Effectiveness of Illiteracy Prevention Strategies

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CHAPTER 2

REVIEW OF LITERATURE

“The importance of reading as an avenue to improved reading has been stressed by theorists, researchers, and practitioners alike, no matter what their perspectives.  There are few ideas more widely accepted than that reading is learned through reading.” – National Reading Panel, 2000

Historical Perspective

In 1995, the United States Departments of Education and Health and Human Services commissioned the National Research Council (NCR) to study the prevention of reading difficulties.  A committee made up of a diverse group of esteemed experts in reading and related areas studied various aspects of the problem and, in 1998, issued a report, Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children.  The report was designed to translate research into instruction and guidelines about what could be done in preschool through grade three to better position students for reading success in later schooling (Duke & Block, 2012).

In 1997, Congress asked the National Institute of Child Health (NICHD) to work with the United States Department of Education in creating a National Reading Panel that would assess existing research and evidence to uncover the best ways to instruct children read.  The National Reading Panel and NICHD (2000) reviewed a large amount of research indicating an association or relationship of reading time to reading achievement.  Although this same panel was unable to demonstrate a “causal” effect of independent reading on reading achievement, the preponderance of correlation data showed the more children read, the better their fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.  Cunningham and Stanovich (1997) asserted that early exposure to a variety of reading materials improves students’ ability to comprehend texts in later grades.  They concluded, “individual differences in exposure to print can predict differences in growth in reading comprehension ability throughout the elementary grades and thereafter” (p. 940).

Likewise, Griffith and Scharmann (2008) conducted an online survey of teachers on the decrease in science instruction since enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act, a law ensuring that all students achieve important learning goals by well-prepared teachers which was monitored by high-stakes testing.  The study was developed out of concern that numerous elementary teachers were being required to cut time from science and other non-assessed subject areas to focus on teaching math and reading during the 2006 meeting of the Council of State Science Supervisors. Common Core language arts and literacy standards place more emphasis on reading nonfiction in elementary school (Coleman & Pimental, 2012).  All students, across grade levels are expected to develop research and comprehension skills across content areas with a strong focus on nonfiction, (Gewertz, 2012).  Griffith and Scharmann (2008) found that science instruction had been on the decline in elementary schools even before the No Child Left Behind Act reading and math mandates were implemented.  Those mandates further reduced the instructional time devoted to science.  The survey found that 59 percent of teachers had decreased science instruction, 71 percent of them by thirty-one to ninety minutes a week.  In other words, more than half of the teachers surveyed reported spending less than an hour and a half a week on science instruction.

The National Science Education Standards’ definition of science literacy highlights the connection between science knowledge and literacy skills.  “Scientific literacy means that a person can ask, find, or determine answers to questions derived from curiosity about everyday experiences.  It means that a person has the ability to describe, explain, and predict natural phenomena.  Scientific literacy entails being able to read with understanding articles about science in the popular press and to engage in social conversation about the validity of the conclusions.  Scientific literacy implies that a person can identify scientific issues underlying national and local decisions and express positions that are scientifically and technologically informed.  A literate citizen should be able to evaluate the quality of scientific information on the basis of its source and the methods used to generate it.  Scientific literacy also implies the capacity to pose and evaluate arguments based on evidence and to apply conclusions from such arguments appropriately” (National Research Council, 1996 p. 22).

Coleman and Pimentel were the two lead authors of the Common Core State Standards.  According to the authors, CCSS may spur greater attention to reading comprehension in the primary grades, particularly if assessments are aligned with them.  These standards set high expectations for comprehension, specifying that by the end of kindergarten, children will be able with prompting and support, describe the connection between two individuals, events ideas, or pieces of information in a text and to identify the reasons an author gives to support points in a text.  They are also expected to be able to actively engage in group reading activities with purpose and understanding.  The CCSS identifies these expectations as standards for informational text, so they could be addressed in content-area instruction rather than only in the English language arts or literacy block of the school day.  CCSS also advocate student independent reading from a multiplicity of genres.  Some argue that Common Core materials should “increase regular independent reading of texts that appeal to students’ interest while developing both their knowledge base and joy in reading” (Coleman & Pimental, 2012, p.4).  Every child needs opportunities to read independently in school (Moss, 2016).  Time spent reading contributes to reading achievement in ways that doing worksheets does not (Allington, 2002).  Time is not a one-size fits-all proposition.  Less proficient readers may benefit from shorter time frames until they build more reading stamina, whereas better readers may read successfully for longer periods of time (Moss, 2016).

National Perspective

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is administered to a representative sampling of about 30,000 private and public school students every two years in fourth, eighth, and twelfth grades.  NAEP facilitates testing in the following areas; math, reading, science, the arts, civics, geography, U.S. history, and technical literacy.  The NAEP began in 1969 and one of its current testing partners include the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), a group that is an advocate of the national Common Core Standards.  In Fall 2015 NAEP was administered to a representative sample of high school seniors in the 2016 graduating class.  The results of NAEP test showed the average performance of high school seniors failed to improve in reading from 2013 to 2015 (Singer, 2017; National Center for Education Statistics, 2015).  Analysis of the assessment results further indicated an achievement level of basic knowledge in fourth, eighth and twelfth grades in integrating and interpreting informational text (National Center for Education Statistics, 2015).

