Gregory L. Robinson
The University of Newcastle
This paper reports on the second of two studies designed to assess the effectiveness of a metacognitive approach to teaching word identification and reading comprehension skills to upper primary poor readers, and to investigate effective methods for implementing the program in the regular classroom. To improve word identification skills, experimental subjects were given metacognitive training in the analysis and monitoring of word identification strategies. Reciprocal teaching procedures, incorporating the word identification strategies, were used for comprehension training. Subjects in control conditions received either (a) normal classroom reading activities, or (b) normal classroom activities plus phonics-based remedial instruction. To facilitate implementation of the program in the regular classroom a three phase model was used during which responsibility for instruction was gradually passed from the experimenter to the class teacher. Measures of (a) word identification, (b) metacognitive awareness of word identification cues, and (c) comprehension were taken on several occasions during the study.
Results of repeated measures analysis of variance showed significantly greater improvements for subjects in the experimental condition. However, most of the improvements took place in the experimenter-led, rather than the teacher-led phase of the Study. The implications of these findings for classroom practice are discussed in the light of current research.
Although the consequences of a number of years of reading failure suggest a poor prognosis (Juel, 1988; Stanovich, 1986, 1992; Waring et al., 1996), there are also some positive implications for educational practice. This may be particularly so in the area of metacognitive functioning, i.e., in awareness and regulation of appropriate strategies for identifying unfamiliar words (Spedding & Chan, 1993, 1994; Stanovich, 1986). In particular, research by Spedding and Chan (1993, 1994) confirmed that Year 5 poor readers' problems with word identification may reflect deficiencies in the metacognitive abilities that underlie this skill. Poor readers of this age group were found to be inferior in metacognitive abilities involving the use of orthographic cues, morphological cues and context cues. Poor readers were less strategic than average readers in using these cues and were often unaware of the strategies they did use. This research suggests that a training program for upper primary poor readers should include metacognitive instruction in the strategic and flexible use of a variety of word identification cues. However, while metacognitive research (both laboratory and classroom-based) has provided valuable insights into effective methods for improving the comprehension of poor readers (e.g., Bruce & Chan, 1991; Garner, 1992; O'Shea & O'Shea, 1994; Palincsar & Brown, 1984; Pressley, Brown, El-Dinary, & Afflerbach, 1995; Swanson & De La Paz, 1998), there has been little parallel research into metacognitive approaches to teaching word identification skills (for exceptions see Gaskins, Gaskins, & Gaskins, 1991; Lenz & Hughes, 1990; Thompson & Taymans, 1994). An effective instructional program for poor readers may thus need to include metacognitive training in appropriate strategies for identifying unfamiliar words, as well as use of metacognitive strategies for developing comprehension skills.
The general aim of this project, therefore, was to investigate the effectiveness of a metacognitive instructional program for improving both the word identification and the comprehension skills of upper primary poor readers. The project also aimed to explore effective and efficient ways of implementing a program of this kind in the classroom setting.
The specific research questions asked in the consecutive studies involved in this project were as follows.
In brief, results of the analysis for Study One in relation to research questions 1, 2, and 3 were as follows.
Prior to reciprocal teaching to improve comprehension skills, subjects in the experimental group were given reciprocal instruction in metacognitive word identification strategies to improve decoding ability. The word identification program was called The Clever Kid's Reading Program, and it trained children in the flexible and strategic use of three word identification strategies (or Clever Kids' Cues) commonly used by competent readers: (i) Consider the Context (semantic and syntactic cues), (ii) Compare with known words or word parts (phonemic and orthographic cues), and (iii) Carve up the word parts (structural and morphological cues). To help students monitor and control their use of those strategies (cues), they were taught to use the Clever Kids' Motto: (i) Look for the cues, (ii) Be flexible, and (iii) Ask: Does it make sense?
Instructional materials consisted of a total of 30 short passages (200-400 words in length) written at the Year 4 to Year 5 readability level, and each containing factual material in narrative or descriptive form. Each of the passages was structured to target a particular word identification strategy. For example, the passage may contain a number of multi-syllable words requiring children to Carve up the Word Parts. Every time an unfamiliar word was encountered, the group was encouraged to work collaboratively in using the Clever Kids' Motto and Cues to identify the word, while the teacher provided modelling, guided feedback and coaching as necessary. Instruction took place on three 30-minute sessions per week. In general three days (i.e., three 30 minute sessions) were spent on each passage, making the program 30 weeks in length.
