Adolescent Literacy Research Consortium

Literacy Research Initiative

Adolescent Literacy Research Consortium

From March through May 2002, a series of workshops co-sponsored by multiple federal agencies and professional associations were convened to focus on the under-researched area of adolescent literacy.

Research Funded: Adolescent Literacy Research Consortium

Based on the research agenda that was developed at these workshops, the NICHD - Child Development and Behavior Branch, Office of Vocational and Adult Education, and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services at the U.S. Department of Education funded six grants to form the Adolescent Literacy Research Consortium (previously called the Adolescent Literacy Research Network). All projects used some experimental methods, as well as descriptive/qualitative research methodologies. Two projects used extant longitudinal cohorts, while three examined the brain-behavior linkages in reading and reading disabilities to test the effectiveness of reading interventions. One project specifically sought to study the relations among expectancy values, motivation, and engagement and literacy achievement; another examined the impact of varying levels of teacher support in an intensive high school literacy intervention.

Principal Investigators, Institutions, and Abstracts of Funded Grants

Mary Beth Calhoon, Georgia State University

Adolescent Literacy Remedial Project

Laurie Cutting, Johns Hopkins University (Kennedy Krieger Institute)

Cognitive and Neural Processes in Reading Comprehension

James McPartland, Johns Hopkins University

Supporting Teachers to Close Adolescent Literacy Gaps

Elizabeth Birr Moje, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

Social and Cultural Influences on Adolescent Development

Hollis Scarborough, Haskins Laboratories

Adolescent Reading Programs: Behavioral and Neural Effects

Bennett Shaywitz, Yale University

Adolescent Literacy: Classification, Mechanism, Outcome


Mary Beth Calhoon, Georgia State University

Adolescent Literacy Remedial Project

Far too many middle-school (6th-8th grades) students with disabilities have trouble reading and then leave high school functionally illiterate (Riley, 1996). The plethora of scientifically based reading research on how to best teach reading supports direct and explicit instruction in the five essential sub-skills; phonics, fluency, spelling, vocabulary, and comprehension (National Reading Panel, 2002; NPR). However, most of this research has focused on students in K-3 grades creating a gap in our knowledge of how to best teach middle school students. These students, many who end up in special education, are in dire need of research based reading instruction designed specifically for the unique needs of adolescents. While research has answered many question concerning specific instructional techniques necessary for the remediation of each NPR sub-skill, it has not provided enough information concerning the most effective way to sequence and balance instruction of each sub-skill to maximize responsiveness to instruction (Torgesen, Alexander, Wagner, Rashotte, Boeller, & Conway, 2001). The challenge then for reading instruction designed to meet the needs of adolescents is not how or what to teach, but how to best sequence and balance the introduction of the NPR's five essential sub-skills to maximize student responsiveness. Therefore, the purpose of this project was to begin examining the best way to organize instructional sequencing of the NPR sub-skills. This study examined the effect of integrated (all essential sub-skills taught within a single lesson) versus sequentially integrated (each new sub-skill is sequentially integrated into the instruction of the previous sub-skill(s)) instructional schedules on the reading skill acquisition of middle school students with reading disabilities.

Publications

Calhoon, M., (2006). Rethinking adolescent literacy instruction. IDA Perspectives, 32 (3).


Laurie Cutting, Johns Hopkins University (Kennedy Krieger Institute)

Cognitive and Neural Processes in Reading Comprehension

Researchers have established the importance of single word reading to reading comprehension. However, deficits in word reading do not fully explain deficits in reading comprehension, especially for older children, indicating that other sources of comprehension failure need to be investigated. This is particularly illustrated by the existence of a significant number of children (approximately 3%), predominantly ten years of age and older, who are poor comprehenders, but nevertheless attain scores within the normal range on conventional measures of single word reading, which typically measure accuracy only.

In this research, behavioral and neuroimaging methodologies were used to examine the source of comprehension failure for these types of poor readers and, more generally, examine other sources of comprehension failure across reader types / ranges of reading ability. Poor comprehenders who attain normal single word reading accuracy scores may have deficits in reading comprehension because of poor fluency of word reading; poor fluency may result in a "bottleneck" that impedes comprehension. Deficits in other skills, beyond the word-level (i.e., accuracy and fluency of word reading), may also contribute to impaired reading comprehension. Other skills that have been found to influence reading comprehension include vocabulary, syntax, visual and verbal working memory, ability to make inferences, and planning /organization/monitoring, which could be conceptualized as falling within the overlapping domains of language and executive function.

