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IES Grant

Title: Strengthening Content Literacy for Struggling High School Readers: Coordinated Lessons and Support Systems for Subject Matter Teachers
Center: NCER Year: 2009
Principal Investigator: McPartland, James Awardee: Johns Hopkins University
Program: Literacy      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years Award Amount: $1,499,322
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A090187

Co-Principal Investigator: Marcia Davis

Purpose: Studies show that many students enter high school as struggling readers without the skills and strategies needed to be successful with a high-school standards curriculum. In high-poverty urban schools, roughly half of incoming ninth-grade students read at a sixth- or seventh-grade level and many often struggle most with reading subject-specific texts (e.g. science or history texts). Students' success in learning the core content of high school subjects (e.g., mathematics, science, history and literature) depends upon their abilities to read the textbooks and other written materials used in these academic courses. Thus, there is a need to address the serious content literacy challenges of struggling high school readers, who now often fail their core academic subjects and drop out. One way to do this is to provide teachers with tools for reading instruction in their own subject and advance school practices intended to support teachers in achieving content literacy goals through teacher teams that help one another design and improve materials. This project will develop interventions specifically designed to strengthen struggling high school readers' skills and strategies for reading textbooks in core academic subjects.

Project Activities: The research team will develop content literacy lessons in major academic subjects (e.g., math, science, history, and literature). These lessons will be tested and evaluated by content area experts, teachers, and students, and their feedback will help guide the iterative design of the final product.

Products: Products include a final version of 24 weekly sets of coordinated content literacy lessons for struggling readers in four core ninth-grade academic subjects. Additionally, the research team will develop professional development manuals for workshops, department meetings, coaches and teams. Initial implementation data and preliminary evidence of the effects of the intervention on student achievement will be reported in published articles.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The research will take place in two large, diverse school districts in Virginia and Maryland, and a large high school with a high number of English language learners in New Jersey.

Population: Participants will include ninth-grade students and teachers.

Intervention: An overall framework for content literacy skills and strategies will be used to guide the subject-specific lessons that will incorporate the unique disciplinary thinking and communication processes of each major subject. Disciplinary areas include literature, science, history, and mathematics. The overarching lesson framework includes text recognition (print signals and formats, disciplinary organization of presentations), key vocabulary (new word families and precise meanings of familiar words for content units), comprehension strategies (before, during and after reading in the context of each discipline), and motivational support (links to background knowledge and high-interest low-frustration assignments). Teachers will be supported for the implementation of weekly content literacy lessons by either traditional workshops and departmental meetings or more extensive teacher teams and expert coaching.

Research Design and Methods: The weekly 30-minute content literacy lessons for each major academic subject will be developed by a Johns Hopkins University team of four content specialists in each of the core subjects and two specialists in adolescent literacy instruction for struggling readers. Feedback for lesson improvements will be obtained in two pilot-test high schools from teacher critiques of each lesson, classroom observations of lessons in each subject, and focus group interviews and surveys from teachers and students. A pilot test of the revised lessons for struggling readers will occur in authentic settings of three sets of four matched high schools.

Control Condition: The control condition will cover the same material but using typical instruction as opposed to the lessons generated during the development phase.

Key Measures: The key evaluation measures during the development phase will include quality of lesson implementations, records of increased instructional use of textbooks in each subject for instruction and homework, student learning results from well-established general reading tests, and new measures of content reading success and motivation in each subject. During the pilot study, the team will use general tests of reading comprehension; specialized reading tests for high school mathematics, science, history, and literature developed for this project; the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Test; an adaptation of the CARS assessments (Comprehensive Assessment of Reading Strategies published by Curriculum Associates); and the Motivation for Reading in the Content Areas (MRCA) assessment, to evaluate student outcomes.

Data Analytic Strategy: The initial analyses of the newly developed literacy instruction and teachers' team participation will include statistical comparisons looking at group differences on survey or observation measures of teacher classroom practices in each major subject. They will also check the reliability and validity of the three measures of teacher classroom practices (teacher and student surveys and classroom observations) which are intended to capture four instructional practice traits (text recognition, vocabulary, comprehension strategies before or after reading and comprehension strategies during reading). To analyze the potential impact of the intervention, they will use a two-level hierarchical model.

** This project was submitted to and funded under Interventions for Struggling Adolescent and Adult Readers and Writers in FY 2009.