Small Group Instruction
|Metacognitive instruction in word identification in small groups
Experimenter and assistant
|Reciprocal teaching of comprehension strategies in small groups|
Experimenter and assistant
|Reciprocal teaching of comprehension strategies (including use of metacognitive word identification strategies)
Team teaching in groups by experimenter/ assistant and class teachers, leading to incorporation of the program into the classroom reading group structure
|Reciprocal teaching of comprehension strategies (including use of metacognitive word identification strategies)
|Preparation Stage (experimenter-led)||Classroom Stage (teacher-led)|
|Regular classroom reading lessons test plus phonics-based remedial instruction
|Regular classroom reading lessons test plus phonics-based remedial instruction
Figure 1: A schema of the experimental design for Study Two
During training phase one, the poor readers in the experimental group were withdrawn during the regular classroom reading period for small group instruction in the metacognitive word identification and comprehension program developed in Study One. Instruction of the poor reader groups in this phase was undertaken by the experimenter and (for one class) a research assistant who was a qualified teacher.
During training phase two the program was extended to include all the children in the class. The class teachers and the experimenter or research assistant shared the teaching during this phase, with responsibility for implementing the program gradually being shifted from the experimenter or research assistant to the class teacher. By the fourth week of training, the pupils in each classroom were divided into two groups, with the experimenter or research assistant and the class teacher leading out in one group each. The poor readers were incorporated into one or more of these groups, thus enabling them to both contribute to the larger group in a socially supportive environment and learn from the modelling of their more competent peers.
During training phase three the class teachers continued the program as part of their regular classroom reading instruction. They were also asked to cue students to use the strategies at other times during the day when and where appropriate, e.g., use of the questioning and summarising strategies in an Environmental Studies lesson. During this phase the experimenter visited each classroom periodically to observe progress and discuss any difficulties being encountered. Two or three lessons from each classroom were also tape recorded and transcribed to assess the degree to which class teachers continued cuing poor readers to use the metacognitive word identification strategies. There was however, very little evidence from the transcripts that this occurred. This may have been because the teachers were not actively involved in teaching word identification strategies during the first phase of the intervention, and thus were not familiar with the procedures of the program.
Subjects were administered a number of tests on each of the three testing occasions. The testing sequence for each of these measures is shown in Figure 2, below.
in Word Identification
Silent Reading TORCH
Figure 2: The testing sequence for Study Two
|Year 5||Year 6||Year 5||Year 6|
Metacognitive abilities in word identification
Use of Cues
Analysis of the results revealed no significant three-way interactions at the multivariate level. However, there were several two-way interactions, all of which occurred in the contrast between the first and second testing occasions. These interactions will be discussed below.
|Source of Variation||df||SS||MS||F||p|
|Group x Year||1||139.87||139.87||1.24||.270|
|Group x Occasion||2||380.83||190.41||14.31||.001|
|Year x Occasion||2||115.41||57.71||4.34||.015|
|Group x Year x Occ||2||27.01||13.50||1.01||.365|
Results of the analysis for word reading in isolation (St Lucia) revealed a significant occasion main effect, F(2,128) = 165.63, p<.001, which indicates that the methods of teaching word recognition to both groups had been effective. There were also two significant two-way interactions.
First there was a significant Group x Testing Occasion interaction, F(2,128) = 14.31, p<.001. Univariate results showed that this interaction occurred in the contrast between the first and second testing occasions, F(1,64) = 24.34, p<.001. The mean raw scores of the experimental group improved eight points from pre- to mid-test representing a mean improvement in word recognition reading age of approximately eleven months during the four-month period. During the same time period, the mean raw score of the control group improved about four points, representing a mean improvement in word recognition reading age of approximately four months.
During the four months between the mid- and post-testing occasions the experimental subjects showed a mean improvement of approximately six points, representing eight months mean improvement in word recognition reading age, while the control subjects showed a mean improvement of approximately five points, representing a mean increase in word recognition reading age of seven months. The slower rate of improvement for the experimental subjects during this phase would tend to confirm the impression gained from the recorded class lessons, that class teachers did not appear to implement the metacognitive word identification strategies to any great extent, as discussed previously. On the other hand, the phonics based instruction (mentioned previously) provided for many of the control subjects is likely to have been a factor in their improvement by the time of the final testing occasion, as such instruction is likely to improve the proficiency of word recognition (Bateman, 1991; Ekwall & Shanker, 1988; McCormick & Becker, 1996).
