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Dick, Jane, & Spot Meet the Information Age: Diversifying Genres Used in Early Literacy Instruction

Nell K. Duke


Background: For some time in U.S., stories have been the dominant form of text that children read and write in early schooling. Informational text in particular has been neglected, especially in low-SES school districts. Some scholars have argued that early schooling should include greater attention to informational text, but few studies have tested the impact of doing this.

Purpose: The purpose of this study is to test the impact of including more informational text in first and second grade on children's reading, writing, and motivation.

Intervention: The intervention tested in this study involved asking teachers to include approximately one-third informational texts (in addition to 1/3 narrative texts and 1/3 other texts) among extended texts (texts of three or more related sentences) on classroom walls and other surfaces, in the classroom library, and in classroom activities. One of the comparison groups in the study also involved an intervention, that of increasing the overall amount of text, without explicit attention to genre, on classroom walls and other surfaces, in the classroom library, and in classroom activities.

Setting: The study was conducted in six large, low-SES school districts in southeast and mid-Michigan and headquartered at Michigan State University. Teacher professional development and data collection for the project occurred in these settings during the 2000-01 and 2000-02 school years.

Research Design: This study employed an experimental design at the classroom level (that is, random assignment of classes to condition) with three groups: an experimental group, a treatment comparison group, and a no-treatment comparison group. In addition, data collected about practices in participating classrooms is being used for correlational analyses. Data from this study was also used as a data example in a paper regarding power analysis for multi-level data sets.

The sample for this study included 30 classes of children followed through first and second grade, and their first and second grade teachers. Classes were drawn from large, low-SES school districts. Approximately 750 children participated in the study for at least some part of their first and/or second grade year. This study included two comparison conditions. In one, teachers did not implement or learn about the interventions until after data collection was completed. In the other, teachers received professional development, coaching, and some funding around including more print on classroom walls and other surfaces, in the classroom library, and in classroom activities, but were not explicitly directed to attend to genre, and did not know that the focus of this study was genre. This second comparison group was important because the experimental intervention necessarily involved including more print in the classroom and the effects of that had to be teased out from the effects of altering the genres children read, wrote, and listened to. In addition, this second comparison group provided a control for any Hawthorne effect that might be at work.

Data collection involved monitoring the amount and type of print included in the classrooms and assessing children at three points in time over the course of each school year. Assessments examined both general reading, writing, and motivation, and also reading, writing, and motivation specifically for informational text and specifically for narrative text, with the genre-specific writing and genre-specific motivation assessments developed by the research team for use in this study. Analyses are primarily in the form of hierarchical linear modeling but some other analytic approaches are also used.

Findings: Results of this study suggest that there would be some positive impacts of including more informational text in first grade classrooms, curricula, and materials, at least in large, low-SES school settings. Specifically, as of the end of first grade, experimental group (more informational text) classes' overall reading and writing achievement did not differ from that of comparison groups, except for classes in which children entered school with relatively low literacy knowledge; in these classes experimental group children's reading and writing achievement was higher. Experimental group classes' reading and writing achievement with narrative text did not suffer from increased exposure to informational text, and their ability to write informational text was higher. Experimental group children also did not show the decline in attitudes toward recreational reading seen among children in the comparison groups. Analyses involving the data from second grade are still being conducted.

Duke, N. K. (2004). The case for informational text. Educational Leadership, 61(6), 40-44.

Duke, N. K., & Bennett-Armistead, V. S., with Huxley, A., Johnson, M., McLurkin, D., Roberts, E., Rosen, C., Vogel, E. (2003). Reading and writing informational text in the primary grades: Research-based practices. New York: Scholastic.

Duke, N. K., Martineau, J. A., Frank, K. A., & Bennett-Armistead, V. S. (under revision). 33.6 minutes per day: The impact of including more informational text in first grade. Available

Palincsar, A. S., & Duke, N. K. (2004). The role of text and text-reader interactions in young children s reading development and achievement. Elementary School Journal, 105(2), 184-197.

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