The Development of Core Academic Language and Reading Comprehension in Pre-Adolescent and Adolescent Learners
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CitationPhillips Galloway, Emily. 2016. The Development of Core Academic Language and Reading Comprehension in Pre-Adolescent and Adolescent Learners. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
AbstractMany adolescents struggle to comprehend text, a fact which has led educational researchers to speculate that these reading struggles might be linked with students’ levels of familiarity with the vocabulary and language found in these texts. However, few studies have identified the school-relevant language skills beyond vocabulary that contribute to variation in reading comprehension growth during the middle school years. With the goal of focusing additional attention on the central role of academic language in text comprehension, I explore the relationship between these language skills, referred to as Core Academic Language Skills (CALS), and reading comprehension. Study 1 of this thesis examines the concurrent development of academic language skills and reading comprehension for English Learners and their English proficient peers attending urban middle schools and followed over two academic years, from grade 6 to 7 (n=833). Parallel process latent growth modeling results suggest that academic language and reading comprehension skills develop concurrently, with rapid growth in CALS being associated with rapid growth in reading comprehension skills. Furthermore, initial levels of CALS predict rates of growth in reading comprehension. Focused on learners mostly reading below grade-level, this study highlights the potential for CALS-focused instruction to serve as a point of leverage for improving pre-adolescent and early adolescent learners’ reading comprehension outcomes.
Study 2 builds on this first study by examining the co-development of academic language and reading comprehension in a broader age range for whom academic language instruction may be most critical—English proficient middle grade learners attending schools serving predominately low-income students. For decades, research has highlighted the impact of socioeconomic status on reading achievement suggesting the need to further investigate potentially malleable skills, such as academic language skills, that might be taught as part of comprehensive literacy initiatives designed to support pre-adolescent and adolescent struggling readers. Results revealed that students’ initial level of academic language proficiency was associated with their rate of reading comprehension growth across the two years they were followed and that socioeconomic status impacted reading comprehension growth indirectly via its influence on students’ initial levels of academic language skill. Results are not surprising given that academic language skill is a core component of reading comprehension. The main contribution of these findings is in revealing the significant impact of a specified core set of academic language skills on reading comprehension development. Findings suggest that these potentially malleable school-relevant language skills, shown to be unequally distributed within classrooms, constitute a promising skillset that can inform interventions designed to achieve both excellence and equity in literacy instruction during early adolescence.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:27112709