International Perspective

Results from the Progress in International Reading Study (PIRLS), assess reading comprehension at the fourth-grade level, globally, and has been conducted every five years since 2001.  Reading literacy is directly related to the reasons why people read.  The reasons may include reading for a particular interest and pleasure, reading to contribute in society, and reading to acquire knowledge.  PIRLS examined the purposes for reading and the processes of comprehension in two areas; reading for literacy experience and reading to acquire and use information.  “In reading for information, the reader engages not with imagined worlds, but with aspects of the real universe.  Through informational texts, one can understand how the world is and has been, and why things work as they do.  Readers can go beyond the acquisition of information and use it in reasoning and in action” (Mullis, Martin, Gonzalez & Kennedy, 2003, p. 22).  Four possible types of comprehension processes were used in the PIRLS assessment: explicitly stated information, inferences, interpreting and integrating information and examining and evaluating content and textual elements.

The United States participated in the study as a country and the state of Florida participated as a benchmark participant.  Both groups scored significantly higher than the center point of the PIRLS scale in literary text, however both groups scored significantly lower than the overall reading score on informational text (Mullis, Martin, Foy, & Drucker, 2012).  The results of this assessment have significant implications for our country.  As the number of middle level and high skills jobs dramatically climb in the coming years, it is vital to the economy that we prepare students with the appropriate skills, training, and knowledge necessary to successfully compete at the global level (Junior Achievement, 2017).

Duke (2010) found that some researchers feel that informational reading is inherently more difficult than literary reading, however many nations had comparable literacy and informational reading achievement, and some even had stronger informational achievement on the PIRLS examination.  A plausible explanation is that United States students have little experience with informational text in the early years of schooling.  Duke (2010) stated that many researchers and instructors felt that primary grade students should focus on developing decoding and fluency, not comprehension of informational text.  However, it was found that first graders whose teachers provided greater experience with informational text had decoding and spelling skills comparable to those of other students (Duke et al., 2009).  Research has substantiated that informational text is not too hard or developmentally inappropriate for young children (Duke & Kays 1998; Newkirk, 1987; Pappas, 1993).  Reading aloud informational text as well as narrative text on a consistent basis with embedded vocabulary and comprehension instruction improves vocabulary, comprehension, and retelling skills for both kinds of text (Santoro, et al. 2008).

Social Development Theory

The work of Lev Vygotsky (1934) has become the foundation of much research over the past several decades particularly the Social Development Theory.  Vygotsky’s theories stress the role of social interaction in the development of cognition (Vygotsky, 1978), as he believed vehemently that community has an vital role in the development of making meaning.  Vygotsky argued, “learning is a necessary and universal aspect of the process of developing culturally organized, specifically human psychological function” (1978, p. 90).  According to McLeod (2007) social learning has a tendency to precede development.  Vygotsky states that cognitive progress stems from social interactions from guided learning within the zone of proximal development (ZPD) as children and their partners co-construct knowledge.  According to Vygotsky (1978), important learning occurs through the social exchange of a skillful tutor.  The tutor may model certain behaviors and/or provide verbal instruction for the child.  Vygotsky refers to this as cooperative dialogue.  The more knowledgeable other (MKO) denotes someone who has a higher ability level than the learner, with respect to a task, process, or concept (Vygotsky, 1978).  Although the implication is that the more knowledgeable other is an older adult, this is not necessarily true.  A child’s peers may be the individuals with more knowledge, experience or expertise.  The concept of the more knowledgeable other is fundamentally related to the second important principle of Vygotsky’s work, the zone of proximal development (ZPD).  This relates to the difference between what a child can accomplish independently and what a child can accomplish with guidance from a skilled partner or MKO.  Vygotsky also views interaction with peers as an effective way of developing and strengthening skills and strategies.  He recommends that teachers use cooperative learning exercises where less competent children develop with help from more skillful peers – within their ZPD.  Vygotsky is relevant to instructional concepts such as “scaffolding”, in which a teacher or more advanced peer helps a novice to work successfully.  Vygotsky’s theories feed into collaborative learning, signifying that group members should have varying levels of ability so more advanced peers can help less advanced members function within their ZPD,

Informational Texts

Unlike traditional narrative texts, science instruction – informational texts use organizational patterns making understanding more difficult for nearly all students (Duke & Billman, 2009).  In addition, reading informational text also requires readers to locate specific information (Dreher, 1993; Guthrie & Kirsch, 1987).   Liebfreund (2015) conducted research addressing two questions: (1) How are reading components related to third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade students’ comprehension of informational text?  (2) To what degree are these relationships different for students with higher and lower comprehension of informational text?  The purpose of the study was to develop a clearer understanding of the interrelated features that lead to successful informational text comprehension of higher and lower children.  Hierarchical linear regressions were used to investigate how decoding efficiency, vocabulary knowledge, prior knowledge, and intrinsic motivation influenced informational text comprehension.  The results highlighted the importance of understanding specific types of readers showing that higher comprehenders of informational text may need more emphasis and instruction on vocabulary knowledge whereas lower comprehenders may need more emphasis and instruction on decoding.  The results encouraged instructors to move beyond constrained skills (Paris, 2005) when necessary skills for success with informational texts was considered.

Informational text has been a central focus due to previous studies showing that elementary schools have done little to expose students to these texts (Duke, 2000; Moss, 2008; Moss & Newton, 2002).  In Duke’s (2000) landmark study, she surveyed informational text experiences offered to students from two distinct socioeconomic settings to determine if opportunities to acquire this informational knowledge differed in the two settings.  The researcher conducted a descriptive, observational study of 20 first-grade classrooms in 10 school districts in the greater Boston metropolitan area.  Students were either very low socio-economic status (SES) or very high socio-economic status.  Participating schools were randomly selected from among all district elementary schools.  The classrooms were visited four full days over the course of a school year.  Observation days were spread through the school year.  As the researcher conducted the analysis of the data, three themes emerged; displayed informational print, classroom library, and classroom written language.  Results of the study revealed an overall scarcity of informational text among displayed print, in classroom libraries, and in classroom written language activities.  Most importantly, Duke found that students spent on average only 3.6 minutes per day with informational text.

