PhD student Jenell Krishnan and Professor Mark Warschauer presented their study titled "Digital Scaffolding for English Language Arts" at the 2018 IES Principal Investigators' meeting in Washington, D.C. Their $3,500,000 study investigated the effects of Visual Syntactic Text Formatting (VSTF) on middle school students' reading and writing outcomes.
Both reading and writing are challenging for middle school students as both the increasing complexity of the texts they must read and the expectation for well-structured, academic writing may surpass their skill level. Visual Syntactic Text Formatting (VSTF) is software that uses natural language processing techniques to display digital text parsed by salient clause and phrase boundaries, fitting each row of text into one or two fixation eye spans. Students see a streamlined column of text that presents text in chunks and highlight the underlying syntactic structure while leaving the content of the passage, its vocabulary and syntax, unchanged. Unlike many interventions, VSTF helps students access complex texts without simplifying or changing the underlying content. We conducted a randomized controlled trial of VSTF over one academic year with 7th and 8th grade students in a large, urban school district in southern California with a predominantly English Learner population. ELA teachers (n = 52) were asked to have students in treatment classes use VSTF formatted text for 50 minutes each week. Teachers also received professional development supporting their pedagogy and instructional technology use. Teacher fixed effects regression found that students in the treatment group received modest gains in their overall annual state ELA assessment score and more robust gains in their writing scores. VSTF gives ELA teachers a tool that scaffolds secondary students’ efforts to develop improved literacy without sacrificing sophisticated content.
The Digital Scaffolding project was one of ten submissions in DC selected for a technology demonstration where attendees had hands-on experience reformatting digital text (view a hands-on demonstration).
Additional members of the study team include Professors Penelope Collins and George Farkas and doctoral students Yenda Prado, Tamara Tate, Ying Xu, and Joanna Yau.