There was also a significant Year x Occasion interaction, F(2,128) = 4.34, p<.05. Univariate results revealed that the Year x Occasion interaction occurred on the contrast between the pre- and mid-testing occasions, F(1,64) = 6.81, p<.05. Regardless of experimental condition, the Year 6 subjects showed a greater rate of improvement than the Year 5 subjects, during this period. This may have been because the added maturity of the older students enabled them to profit more readily from their respective interventions (metacognitive strategy instruction for the experimental group and phonics-based remedial instruction for the control group) (Cross & Paris, 1988; Paris, Saarnio, & Cross, 1986).
The results for the St Lucia indicate the effectiveness of the metacognitive word identification program for improving word recognition skills, especially when conducted by the researcher or research assistant. As discussed previously, improved accuracy of word recognition is likely to lead to improved comprehension due to the fact that more cognitive resources are available for the construction of meaning (Näslund & Samuels, 1992; Perfetti, 1986; Spear-Swerling & Sternberg, 1994; Stanovich, 1992).
|Source of Variation||df||SS||MS||F||p|
|Group x Occ||1||4.01||4.01||3.40||.794|
|Group x Occ||1||2.64||2.64||8.28||.005|
|Group x Occ||1||0.40||0.40||0.62||.434|
|Group x Occ||1||7.52||7.52||12.05||.001|
Significant occasion main effects were found for use of morphological cues, F(1,64) = 16.94, p<.001, and use of context cues, F(1,64) = 14.09, p<.001, for identifying unknown words, with both experimental and control subjects making significantly more use of both these cues for word identification by the mid-testing occasion. There were also significant Group x Occasion interactions for use of orthographic cues, F(1,64) = 8.28, p<.05, and the use of context cues, F(1,64) = 12.05, p<.001. The subjects in the experimental group showed greater improvement on these measures than did the subjects in the control group.
Research indicates that fluency in word recognition skills is facilitated by specific instruction in subword units of English orthography such as onset/rime spelling patterns (e.g., st/art), syllables, and root words and affixes (e.g., Alexander & Pate, 1991; Barker, Torgesen, & Wagner, 1992; Goswami, 1994; Henry, 1993; McCormick & Becker, 1996). In particular, it has been suggested that upper primary poor readers (the subjects of this study) benefit from extended instruction in onset/rime analogy strategies (Goswami, 1994), and syllabic and morphological patterns (Henry, 1993). In addition, as upper grade children become more proficient in the use of decoding strategies, they are more likely to use context to monitor comprehension (e.g., for self-corrections) rather than as a primary method of word identification (Foorman, Francis, Fletcher, & Lynn, 1996; Nicholson, 1991; Pratt, Kemp, & Martin, 1996; Stanovich & Siegel, 1994; Yeu & Goetz, 1994).
It would appear that the metacognitive word identification program used in this study facilitated subjects' use of each of these strategies. The Clever Kid's Cues, Compare with known words and Carve up the word parts, were designed to cue the use of both analogy strategies, and syllabic and morphological strategies. The Clever Kid's Motto, Ask, Does it make sense? combined with the cue Consider the Context, was designed to cue subjects to use context as an aid to comprehension. The control subjects also improved significantly. This improvement was possibly because of the phonetic/syllabic remedial instruction received by many of the control subjects, which could have facilitated use of such strategies, but not necessarily made them aware of reasons for using the strategies.
The fact that significant improvement did not occur in the phonic strategy area both for experimental and control groups, has a number of possible explanations. First, the teaching of phonics can be very difficult because of the irregularities between letters and sounds in English, as indicated by the predominance of phonological problems among poor readers (Glez & López, 1994; Spear-Swerling & Sternberg, 1994; Stanovich & Siegel, 1994; Vellutino, Scanlon, Sipay, Small, Chen, Pratt, & Denckla, 1996). Second, many students in this study seemed to find this section of the test very difficult and were confused about what was required of them. In addition, phonic rules were not specifically taught in this intervention.
|Source of Variation||df||SS||MS||F||p|
|Group x Occ||2||243.31||121.66||4.83||.010|
Results of the analysis of the TORCH comprehension tests showed a significant occasion main effect, F(2,126) = 36.37, p<.001, with both groups improving in silent reading comprehension. There was also a significant Group x Occasion interaction, F(2,126) = 4.83, p<.01. Univariate results revealed that this was situated in the contrast between the pre- and mid-testing occasions, F(1,63) = 9.25, p<.01. The improvement in silent reading comprehension from pre- to mid-test parallels the improvement in word recognition during this same period. As indicated previously, this confirms that the metacognitive instruction was more effective than regular class teaching (often supplemented by phonics instruction) when undertaken by the experimenter and assistant. However this metacognitive instruction was no more effective than regular class activities when undertaken by class teachers. The general improvement in comprehension in both groups however, would suggest that as the experimental and control groups became more proficient at word recognition they may be able to devote more of their attentional resources to comprehension of text (Näslund & Samuels, 1992; Perfetti, 1986; Spear-Swerling & Sternberg, 1994; Stanovich, 1984, 1986, 1992).
