Reading and comprehending content area texts is important for academic and professional success as well as life skills necessary to maintain good health and quality lifestyle. Spanish speaking English language learners have shown poor performance on high-stakes assessments in reading comprehension. The number of Spanish speaking English learners (ELs) in our schools continues to increase at a fast pace, and therefore it is imperative that we address their reading comprehension needs swiftly and effectively. The text structure strategy has shown positive results on comprehension outcomes in many research studies with students at Grades 2, 4, 5, and 7. This study is the first implementation of instruction about the text structure strategy expressly designed to accommodate the linguistic and comprehension needs of Spanish speaking ELs in Grades 4 and 5. Strategy instruction on the web for English learners (SWELL) was designed to deliver instruction about the text structure strategy to Spanish speaker English learners. A randomized controlled study with pre and post-tests was conducted with 14 classrooms at fourth-grade and 17 classrooms at fifth-grade in high poverty schools where over 85% of students were Spanish speaking bilinguals or ELs. Analysis of data using multi-level models show moderate to large-effects favoring the students in the SWELL classrooms over the business as usual control classrooms on important measures such as a standardized reading comprehension test and main idea and cloze tasks. This research has practical implications for the use of web-based tools to provide high-quality and supportive instruction to improve Spanish speaking ELs reading comprehension skills.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Ackerman, P. (1998). Adult intelligence: Sketch of a theory and applications to learning and education. In M. Cecil Smith & T. Pourchot (Eds.), Adult learning and development: Perspectives from educational psychology (pp. 179–200). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
August, D., Carlo, M., Dressler, C., & Snow, C. (2005). The critical role of vocabulary development for English language learners. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 20, 50–57. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-5826.2005.00120.x.
August, D., & Shanahan, T. (Eds.). (2006). Developing literacy in second-language learners: Report of the national literacy panel on language minority children and youth. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
August, D., & Shanahan, T. (2008). Developing reading and writing in second-language learners. New York: Routledge, in conjunction with the International Reading Association and Center for Applied Linguistics.
Baker, E. A. & Dalton, B. (2011). Designing technology to support comprehension among monolingual and bilingual students. Voice of Literacy. Podcast retrieved from http://voiceofliteracy.org.
Capps, R., Fix, M., Murray, J., Ost, J., Passel, J. S., & Herwantoro, S. (2005). The new demography of American schools. Washington, D.C.: The Urban Institute.
Carlo, M. S., August, D., McLaughlin, B., Snow, C. E., Dressler, C., Lippman, D. N., et al. (2004). Closing the gap: Addressing the vocabulary needs of English-language learners in bilingual and mainstream classrooms. Reading Research Quarterly, 39(2), 188–215.
Chall, J., & Jacobs, V. (2003). The classif study on poor children’s fourth-grade slump. American Educator, 27(1), 14–15.
Chi, M. T. H., Feltovich, P. J., & Glaser, R. (1981). Categorization and representation of physics problems by experts and novices. Cognitive Science, 5, 121–152.
Dalton, B., Proctor, C. P., Uccelli, P., Mo, E., & Snow, C. E. (2011). Designing for diversity: The role of reading strategies and interactive vocabulary in a digital reading environment for fifth-grade monolingual English and bilingual students. Journal of Literacy Research, 43(1), 68–100.
Dalton, B., & Strangman, N. (2006). Improving struggling readers’ comprehension through scaffolded hypertexts and other computer-based literacy programs. In D. Reinking, M. C. McKenna, L. D. Labbo, & R. D. Keiffer (Eds.), Handbook of literacy and technology (2nd ed., pp. 75–92). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Dinwiddie, G. Y., Zambrana, R. E., & Garza, M. A. (2014). Exploring risk factors in Latino cardiovascular disease: The role of education, nativity, and gender. American Journal of Public Health, 104(9), 1742–1750. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2013.301280.
Guthrie, J. T., & Davis, M. H. (2003). Motivating struggling readers in middle school through an engagement model of classroom practice. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 19(1), 59–85. https://doi.org/10.1080/10573560308203.
Jimenez, R. T. (1997). The strategic reading abilities and potential of five low-literacy Latina/o readers in middle school. Reading Research Quarterly, 32(3), 224–232.
Jimenez, R. T., Garcia, G. E., & Pearson, P. D. (1996). The reading strategies of Litina/o students who are successful English readers: Opportunities and obstacles. Reading Research Quarterly, 31, 90–112.