In a similar study, Jeong, Gaffney and Choi (2010) conducted research to determine the proportion of informational text and informational text experience relative to narrative text and narrative text experiences in second, third, and fourth grades.  The text was examined to determine if the recurrent explanation for the fourth-grade slump was supported.  A total of 15 elementary classrooms, five classrooms each at second, third, and fourth grades, were study sites.  A convenience sample of classrooms was selected from four schools in one urban and two rural districts in the same county.  Data was collected over three months in one or two day visits per classroom.  The first visit was scheduled for inventories of print materials available in classrooms.  The second visit was arranged for observation of written language activities.  The researchers conducted classroom observations during instruction time and coded during periods when children were out of the classroom.  Data was coded and analyzed by text type following Duke’s (2000) data-collection procedures.  The results of the study was organized to respond to the two research questions: (1) Is there a difference in the amount and proportion of informational versus narrative texts that are available across second, third, and fourth grades? And (2) Is there a difference in the amount and proportion of informational- to narrative-text experience across second, third, and fourth grades?  Across second, third, and fourth grades, narrative text constituted most books in classroom libraries.  The proportion of informational to narrative print materials available in classrooms was highest at second grade and lowest at third grade.  The proportion of informational text in classroom environmental print increased considerably from second to third grades and decreased from third to fourth grades.  The proportions of informational to narrative text experienced by the students increased drastically from second to third grades and remained level between third and fourth grades.  Given the vast amount of time that the students spent using text, the researchers found that second graders interacted with informational text less than 3.6 minutes per day and third and fourth graders averaged 16 minutes per day.  The results revealed an outcome based on children’s inconsistent access to informational text and instruction in content text across grade levels.  The fourth-grade slump, therefore, signifies the crucial moment at which time the cumulative lack of opportunity with informational text shows up on achievement tests, given the weight of emphasis on informational text relative to narrative text (Moss, 2005).

Donovan (2001) conducted a cross-sectional view across the elementary grades (K-5) of children’s emerging control of macro-level organizational features of written story and informational genres.  The definition of macro-level organizational features as it pertains to informational genres would include global elements such as labels, topics, subtopics and facts.  The participants were from a suburban, middle to upper class predominately Anglo-European background.  For this study, informational texts were used in two different ways; as a description of the nature of things, and as exposition, which was used to convince others of a position.  Rothery (1989) explained that in content areas, “it is no exaggeration to say that a student’s success in school will depend to a great extent on his mastery of these and some other varieties of writing” (p. 71).  The predominant genre in early elementary classrooms, both in terms of what children read and what they are encouraged to write is story (Pappas, 1993), which was evident from international assessment reports such as PIRLS (2011).  During the study, the researcher provided various prompts to which the students responded in writing.  The results indicated that the children in the upper grades produced most of their texts at the higher levels of organizational complexity.  Most of the participants were able to differentiate between story and informational texts and to produce them on request by the beginning of second grade.  Kindergartners and first graders differed to varying degrees, but over half at each of these grade levels did produce the requested genre.  It was noted by the researcher that “it seemed when children of suburban, middle to upper middle class European American background begin school, they arrive with, or develop shortly thereafter, a sense of topic-oriented information and story genres” (p. 436).  In other words, the experiences that the students have had played an integral role in the comprehension of informational text which translated in their writing.  If students are not privy to these experiences, it is up to the classroom teacher to provide experiences and or exposure.  This research demonstrated a connection between informational text, comprehension and students’ expressions in written form.

Science Literacy

Teaching science in today’s elementary classrooms is a demanding undertaking.  Teachers are increasingly asked to “cultivate young scientists” as the current trend to emphasize the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM, 2008).  As the majority of subjects taught in the United States schools, textbooks remain the backbone of the elementary science programs (Haury & Rillero, 1994).  Despite their usage, science textbooks are limited in many ways.  Students regularly find such texts difficult to read due to challenging, abstract, and technical vocabulary.  Readability is often beyond the grade level of the intended audience, and topics are presented in a manner that is superficial and fragmented (Walton, 2002).  Science text book publishers have made some improvements in terms of text format and organization, sentence and paragraph structure, and the quality and type of illustrative material that they include (Atkinson, Matusevich, & Huber, 2009).  The combination of literacy and content area instruction of science provides great potential for making the best use of not only students’ understanding of specific content-related ideas but also their engagement as readers and writers (Atkinson, Matusevich, & Huber, 2009).  Yore (2004) stated that “good educators recognize the centrality of literacy to the scientific enterprise” (p. 69).

Nonfiction Trade Books 

The terms informational text and nonfiction text are often used interchangeably to designate science trade books that are factual in nature.  Duke and Bennett-Armistead (2003) defined informational text as a subset of nonfiction not inclusive of biography, procedural texts, and other true stories.  Using nonfiction trade books as an integral part of an elementary science program offers a number of advantages to teachers.  Madrazo (1997) stated that the use of nonfiction trade books helps students’ understanding of science concepts.  Students commonly find trade books to be more fascinating and easier to read than science textbooks.  Young and unmotivated students, as well as those who struggle are interested in the world around them and intrigued by facts and figures related to many topics.  Thus, they are drawn to nonfiction rather than fictional narratives (Dayton-Sakari & Jobe, 2003).

