"Visual Syntactic Text Formatting: Influences on Teacher Practices, Student Achievement, and Student Engagement"
American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting
Theme: Leveraging Educational Research in a “Post-Truth” Era: Multimodal Narratives to Democratize Evidence
April 5-9, 2019
Title: Visual Syntactic Text Formatting: Influences on Teacher Practices, Student Achievement, and Student Engagement (Paper)
Event: Improving Literacy Through Digital Scaffolding
Authors: Penelope Collins, Tamara Tate, Ying Xu, Jenell Krishnan, Yenda Prado, Joanna Yau, George Farkas, Mark Warschauer
Abstract: As students enter middle school, skilled reading depends increasingly on the effective processing of language and text structures even when their word reading skills have become automatized. At the same time, the linguistic complexity of the texts students must read increases dramatically. Visual Syntactic Text Formatting (VSTF) is a digital tool that uses natural language processing techniques to parse text in a way that highlights meaning, thereby scaffolding students in processing complex syntactic structures, while leaving the content, vocabulary, and syntax of the text unchanged. This study examines instructional practice using VSTF and its impact on students’ affect and literacy achievement.
Text difficulty is affected by the complexity of its structure and language, the ways in which students are expected to interact with the texts (e.g., the purpose for reading or the performance expected of students), and the skills and knowledge students bring to the reading or writing task (Bunch, Walqui & Pearson, 2014). Research studies have shown that texts that have been modified to highlight prosodic cues and syntactic structures, such as phrase boundaries, can facilitate linguistic processing and reading comprehension (e.g., Hirotani, Frazier & Rayner, 2006; Jandreau & Bever, 1992). However, it is unclear whether the gains in reading comprehension found while reading formatted texts transfers to reading and writing unformatted, novel texts after a year of scaffolded instruction using VSTF. Therefore, this study used an RCT to examine whether a year of using VSTF to scaffold English Language Arts instruction influenced reading and writing achievement.
The participants were 52 teachers (170 classes) and 3,297 seventh and eighth grade students (28% English learners) from ten schools in an urban school district in California. Randomization was within-teacher, so that each teacher taught both treatment and control classes. Whereas all students read in class approximately 40 minutes each week, students in treatment classes spent this time reading texts formatted with VSTF and students in control classes read typically formatted texts. Qualitative measures included classroom observations, focus groups with teachers and students, and teacher interviews. We estimated the effects of VSTF on the gains on the annual state assessment for ELA with the formula: Yi = β0 + β1Treatment + β2-5PriorELA + β6-9 Race + β10Male + β11SES + β12ELL + β13Gifted + β14SpEd + β15-67[Teacher] + ei,class
Use of VSTF throughout the school year yielded a positive effect of students’ performance on the annual state assessment of ELA (Treatment effect: β=.05), reading comprehension (β=.04), and source-based writing (β=.07), but not on student performance in non-source based writing. Teachers used the same practices in their treatment and control classes. Despite comparable gains across achievement levels, struggling readers preferred using VSTF whereas confident readers preferred traditionally formatted texts. The use of VSTF for digital scaffolding may be a valuable tool in supporting adolescent literacy development through building students’ underlying linguistic knowledge without requiring extensive change in teachers’ instructional practice.