcher-designed measures.

Data Analysis Strategy: Multi-level modeling will be used to investigate the student-level, school-level, and classroom-level effects and account for the statistical problems involved in the nesting of students within classrooms within schools. Simultaneously, the multi-level model of change will be used to analyze growth in student outcomes over the three points in time, and thereby assess the immediate and long-term effect of the treatment. Quantitative analyses will include student-level language and literacy measures as outcomes, treatment as the primary predictor, and fidelity of implementation as a potential moderating factor.

Publications from this project:

Kieffer, M.J., and Lesaux, N.K. (2012). Direct and Indirect Roles of Morphological Awareness in the English Reading Comprehension of Native English, Spanish, Filipino, and Vietnamese Speakers. Language Learning, 62 (4): 1170–1204.

Gamez, P., and Lesaux, N.K. (2012). The Relation Between Exposure to Sophisticated and Complex Language and Early-Adolescent English-Only and Language-Minority Learners' Vocabulary. Child Development, 83 (4): 1316–1331.

Lesaux, N.K., Harris, J.R., and Sloane, P. (2012). Adolescents' Motivation in the Context of an Academic Vocabulary Intervention in Urban Middle School Classrooms. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 56 (3): 231–240.

Lesaux, N.K., Kieffer, M.J., Kelley, J.G., and Harris, J.R. (accepted). Effects of Academic Vocabulary Instruction for Linguistically Diverse Adolescents: Evidence from a Randomized Field Trial. American Educational Research Journal.

This project was submitted to and funded under Interventions for Struggling Adolescent and Adult Readers and Writers in FY 2008.