Fiction vs. Nonfiction

Two years prior to the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, Moss (2008) directed a study utilizing the 2009 edition of the NAEP reading framework (American Institutes for Research, 2005) providing a guideline for thinking about the amount and types of non-narrative texts to which children should be exposed.  The guidelines had criteria for the inclusion of 50% informational text at all grade levels.   Moss (2008) examined the two most recently California adopted basal readers in grades one through six to determine how much and what kinds of non-narrative texts were represented.  The descriptive study employed content analysis of student’s basal readers in grades one through six.  The study involved the use of two measures to determine the number of pages and number of selections devoted to narrative, poetry, plays, or nonfiction text.  The second phase involved classification of nonfiction selections according to one of four categories: literary nonfiction, or one of three types of informational text: expository, argumentation and persuasive text, or procedural text and documents.  Moss (2008) concluded that only 12% of first grade basal reader content was non-narrative and that only 19% of selections and 20% of pages were devoted to nonfiction.  Nonfiction appeared at the primary levels and generally increased across grade levels, providing a progression of ever-increasing amounts of non-narrative text to 20%.  The findings indicated that the basal readers in the study were exposed to more nonfiction text than in the past, but the exposure to informational text was still less than recommended by the 2009 NAEP.  This study highlighted the importance of non-narrative text, particularly in classrooms where students have limited experiences.  Children must learn to read a range of informational text types to succeed in content area subjects and later in life (Moss, 2008).

Moss and Newton (2002) found similar results as they examined the quantity of informational literature found in six basal series at grades two, four, and six.  Constant analysis was used to evaluate the literary forms present in each student text.  The researchers identified each genre in each basal at each grade level.  The most frequently found selections at all levels were fiction (45%), poetry (29%), and informational literature (18%).  The mean percentage of selections devoted to informational literature ranged from 16%-20% across grade levels.  Overall, 20% of the pages at all grade levels was devoted to informational literature.  Results of the study suggested that while basal publishers have embraced the move toward increased use of literature in the classroom, that literature continues to consist mainly of fiction.  The findings also suggested that some basal publishers lack awareness of the need for children to read an ever-increasing range of text types as they matriculate through school.  The evidence demonstrated the greater the range of text types children encounter, the better their reading achievement and comprehension (Moss & Newton, 2002).

Complex Text

Research has indicated that an increasing number of students leave high school unprepared for college level reading.  In 2012 the average SAT reading score was 496 out of a possible score of 800 (College Board, 2012).  The CCSS (2010) requires that students leaving high school be able to read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and competently.  The complexity of texts students have been asked to read have slowly decreased over the years; however, college demands still continue to rise.  Being able to read complex text independently and proficiently is essential for high achievement in college, the workplace and important in numerous life tasks.  Complex text contain more implicit meaning and use of unconventional structures, academic language, assumes that the reader has some content knowledge, and in the area of informational text, meaning may be implicit, or obscure (Tucker, 2013).  If students have not crafted the skills, concentration, and perseverance to read stimulating and challenging texts with understanding, they will read less in general (Adams, 2010).

A longitudinal study by Chall and Jacobs (2003) followed 30 low income students from grades 2, 4, and 6 for two years (through grades 3, 5, and 7).  Each child was given a series of individual tests from the Diagnostic Assessments of Reading (DAR).  Children in grades 2 and 3 achieved as well as children in the normative population on all subtests.  However, as predicted by the theoretical model of reading used for the study, some of the students’ scores began to decelerate around grade 4.  These students had the greatest difficulty defining more abstract, academic words when compared to a normative population.  The students were approximately a year behind grade norms in grade 4 and by grade 7, were more than two years behind norms.  Oral reading and silent reading comprehension began to decelerate later in grades 6 and 7.  The absence of fluency tends to result in children reading less and evading problematic materials (Chall, 1983, 1996; Stanovich, 1986).  The deceleration of the scores on word meaning, beginning with grade 4 and continuing through grade 7 ultimately affects children’s reading comprehension as well.  The high correlation of word knowledge with reading comprehension has been found in research literature (Thorndike, 1973-1974; Anderson & Freebody, 1981).  A follow-up study, conducted two years later by Chall & Jacobs found decelerative patterns of scores like those the students exhibited when they were in the elementary grades.  Current deficiencies in certain areas of reading will become more prevalent and later reading development will usually suffer.  Waiting to strengthen weaknesses, will prove more difficult for children to manage with the cumulative literacy stresses in the later grades.  Furthermore, those who have reading difficulties in the middle grades will, most likely, have serious trouble in the areas of science, social studies, mathematics and other content studies.

Limited access to complex texts is viewed as an equity issue (Darling-Hammond, 2010; Hirsch, 2010) that contributes to the often-discussed language and comprehension gap that develops and progressively widens between advantaged and disadvantaged students (Chall, Jacobs, Baldwin, 1990; Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998; Hart & Risley, 2003).  The Common Core State Standards hinge on students encountering fittingly complex texts at each grade level to develop the language skills and the conceptual knowledge they need for success in school and life.  Duke (2000) examined the use of informational texts in 20 first grade classrooms.  It was discovered that on average, 3.6 minutes, per day, was spent with informational texts.  According to Duke, the findings are cause for concern because of the lost opportunity to equipe students for the informational reading and writing they will come across in later schooling and life and for the missed opportunity to use informational text (Duke, 2000, p. 220).