There is likely to be a cyclic effect, with improved word identification skills and significantly greater metacognitive awareness in use of context cues by the experimental group leading to improved comprehension. Improved word identification could allow more reliable use of context cues as an aid to word identification (Foorman et al., 1996; Pratt et al, 1996; Stanovich, 1993-1994; Yeu & Goetz, 1994). This in turn would allow attentional resources to be directed to comprehension.
It should be noted however, that all of the significant improvements for the experimental subjects occurred during the first, experimenter-led, stage of the study. There may have been several reasons for failure to maintain significant rates of improvement during the second stage. It may have been partly because less time and attention was available for the poor readers when the program was moved from the withdrawal to the classroom setting. It may also have been due to the fact that the teachers did not appear to implement the word identification strategies, possibly because they did not feel that they owned the program (Coley, De Pinto, Craig, & Gardner, 1993; Gersten & Brengelman, 1996; Gersten, Vaughn, Deshler, & Schiller, 1997; Wong, 1997), as they were not responsible for setting it up in the first place.
Another possibility is that the poor readers may have needed more time to consolidate and internalise the improvements made during the first stage of the intervention. Finally, it may be that the initial improvement would have happened whoever instructed, hence this may be all that could be expected from the experimental method used.
In addition, it may be that pupil interest in the metacognitive word identification strategy instruction would be best maintained when it is combined with some reciprocal teaching from the beginning of instruction. This suggestion grew out of observations that many students lost interest after several weeks of the metacognitive word identification activities, and it was not until reciprocal teaching of comprehension was introduced in the second phase of the study that their interest was reactivated. This is consistent with reported evidence of the highly motivational nature of reciprocal teaching procedures (Coley at al., 1993; Palincsar, 1987; Speece, MacDonald, Kilsheimer, & Krist, 1997).
A number of limitations arise from the results of this project which could form the basis for future research. Subject samples were drawn from a limited urban to semi-urban area of the NSW coast. Replication in other areas would help add validity to the results. There was also a restriction to the amount of coaching and modelling which the experimenter was able to provide for teachers. Teachers may need a great deal of coaching, modelling and support if they are to adopt a style of teaching which promotes metacognitive awareness and monitoring of strategies (Gersten et al., 1997; Pressley & El-Dinary, 1997; Wong, 1997).
Questions also remain as to the optimal length of the intervention. Future research could explore whether increased time devoted to the first phase, i.e., intensive word identification strategy instruction plus a modified form of reciprocal teaching, would lead to continued significant improvements in comprehension. It may be that more time devoted to increasing fluency in word identification in a format which children find motivating (i.e., combined with modified reciprocal teaching), would lead to more effective and efficient benefits when reciprocal teaching is more fully implemented at a later stage. This seemed to be the case in Study One, when experimental subjects, who had the benefit of instruction in metacognitive word identification strategies prior to reciprocal teaching of comprehension, made just as rapid gains in silent reading comprehension after a few weeks of reciprocal teaching, as had the control subjects who received reciprocal teaching with traditional methods of word identification throughout the intervention.
Reciprocal teaching of comprehension skills and a metacognitive approach to teaching word identification skills have been identified as effective tools in the search for methods to assist children with reading difficulties. These studies have helped verify their value, but more investigation is needed of whether they can be effectively implemented in regular class situations.
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|Authors: Dr Merle Bruce is a senior lecturer in Special Education at Avondale College, NSW. Her research interests, which arose out of her previous teaching experience, centre around the use of metacognitive training programs to improve the reading skills of children with learning difficulties.
Dr Greg Robinson is a senior lecturer at the Special Education Centre, University of Newcastle. He has worked as a secondary school teacher and school psychologist, and currently coordinates courses related to learning disabilities/literacy problems. He also has a clinical diagnostic role which involves working with children and adults with learning disabilities.
Please cite as: Bruce, M. E. and Robinson, G. L. (2000). Effectiveness of a metacognitive reading program for poor readers. Issues in Educational Research, 10(1), 1-20. http://www.iier.org.au/iier10/bruce.html
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