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Investigating the Feasibility of Scaling up Effective Reading Comprehension Instruction Using Innovative Video-Case-Based Hypermedia

Annemarie Palincsar

Rand Spiro, Shirley Magnusson


Background: The significance of this Phase I IERI research is its focus on the feasibility of scaling the knowledge base on the effective teaching of reading comprehension in a manner that is: accessible, reflective of the complex nature of this instruction, focused on advancing teachers' understanding of general and domain-specific informational text, and informed by a contemporary theory of learning (cognitive flexibility theory) that matches the complexity of comprehension instruction. Furthermore, this research is significant because it supported the development and investigation of two tools to support scale-up, one of which is dependent upon the involvement of professional development staff (linear video cases on DVDs) and the second of which (a hypermedia system) was less dependent upon professional development staff and was designed to accommodate teachers who are diverse with respect to their experience, interest, and expertise in reading comprehension instruction. Finally, this research is significant because it is contributing robust approaches to the measurement of teacher knowledge in the area of text comprehension, an area in which there is a dearth of measures.

Purpose: The purpose of our research is to improve the reading comprehension of upper elementary students by supporting their teachers to learn two instructional procedures known to enhance text comprehension: Questioning the Author (QtA) and Reciprocal Teaching (RT). We developed two sets of professional development materials; one of which was presented via linear video-based cases of teaching, and the second of which was a hypermedia tool, called Experience Acceleration Support Environment, which supports teachers in tailoring their use of the video corpus. We conducted an experiment using both quantitative and interpretive methods to evaluate the outcomes of these two approaches to professional development. Outcomes were measured in terms of changes in teachers' knowledge and practice, as well as changes in student reading comprehension over the course of a school year, as teachers participated in this professional development.

Intervention: The two professional development tools (DVDs and hypermedia system) drew from over 25 hours of instruction and 10 hours of interview with teachers implementing Reciprocal Teaching (RT) (taught by A. S. Palincsar) and Questioning the Author (QtA) (taught by L. Kucan). The RT instruction occurred with ten struggling 4th graders in a school that is challenged to meet yearly annual progress goals. The QtA instruction was conducted with whole classes of fourth graders in several schools - all of which are challenged to meet yearly annual progress goals. The video was then segmented into events and coded using a total of ten codes, which served as themes to be searched in the hypermedia system:

  • Building a learning community
  • Supporting cognitive engagement
  • Providing messages about reading
  • Using text characteristics
  • Modeling expert reading of the text
  • Building background knowledge
  • Navigating toward meaning
  • Navigating toward meaning making
  • Comprehension breakdowns
  • Repair of comprehension breakdowns
  • Planning

    The two tools were investigated in the course of week-long summer institutes, with follow-up sessions occurring during the school year. The hypermedia system can be accessed at:

    Setting: Participants were 60 teachers and their students from Southeast Michigan Schools serving urban, suburban, and rural communities.

    Research Design: A total of 60 teachers were assigned, through stratified, random assignment (stratified for years of teaching experience, student demographic, and comfort with technology) to one of the two professional development conditions that varied in terms of their "scalability." Pretests of teacher pedagogical content knowledge were administered using two measures (Comprehension and Learning from Text Survey and Video viewing task) prior to the beginning of the professional development. Posttests followed the summer institute, and the 2005 school year, at the end of the intervention period. In addition, pre- and post-tests of students' reading comprehension (using the Terra Nova) were administered during the year of implementation.

    The study sample included 60 teachers and 1527 students. There are two sets of data that are being analyzed. The first set are the measures of teacher knowledge, including the responses to the Comprehension and Learning from Text Survey (COLTS) and the Video Viewing Task. COLTS was designed as a constructed response measure of teachers' pedagogical content knowledge specific to reading comprehension instruction, and measures: (1) teachers' ability to analyze text in preparation for teaching text comprehension, (2) teachers' ability to critique comprehension instruction, and (3) teacher's ability to reason about comprehension instruction practice. The video viewing data are being coded for the extent to which respondents are attending to: the text, the student(s), the teacher, and the context in comprehension instruction, as well as the extent to which respondents are engaged in: description, analysis of practice, and/or evaluation of practice in the context of specific approaches to text comprehension instruction.

    Findings: Since data analyses are still underway, these findings are preliminary. Analyses to date indicate that: (a) teachers in both conditions demonstrated growth in their pedagogical content knowledge regarding reading comprehension instruction (see Hapgood, Palincsar, Kucan, Gelpi-Lomangino, & Khasnabis (2005), (2) The anecdotal evidence is that teachers generally enjoyed using EASE-C, and reported that it was productive in supporting their learning. In addition, we have begun investigating the video data of teachers working, in small groups, with the EASE-C system. The teachers revealed, even in the short amount of time available to them, evidence of increased sensitivity to context, and a greater appreciation for the nuanced nature of the application of practices such as "scaffolding." For example, teachers were observed shifting over time from searching for a singular and prescriptive definition of scaffolding, to a more situation-sensitive analysis of the forms and purposes for scaffolding, (3) IRT analyses indicate that, with the exception of a few items, COLTS is a psychometrically robust measure of teacher's pedagogical content knowledge for teaching reading comprehension (Shilling, Hapgood, Palincsar, & Kucan, in preparation).

    Hapgood, S., Palincsar, A. S., Kucan, L., Gelpi-Lomangino, A. & Khasnabis, D. (2005). Investigating a New Measure of Teachers' Pedagogical Content Knowledge for Teaching Informational Text Comprehension. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

    Palincsar, A.S., Spiro, R. J., Kucan, L., Magnusson, S. J., Collins, B., Hapgood, S., Ramchandran, A., DeFrance, N. & Gelpi, A. (in press) Research to practice: Designing hypermedia environment to support elementary teachers' learning of robust comprehension instruction. To appear in D. McNamara (Ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    You can learn more about this project by visiting