Leveled Reading

Readability levels typically give an objective numerical score, using a formula that measures sentence and word difficulty to indicate the grade level at which the majority of students should be able to read independently (Rasinski, 2003).  Leveling applies numerous norms related to language predictability, text formatting, and content: “Some leveling systems are based on readability formulas; others apply multiple criteria related to language predictability, text formatting, and content; still others present progressions of letter-sound relationships.  These progressions also reflect varying degrees of precision” (Brabham & Villaume, 2002, p. 438).  The desire to provide texts that students can read without feeling frustration is well supported by research (Brabham & Villaume, 2002; Clay, 1991).  Text features such as structure, sentence and word length play a role in determining text difficulty.  Many other factors account for a text’s level of difficulty for a particular reader (Dzaldov & Peterson, 2005).  The reader “must actively infer and interpret what is on the page in the light of what he or she brings to the task” (Irwin, 1986, p. 7).  Internal factors include the reader’s experience and what the reader knows about language, print, and the world, as well as the reader’s interest, perspectives, motivation, purposes, strategies, and repertoire of reading skills (Afflerbach & Johnston, 1986).  Fountas and Pinnell (1999), who created a system for detecting suitable books for young readers, explained that descriptors like “easy” or “hard” should always be made when referring to the individual readers as they read leveled texts.  A text that is “just right” is termed that way because it “provides the context for successful reading and enables readers to strengthen their processing power” (p.3).  Teachers should consider very carefully the particular students and the specific learning objectives when selecting texts for reading instruction (Dzaldov & Peterson, 2005).  Experienced teachers will consider other factors when making a match, such as reader interest, vocabulary, or background knowledge (Glasswell & Ford, 2011).  Informational texts, such as those used in history and science, facilitate students’ reading development, help shape their knowledge of the world and their habits of inquiry (Maloch & Horsey, 2013).  Texts used in science, social studies, and other disciplines should have central ideas that are developed with appropriate details and discernible organizational structures. These texts should also have a clear point of view or purpose (Fisher & Frey, 2015).

A 2005 research study conducted by Cunningham et al., examined the curricular dimensions of books leveled for use in Reading Recovery, a school-based, short-term intervention program designed for children aged five or six, in order to judge how supportive such texts are for early reading instruction.  The researchers stated that little is known about the contribution of texts to early reading instruction due to the lack of an acceptable technology for corroborating the structures used to assign absolute difficulty to the texts.  Readability research has confirmed the inability to justify the small gradations of difficulty that denotes the typical sequencing or leveling of early reading materials (Hoffman et al., 2001).  Hence, research on texts for early reading instruction that depend on the validity of the levels of those texts is less likely to be done.

Reading Recovery leveled trade books correspond with one another and are defined by numbers.  The researchers chose this program because of its longevity, wide use, and the large numbers of users.  The books are divided into 20 levels.  Level 1 books are designated for beginner readers and level 20 books are considered readable for the average, beginning of the year, second grader.  Four books were systematically, not randomly selected at each of the 20 levels for analysis.  Four measurement principles were selected for the study: 1. Different factors contribute to the instructional supportiveness of text. 2. Measures of the instructional supportiveness of text should respect the multilevel nature of texts.  3. Multiple measures of each aspect of instructional supportiveness are best.  4. Each measure should reflect current best assessment practices in quantifying the demands at each level of text structure.  The results of the study caution teachers in using Reading Recovery leveling system of books and or passages as an assessment instrument in primary grade student’s oral reading fluency.  The study found that Reading Recovery books, as a category of early reading instructional texts, provide only a moderate amount of support for word recognition instruction and almost none for decoding instruction.  This study corroborates the choice made for the current study to include a leveled reading program as opposed to utilizing leveled trade books.

Kim et al., (2010) conducted a study with the purpose (1) of examining the causal effects of READ 180, a mixed-methods literacy intervention, on measures of word reading efficiency, reading comprehension and vocabulary, and oral reading fluency and (2) to examine whether print exposure among children in the experimental condition explained variance in posttest reading scores.  A total of 294 children in Grades 4–6 were randomly assigned to READ 180 or participate in the district after-school program.  Both programs were implemented 4 days per week over 23 weeks. Children in the READ 180 intervention participated in three 20-min literacy activities, including (1) individualized computer-assisted reading instruction with videos, leveled text, and word study activities, (2) independent and modeled reading practice with leveled books, and (3) teacher-directed reading lessons tailored to the reading level of children in small groups.  The students who participated in the READ 180 program read independently and were allowed to select from the READ 180 paperback or audiobook library comprised of both fiction and nonfiction books.  Children in the district after-school program participated in a 60-min program in which teachers selected from 16 different enrichment activities. The findings suggested that there was no significant difference between children in READ 180 and the district after-school program on norm-referenced measures of word reading efficiency, reading comprehension, and vocabulary. Although READ 180 had a positive impact on oral reading fluency and attendance, these effects were restricted to children in Grade 4.  The leveled books are a part of the READ 180 reading program and not trade books assimilated into a reading program.