In this research, poor comprehenders with normal single word reading accuracy scores were compared to children with traditional reading disabilities (i.e., who have poor single word reading accuracy) as well as to children who are normal readers. Functional neuroimaging was used to examine patterns of activation between these groups during single word reading, working memory for words, and sentence comprehension in conjunction with behavioral measures of fluency, language, and executive function. Understanding the behavioral characteristics critical for and the neurological circuits associated with skilled and impaired reading comprehension, as well as their integration, will advance knowledge about poor comprehenders with normal single word reading accuracy scores as well as, in general, processes critical for reading comprehension in children.

Publications

Sesma, H. W., Mahone, E. M., Levine, T., & Cutting, L. E. (2006). The contribution of
executive, language, and fluency skills to reading comprehension. The Clinical Neuropsychologist, 20 (2), 218. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology, Philadelphia.
Cutting, L., Clements, A., Courtney, S., Rimrodt, S., Schafer, J., Wilkins, J., Pekar, J.,
& Pugh, K. (2006). Differential components of sentence comprehension: Beyond single word reading and memory. Neurolmage, 29(2), 429-438.
Cutting, L. & Scarborough, H. (2006). Prediction of Reading Comprehension: Relative
contributions of word recognition, language proficiency, and other cognitive skills can depend on how comprehension is measured. Scientific Studies of Reading, 10(3), 277-300.


James McPartland, Johns Hopkins University

Supporting Teachers to Close Adolescent Literacy Gaps

A Cluster Randomized Trial was used to compare three conditions of supporting teachers for adolescent literacy instruction, including intensive professional development workshops, specific materials of daily lessons with student discussion guides, and weekly expert peer coaching in the classroom. Impacts were evaluated on the fidelity of teacher implementation of recommended instructional approaches and on the learning growth of students who enter high school below grade level in reading. Over a three-year period, a sample of 54 schools wiere randomly assigned to one of the three teacher support conditions (workshops, workshops plus specific materials, workshops and specific materials plus expert coaching). All ninth grade English teachers in the same school were  in the same support condition, with a total sample size of 108 teachers covering 216 classrooms and 5,400 students. The recommended literacy instructional approaches under each support condition included teacher modeling of reading comprehension strategies, mini-lessons on recognition and understanding of diverse texts, vocabulary development and writing related to assigned readings, student team discussions of comprehension questions on shared reading, self-selected reading of diverse books and articles, and tutoring for subsets of students with serious decoding deficiencies. Implementation of instructional approaches were assessed by trained classroom observers and by survey reports from student and teachers of the frequency of selected classroom experiences. Students' learning growth were measured by changes in performance on standardized and placement reading vocabulary and comprehension tests, student self-reports of reading practices and oral reading evaluations of sub-samples of students. Natural variations of English teachers' prior training and experience were incorporated in analyses of possible interaction effects. The results further evaluate the effectiveness of selected adolescent literacy instructional practices and inform practical decisions of the cost-efficiencies of alternative approaches to support teachers for closing adolescent literacy gaps.

Publications

McPartland, J., Balfanz,R., and Legters, N. (2006) Supporting teachers for adolescent
literacy interventions. Perspectives, 32(3): 39-42.
McPartland, J.,Balfanz, R., and Shaw, A. (2004) The Talent Development Literacy
Program for poorly prepared high school students. Pp. 252-265 in D. Alvermann and D. Strickland (Eds.) Bridging the Literacy Gap Grade 4 -12. New York: Teachers College Press.


Elizabeth Birr Moje, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

Social and Cultural Influences on Adolescent Development

This research used survey measures, comprehension and writing tests, experimental tasks, and structured qualitative interview and observation techniques to examine the influence of peer, family, community, and cultural factors on the development of literacy skills in both struggling and successful adolescent readers and writers. Survey and qualitative measures tested an expectancy value model that posits a relationship between familiarity of format, contextualization of activity, motivation to engage in an activity, interest in the activity, and literacy achievement.

Analyses of survey and qualitative measures examined across demographic categories (with an emphasis on gender, ethnicity, race, and social class) how peer, family, community, and cultural groups (a) motivate students to develop particular kinds of reading and writing skills and (b) shape students' abilities to navigate different school and social tasks using various reading, writing, and communication strategies.

Comprehension and writing tests were applied to out-of-school literacy activities to test the hypothesis that adolescents employ proficient and advanced literacy skills as they engage in literacy practices outside of school. In the final year of research, a series of experimental tasks were used to assess the hypothesis that young people transfer out-of-school literacy practices to their in-school literacy-based activities and vice versa, and to develop possible outlines for classroom-based interventions based on the assessment of transfer across domains.

These longitudinal findings detail:

  • the nature and influence of different social groups on adolescent literacy development,
  • the nature and influence of such groups on adolescent motivation related to literacy learning, and
  • the outcomes of such social and cultural influences in terms of adolescents' literacy learning and skill across multiple contexts.

