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Remedial Reading in Middle School: Regaining Independence by Design

Sat, April 14, 2:15 to 3:45pm, Millennium Broadway New York Times Square, Floor: Seventh Floor, Room 7.02-7.03


Purpose & Theoretical Framework: Teaching middle school remedial reading is fraught with challenges - one of the most significant is text avoidance. Students who experience recurrent failure in learning to read are more likely than their peers reading on grade level to disengage from independent reading (Carnegie Corporation’s Council on Advancing Adolescent Literacy, 2010). This disengagement limits the practice students have with text, so that even when students receive appropriate reading instruction they are unable to make progress (Biancarosa & Snow, 2006). To address this problem PROGRAM NAME is comprised of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) features meant to catalyze interest development and support independent engagement with the text. Key to the experience is a dashboard and analytic system that provides students with information about how texts of personal interest relate to larger meta-topics. The intent of the design is to support students to identify, access, and deepen their reading within topics of interest, leading to increased motivation for independent reading. The purpose of this paper is to investigate whether the UDL design in PROGRAM NAME effectively supports pursuit of interest-driven independent reading.

Method: An experiment compared student and teacher behavior in PROGRAM NAME to a control environment with the same texts online but no UDL supports. 583 students and 51 teachers participated in the study; teachers were randomly assigned to either the PROGRAM NAME or control condition. Both PROGRAM NAME and the control condition technology were used as a supplement to remedial reading instruction.

Results: Using click-by-click analytic data we explored whether students in the experimental group were more likely than the control to exhibit independent, interest-driven reading behavior. First, we explored whether students using PROGRAM NAME were less likely to make use of teacher recommendations, which would indicate more independent, interest-based reading selections. Multivariate regression showed that students in the treatment condition were more likely to make their own choices, even after controlling for the number of recommendations teachers made and amount of time spent with the tool (β = -10.41; p<.01). We then explored the degree to which students made choices at random. The goal was to understand whether students making independent choices did so in systematic ways emblematic of interest-driven reading. Looking at the topic distribution of texts visited by students we found that while students in both groups were systematically prioritizing articles in certain topic areas, this focused reading behavior was more likely in the treatment condition with students reading texts within their top topic area 29% of the time (t(582)=3.78, p<.001). In addition, PROGRAM NAME students commonly used the ability to see how their previous readings grouped around topics and searched the library for additional related articles, whereas students in the control group seldom searched by topic.

Educational Significance: Our results support the idea that middle school students in remedial reading can make effective use of an open, free-choice reading environment. And, providing UDL supports for exploring and refining their interests is important to enable independent and interest-driven reading behavior.