Comprehension

Models of successful reading comprehension imply that the transaction between the reader and the text is influenced by a set of factors the reader brings to the page and a set of factors defined on the page (The Rand Corporation Study Group, 2002; Pardo, 2004).  In any instructional activity, engagement and success can be influenced on many levels—by the task itself, the learner, the teacher, the materials and the context in which the activity takes place.  Inclusion of nonfiction text instruction in the primary classroom is not new knowledge; however, researchers are discovering a connection between comprehension and nonfiction text instruction in the primary grades (Maloch & Bomer, 2013; Moss, 2005).  Research indicates that comprehension is “genre-specific” (Maloch & Bomer, 2013, p. 206).  Previous studies have demonstrated that students need numerous opportunities to interact with a specific genre to help strengthen their comprehension of that genre (Duke, 2000; Maloch & Bomer, 2013).  However, primary teachers need to consider such factors as access, text type, quality and design in mind when using nonfiction text in the classroom (Gill, 2009; Hall et al., 2005; Maloch & Bomer, 2013).

Creating Meaning from Informational Text

Readers’ mental constructions as they comprehend and learn from informational text can involve four distinguishable levels: (a) the text base, representing the network of propositions stated in the text; (b) the situation model of what the text is saying about a given phenomenon, event, or situation, representing the incorporation of the reader’s prior knowledge and the ability to elaborate on the information in the text; (c) the situation model of the phenomenon, event, or situation referred to by the text, resulting from the incorporation of the novel information in the text into the reader’s existing knowledge base; and (d) the “author” model, representing the text as the result of the deliberate choices of an author (Cote, 1998).

Readers can vary in their engagement with text, their prior knowledge, their interest, their goals, their strategic capabilities, and their reading ability, and reader characteristics can interact with characteristics of the text and of the reading situation (Kintsch, 1998).  Given the levels of mental representations that readers may construct during their reading of informational text, what might they be expected to show in terms of what they have learned?  The adequacy of a readers’ text base construction can be assessed by their performance on tasks that require them to answer questions of the form, what did this text say?  Readers should be able to recognize or recall, at a gist level, statements from the text, particularly important statements from the text, and to make inferences based on connections among propositions from the text (Ferstl & Kintsch, 1999; Kintsch & Kintsch, 2005).  This form of learning of the text taken by itself represents a level of understanding, however in some instance, readers can regurgitate the content of text without having constructed an understanding of what the text is saying (Kintsch, 1994).  Considerations of a reader’s understanding of a text arise at the next level of mental representation, the situation model of the text.  The situation model reflects the reader’s level of comprehension of the text.  Readers who have constructed a coherent situation model should be able to state interpretations of the text, make inferences from the text, or apply text information in solving problems (Ferstl & Kintsch, 1999).  The successful integration of text information into a reader’s own knowledge might require seeing that information more than once, across multiple sources or in multiple contexts.   A reader’s incorporation of text information into his or her own body of knowledge can be based on a more or less explicit evaluation of the author’s attempts to convey that information knowledgeable, clearly, credibly, or persuasively.  The capability of readers’ assessment of the text as the product of an author’s deliberate choices may be assessed by their performance on tasks requiring them to answer questions of the form.  What did you think of this text?  Readers who have attended thoughtfully to their own cognitive and affective responses in building an understanding of the text as the product of an author should be able to give a justified critical analysis of the text resulting from their own assessment of the text on multiple levels.  The current study will assess comprehension of the students utilizing a pre-established answer / question format.

A descriptive K-5 study conducted by Moss (1993) was used to determine the degree to which students were able to comprehend expository text as revealed by their ability to competently retell children’s nonfiction trade books.  Subjects of the study included 54 elementary grade students (9 at each grade level).  Nonfiction children’s trade books were selected for use on the basis of the following criteria: 1. appropriateness of subject matter for a given grade level 2.  appropriateness of the difficulty level of the text for a given grade level and 3.  clarity of the text’s organizational pattern.  The students were assessed one on one by either a preservice teacher or the researcher.  The results suggest that the average and high ability children at all grade levels were able to competently retell the nonfiction trade books.  Moss (1993) further explained that it is imperative that early and elementary grade children be able to comprehend and respond to expository text in order to prepare children for the information age.

U. S. students can also improve their comprehension and learning when teachers include informational texts in their instruction (cf., Gersten, Fuchs, Williams & Baker, 2001; Robinson, Faraone, Hittleman & Unruh, 1990).  In one set of studies, second graders participated in explicit expository text structure instruction and substantially increased their recall, identification of structural clues, completion of graphic organizers, vocabulary knowledge, and transfer of learning to similar passages (Williams, et al., 2005).  Other researchers have also documented significant increases in elementary students’ comprehension after participating in reading or content area instructional programs (e.g., Englert & Mariage, 1991; Guthrie, et al., 2004).

Students need frequent exposure and engagement with nonfiction text to help fortify their comprehension of this text type (Hall et al., 2005; Maloch & Bomer, 2013).  Yopp and Yopp (2012) declared the need to select an assortment of topics when selecting nonfiction texts for the classroom.  Patchett and Garrett (2008) found that when young children engage with nonfiction text, they develop schema that will enable them in comprehending this type of text in the future.  Most sources agree that primary and elementary students need access to a variety of nonfiction texts, however, there is no research which explicitly states an exact amount in the class setting (Maloch & Bomer, 2013).

Oral Reading Fluency

In order to reflect incremental differences or change, oral reading fluency can be indexed (or counted) as words read correctly per minute so that scores reflect small, roughly equal interval units (Fuchs & Fuchs, 1990), which permits practitioners and researchers to use oral reading fluency in two ways.  First, oral reading fluency can be used within a normative framework to show how performance levels can be compared between individuals.  Second, gains or performance slopes can track the development of reading competence within an individual.  Both options will be implemented in the current study.