These findings will be compiled to produce profiles of the social and school-based literacy development and motivation of various types of adolescents. The profiles will aid in the development of school and social structures and pedagogical approaches targeted at improving adolescents' motivation to engage in conventional literacy activities, thus contributing to their positive mental and emotional health and to their continued school and socioeconomic success beyond K-16 schooling.

Publications

Moje, E. (2006). Motivating texts, motivating contexts, motivating adolescents:
An examination of the role of motivation in adolescent literacy practices and development. Perspectives, 32(3), 10-14.


Hollis Scarborough, Haskins Laboratories

Adolescent Reading Programs: Behavioral and Neural Effects

This project examined the effectiveness of several research-driven methods for improving the reading abilities of striving adolescent readers. To that end, three approaches to reading instruction, each based on programs with demonstrated success in helping elementary school students, were compared as interventions for adolescents whose word-reading levels are in the low-intermediate range (corresponding roughly to the reading levels of children in the second through sixth grades). Participants completed pre-intervention, post-intervention and follow-up behavioral testing and functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) scanning. Initial cognitive and neurobiological profiles as well as relevant changes over time for these students were compared to untreated adolescents with reading difficulties, younger reading-level matched controls, and age-matched controls. By investigating the cognitive and neurobiological underpinnings of these students' reading difficulties and by identifying effective and efficient methods of intervention for this population, the researched aimed to further the understanding of adolescent literacy in ways that will have important theoretical and practical implications.

Specifically, this research aimed to:

  • describe the cognitive, linguistic, and neurobiological factors that are associated with reading difficulties in adolescence;
  • conduct rigorous, experimental field trials of three promising, research-based instructional programs designed to raise the word reading skills, fluency, and text processing abilities of adolescents with low-intermediate reading levels;
  •  use pre- and post-intervention fMRI to measure cortical activation patterns associated with reading, and to examine the relationships of these measures to behavioral profiles and instructional outcomes;
  •  examine whether intervention outcomes are related to behavioral and neurobiological differences among adolescent learners.

Achieving these aims not only has great potential benefit for the target population, but also contributes to our understanding of:

  • the bases for adolescents' reading difficulties;
  • efficient and informative ways to assess the abilities and needs of striving adolescent readers;
  • the similarities between reading problems of adolescents and those of younger children and of
  • low-literate adults, at both the behavioral and neurobiological level; and the consequences of growth in reading for functional brain organization.


Bennett Shaywitz, Yale University

Adolescent Literacy: Classification, Mechanism, Outcome

This research focused on the discovery of cognitive, behavioral, and neurobiological mechanisms underlying adolescent literacy that can facilitate identification, prevention and remediation of adolescent reading difficulties. The approach was to extend our previous work and our group's acknowledged strengths in classification, neurobiological, and longitudinal studies of literacy to address the two overarching questions of this RFA:

  1. What characterizes adolescent striving readers?
  2. How do factors affecting literacy change over time?

Our research strategy used a prospective longitudinal study design of a large population, well characterized as young school-age children and whom we proposed to assess as adolescents; achievement and processing variables characterizing empirically-derived subtypes of reading disability (RD); state-of-the-art functional and structural brain imaging methodologies integrated with assessment of neural response to an intervention; and measures of outcome in multiple domains. This project served as a pivotal resource to other members of the adolescent literacy network who are putting more emphasis on intervention studies. In-depth knowledge of the subtypes, their stability over time, neurobiological response to intervention, and determinants of outcome should  a critical role in better understanding, interpreting, and more precisely targeting interventions for specific subgroups of adolescent struggling readers and developing prevention approaches for subgroups of younger struggling readers.

Utilization and application of the characterization variables used in this study will allow investigators in the network to probe group- and type-by-treatment interactions and to more precisely determine the efficacy of, and match specific treatments to, specific groups of struggling adolescent readers.

The sample, measures and longitudinal framework allow us to address three inter-related specific aims:

  • To identify and determine the temporal stability of subgroups and subtypes of adolescent RD;
  • To characterize brain-behavior relationships in groups and types of adolescent striving readers, brain mechanisms underlying skill, compensation and persistence, and response to intervention in adolescents with RD; and
  • To determine the nature and determinants of outcome in adolescence of childhood RD and the later outcome of adolescent RD.

Publications

Shaywitz, S., Mody, M., Shaywitz, B. (2006) Neural Mechanisms in Dyslexia.
Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(6), 278-281.
Wehner, D., Ahlfors, S., & Mody, M. (in press). The influence of semantic processing
on phonological decisions in children and adults: An MEG study. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research.



Adult Literacy Research Consortium