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Making the Right Connections: Improving the Comprehension of Struggling Readers

Goal 2: Cognition and Student Learning in Special Education (CASL)


Purpose: The purpose of this Goal 2 Cognition and Student Learning in Special Education project is to (a) develop questioning intervention(s) to improve the reading comprehension of students at risk for or identified as having reading-related disabilities, (b) determine which interventions are feasible and promising for struggling readers, and (c) identify instructional conditions that optimize students’ responsiveness to the intervention(s) developed. Our goal is to have one or more prototypes of a feasible and promising intervention that is ready for a Goal 3 efficacy trial following three years of development. 

Setting: This project will be conducted in 6 to 8 schools in two districts in the Twin Cities area in Minnesota. Schools will include students from a wide range of socio-economic (high-poverty, inner city to upper middle class, suburban) and cultural backgrounds.

Participants: Fourth-grade teachers (n = 16), special education teachers and other support staff (n = up to 16), and their students will participate. Each year, students (n ≈ 400) will be screened using the comprehension subtest of the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Test and a CBM maze task. Students at the bottom 25th percentile (n ≈ 100) will complete a CBM oral reading task. Those reading at least 71 correct words per min (cwpm) (i.e., readers who primarily struggle with comprehension and not decoding) will be identified (n ≈ 66). These students will be further classified as one of two subgroups of struggling readers based on a Think Aloud task: Elaborators (readers who attempt to make inferences while they read but often do so inaccurately) and Paraphrasers (readers who primarily paraphrase or repeat verbatim what they have read during Think Alouds).

Intervention: The core intervention is a questioning approach designed to help the reader make connections needed to build a coherent representation of narrative and expository text. Iterations of this intervention will be developed to identify active ingredients that contribute to both feasibility and promise of the intervention for improving struggling readers’ comprehension. In Phase I, we examine type (Causal vs. Generic) and timing (online vs. offline) of questioning, and determine if subgroups of readers respond differently to these approaches. In Phase II, we identify intensity variables that optimize responsiveness to intervention. In Phase III, we examine feasibility and promise of the intervention when implemented by school personnel.

Research Methods: A mixed methods approach will be used in which feedback from experts, teachers, interventionists, and students; researcher observations; and student outcomes on comprehension measures are triangulated to identify the interventions that are both feasible for implementation in school settings and promising for improving students’ reading comprehension.

Measures: Feasibility measures include questionnaires to elicit feedback from experts, teachers, tutors, and students; focus group discussions to elicit feedback from teachers; and observations. Student outcome measures include oral reading, responses to comprehension questions, and verbal recalls of text following exposure to intervention; and the impact of decoding, vocabulary, and world knowledge on student response to intervention.

Data Analysis: Feasibility analyses involve categorizing feedback and observation data based on commonly-recurring themes and systematically using this information to revise each iteration of the intervention. Student outcome data will be examined using analyses of variance.

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Last modified on November 27, 2013.