Pikulski and Chard (2005) penned a synthesis of the National Reading Panel’s and The Literacy Dictionary’s (Harris & Hodges, 1995) definitions of reading fluency as follows: “Reading fluency refers to efficient, effective word recognition skills that permit a reader to construct the meaning of text.  Fluency is manifested in accurate, rapid, expressive oral reading and is applied during, and makes possible, silent reading comprehension” (p. 510).  There is a correlation between reading fluency and comprehension skills (Daane et al., 2005), and overall educational achievement.  Research has suggested that children who do not develop fluency early in the school process are likely to experience difficulty learning and comprehending important material from texts introduced in later grades, specifically informational texts (Chall, Jacobs, & Baldwin, 1990; Rasinski et al., 2005).  The National Reading Panel (2000) concluded that repeated and monitored oral reading that involved guidance from teachers, peers, or parents had a significant effect on word recognition, fluency, and comprehension across a range of grade levels and genres.  “Fluency is the ability to read a text accurately and quickly and provides a bridge between word recognition and comprehension.  Because fluent readers do not have to concentrate on decoding words, they can focus their attention on what the text means” (Put Reading First, 2001, p.22).  The report of the National Research Council, Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children (Snow, Burns & Griffin, 1998, p. 223), stated, “Adequate progress in learning to read English beyond the initial level depends on sufficient practice in reading to achieve fluency with different kinds of texts written for different purposes.”  Appropriate levels of texts used in fluency instruction expose students to a variety of fiction genres and nonfiction text types.  Put Reading First (2001) recommended that students practice repeated oral reading with connected texts at their independent reading level and that teachers provide a variety of genres, not just narrative type text, but informational text as well.  Rasinski (2000) suggested that the selections for fluency instruction are written in the reader’s independent instructional range and are meant to be read aloud with expression.  In their review of assisted reading studies, Kuhn, and Stahl (2000) concluded that having children read easy texts for instruction did not seem to improve their oral reading.  It is recommended that the classroom provide time for instruction using somewhat challenging texts.

Partner Reading

Watson, Burke and Harste (1989) stated that “when we cooperate we work towards some mutual goal, but when we collaborate we expect to go out changed in the end, to become a different person” (p. 65).  “If our task as educators is to create men or women capable of creating new knowledge, new thoughts, and ideas, we must create contexts for transaction and transformation rather than perpetuating educational practices that rely upon repetition and replication” (Griffin, 2002, p. 766).  If “classroom communities construct their own views of what it means to read through daily interactions with each other, the world around them and print” (MacGillivray, 1997, p. 145), then we as educators, must provide opportunities for students to interact with one another through literate pursuits such as partner reading.  Research suggests that collaborative literacy experiences promote peer interaction and engagement in learning (Slavin, 1990).

Partner reading is a classroom reading strategy used to cultivate the development of fluent reading skills.  In partner reading, a more capable student is paired with a less capable student to support each other through the oral reading of connected text.  Partners listen, follow along, and provide needed assistance while taking turns reading (Meisinger et al., 2004).  The assistance provided by the more capable reader facilitates the reading of higher-level texts, as well as provide opportunities for participant reinforcement of positive reading behavior (Topping & Lindsay, 1992).  Partner reading has been utilized in several comprehensive literacy programs such as Cooperative Integrated Reading and Composition (CIRC) (Madden, Slavin, & Stevens, 1986).  CIRC is a cooperative learning program designed for the reading instruction of elementary students.  A second literacy program is Success for ALL (Slavin & Madden, 2000) a school wide reform model intended for pre-kindergarten through grade 5 to avoid reading failure.  Partner reading is very often a key component of programs that facilitate reading fluency skills.  A reading program designed to promote reading fluency in second grade students for which partner reading is a component is Fluency-Oriented Reading Instruction (FORI) (Stahl et al., 1997).  Participants in the program have experienced significant gains in oral reading rate and accuracy (Stahl, et al., 1997).  Partner reading is also a central component of Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies in reading (PALS), a program used to improve reading fluency and comprehension skills in Grades 2-6 (Fuchs, Fuchs, Mathes, & Simmons, 1997).  PALS participants have experienced significant gains in oral reading accuracy and reading comprehension (Fuchs, et al., 1997).

The following qualitative study analyzed specific roles students act in when working in partnered reading (MacGillivray & Hawes, 1994).  A first-grade class participated in a 5-month study composed of an ethnically diverse student population.  During reading block, four mornings a week, the researcher took field notes, conducted interviews, and gathered drawing and writing samples.  The researchers used the analyzed data to form partnered sets employing roles; coworkers, fellow artists, teacher/student, boss/employee.  These roles allowed the researchers to see patterns offering insight as to how the child viewed himself during the reading, partnering process.  They concluded that students matched with the opposite of their identified role progress further in academia than those who were randomly partnered.

In another study, peer tutoring was identified in its many forms as ‘shared’ or ‘relaxed’ reading; ‘paired or partner reading’ and ‘pause, prompt and praise’ (PPP) procedures (Merrett, 1994).  A 2006 study (Burns) applied the PPP method which involves using highly structured procedures in one-to-one tutoring, using peers, teachers, parents or other adults as tutors.  Burns’ goal was to establish whether peer tutoring in reading could boost the learning of students with special needs.  The PPP procedures operated on two main fundamentals.  The first was the text had to be on the readability level of the student.  The second was the response of the tutor in the form of pausing, prompting and praising.  One boy and one girl from a secondary school for students with moderate learning difficulties was selected as the tutees.  The tutors, one boy and one girl, had a high reading level.  Each of the students were 15 years of age; however, both tutees were reading at least seven years below their grade level at the start of the tutoring.  Each pair of students met for 14 tutoring sessions for 15 minutes, both taking turns reading and utilizing the PPP strategies.  Audio and video recordings were made of each of the sessions.  The results determined that the low readers had become very adept at self-correcting their own mistakes which is an indicator of growth in independent reading skills and the tutors’ skills and confidence also increased.  Burns’ hypothesis was proven true, and could be applicable to all students.  Although the population of the current study will use average learners, this study gives valuable insight into partnered reading which will increase the abilities of all students.

Friedland and Truesdell (2004) set out to find the best strategies to encourage in school partner reading.  After reviewing literature, the researchers determined two factors that appear to contribute to partner reading: self-selection and a partner with whom to read.  The buddy reading program was developed from the research and included primary and intermediate students.  The goal of the program was to foster a love for reading.  One of the outcomes from the study was to ensure that a similar number of students was represented in each grade to ensure a one-to-one ratio.  As well as partners should remain together throughout the program.  In addition, the program should span several months.  Time of day, length of session, and frequency of sessions should remain consistent in order to maximize results.  All teachers involved in the buddy reading program reported that confidence increased and motivation to read improved.  The opportunity for students to read aloud with a partner fills a gap in resource strapped schools.  Lastly the book buddy reading program fostered partner relationships and surrounded the students with quality literature using various genres.

Wilcox & Eldredge (2000) conducted a study of paired reading in second grade classrooms.  The question researchers asked was: Does the difficulty level of the materials used make a difference in the amount of progress the weaker reader makes in paired reading?  The goal became to find the optimal difficulty level for improving poor readers’ skills.  The students (51) were randomly assigned to one of three experimental groups.  Each of the groups was assigned to a different reading level from which to choose books.  Researchers compared reading gains of students in these groups.  Paired reading was defined as two students reading aloud together.  The stronger reader reads at a comfortable pace while the less skilled reader follows along, reading with his partner.  Students were initially tested to find their independent, instructional, and frustration reading levels.  Poor readers scored at the pre-primer level on the pretests.  Those students were paired with a more skilled reader to read in the classroom for 15 minutes during their free-time.  Each of the paired groups was then randomly assigned to one of the three experimental groups.  The first group was given books on their instructional level, the second group was given books two grade levels above their instructional level and the third group was given books four years above their instructional level.  At the end of the school year, the researchers compared the pretest to the posttest scores of the three groups.  The results revealed that all three groups made gains in reading skills inspite of reading level.  However, the students who read, with a peer helper, material two years above their level made the greatest gains in comprehension, vocabulary and reading fluency.  This study proves that poor readers improve significantly when the assistance of a more knowledgeable other in the areas of vocabulary and complex language structures.

The following study continues to verify positive results when students partner together.  Third grade teachers and their 111 students participated in a study (Vaughn, et al., 2000) addressing the effects of fluency and comprehension instruction in two groups of students.  Those students with severe reading problems and those students who were low to average readers was assigned to one of two interventions: partner reading, with an emphasis to increase fluency and collaborative strategic reading, which teaches students to practice and assume responsibility for implementing appropriate strategies to enhance reading and concept knowledge before, during, and following reading, with an emphasis to enhance comprehension.  Instruction in both areas was provided to the entire class, with the teacher or researcher modeling the procedures prior to the study.  The students who were assigned to partner reading were first rank ordered in terms of reading ability based on three variables: score on the statewide reading test, reading level (ZPD) on Accelerated Reader, and teachers’ judgment of reading ability.  The students were then matched by pairing a stronger reader with a less able reader.  The collaborative strategic reading partners were paired to utilize the preview, click and clunk (reading small sections at a time, looking up unknown words or concepts mainly used in informational text), get the gist, and wrap up components.  Both strategies were implemented two-three times per week, for 12 weeks.  The results did not find an increase in reading comprehension from either group.  However, the results did demonstrate that partner reading increases reading fluency in students (Vaughn et al., 2000).

Considerations for Leveled Text

According to Shanahan (2014) many International Reading Association presidents have supported the idea of teaching children at their “reading levels”.  Many instructional programs embrace student-text matching as part of the fundamental design.  Shanahan purports that teaching on a student’s instructional level is stifling to the child and also contradicts the CCSS requiring teachers to teach more challenging texts.  Shanahan (2014) continues to state that there is a growing body of research showing no consistent relationship between student text matching and learning.  He contends that students should be allowed to read books at their frustration level to allow for scaffolding.  Authors argue, according to Stahl & Heubach, 2005, that “the instructional reading level for a given child is inversely related to the degree of support given to the reader. That is, the more support given, the lower the accuracy level needed for a child to benefit from instruction (pg. 200)”.  Regarding the current study, partnering a high and low student on their text level will increase the opportunity for scaffolding to take place.

There is an increased need for literacy instruction in the primary classroom with emphases on nonfiction text (Maloch & Bomer, 2013; Moss, 2005).  Studies have shown that primary age students are able to comprehend nonfiction text and appear to enjoy engaging with learning from this text type (Duke, 2000; Palmer & Stewart, 2005; Yopp & Yopp, 2012).  Partner reading is often seen as a key component of reading programs that aim to facilitate the development of reading fluency skills, however, research has not been conducted on the virility of partner reading outside of these popular programs.

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