Kamil, M. L., Borman, G. D., Dole, J., Kral, C. C., Salinger, T., and Torgesen, J. (2008). Improving adolescent literacy: Effective classroom and intervention practices: A practice guide (NCEE #2008-4027). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc.
Kieffer, M. J. (2008). Catching up or falling behind? Initial English proficiency, concentrated poverty, and the reading growth of language minority learners in the United States. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100, 851–868.
Lara-Alecio, R., Tong, F., Irby, B. J., Guerrero, C., Huerta, M., & Fan, Y. (2012). The effect of an instructional intervention on middle school English learners’ science and English reading achievement. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 49(8), 987–1011. https://doi.org/10.1002/tea2103.
Lee, C. D., & Spratley, A. (2010). Reading in the disciplines: The challenges of adolescent literacy. New York, NY: Carnegie Corporation of New York.
MacArthur, C. A., Ferretti, R. P., Okolo, C. M., & Cavalier, A. R. (2001). Technology applications for students with literacy problems: A critical review. Elementary School Journal, 101(3), 273–302.
McNeil, L. (2011). Investigating the contributions of background knowledge and reading comprehension strategies to L2 reading comprehension: An exploratory study. Reading and Wring, 24, 883–902.
Meyer, B. J. F. (1975). The organization of prose and its effects on memory. Amsterdam: North-Holland.
Meyer, B. J. F., Brandt, D. M., & Bluth, G. J. (1980). Use of the top-level structure in text: Key for reading comprehension of ninth-grade students. Reading Research Quarterly, 16, 72–103. http://doi.org/10.2307/747349.
Meyer, B. J. F., & Poon, L. W. (2001). Effects of the structure strategy training and signaling on recall of text. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93(1), 141–159. http://doi.org/10.1037/0022-06220.127.116.11.
Meyer, B. J. F., & Wijekumar, K. (2007). A web-based tutoring system for the structure strategy: Theoretical background, design, and findings. In D. S. McNamara (Ed.), Reading comprehension strategies: Theories, interventions, and technologies (pp. 347–375). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Meyer, B. J. F., Wijekumar, K., Middlemiss, W., Higley, K., Lei, P. K., Meier, C., & Spielvogel, J. (2010). Web-based tutoring of the structure strategy with or without elaborated feedback or choice for fifth- and seventh-grade readers. Reading Research Quarterly, 45(1), 62–92.
Moran, J., Ferdig, R. E., Pearson, P. D., Wardrop, J., & Blomeyer, R. L. (2008). Technology and reading performance in the middle-school grades: A meta-analysis with recommendations for policy and practice. Journal of Literacy Research, 40(1), 6–58.
Murnane, R., Sawhill, I., & Snow, C. (2012). Literacy challenges for the twenty-first century: Introducing the issue. The Future of Children, 22(2), 3–15.
National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2015. Available at http://www.nationsreportcard.gov/reading_math_2015/#reading?grade=4 on May 5, 2015.
National Educational Goals Panel. (1999). Reading achievement state by state, 1999. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Perfetti, C. A., Landi, N., & Oakhill, J. (2005). The acquisition of reading comprehension skill. In M. J. Snowling & C. Hulme (Eds.), The science of reading: A handbook (pp. 227–247). Oxford: Blackwell.
Proctor, C. P., Dalton, B., & Grisham, D. L. (2007). Scaffolding English Language Learners and struggling readers in a universal literacy environment with embedded strategy instruction and vocabulary support. Journal of Literacy Research, 39(1), 71–93.
Proctor, C. P., Dalton, B., Uccelli, P., Biancarosa, G., Mo, E., Snow, C., et al. (2011). Improving comprehension online: Effects of deep vocabulary instruction with bilingual and monolingual fifth graders. Reading and Writing, 24(5), 517–544.
Shanahan, T., & Beck, I. L. (2006). Effective Literacy Teaching for English-Language Learners. In D. L. August & T. Shanahan (Eds.), Developing literacy in a second language: Report of the National Literacy Panel (pp. 415–488). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Tong, F., Irby, B. J., Lara-Alecio, R., & Koch, J. (2014). A longitudinal study of integrating literacy and science for fifth grade Hispanic current and former English language learners: From learning to read to reading to learn. Journal of Educational Research. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220671.2013.833072.
Tong, F., Lara-Alecio, R., Irby, B. J., & Mathes, P. G. (2011). The effects of an instructional intervention on dual language development among first-grade hispanic english-learning boys and girls: A two-year longitudinal study. The Journal of Educational Research, 104(2), 87.
Van den Broek, P. (2005). Integrating memory-based and constructionist processes in accounts of reading comprehension. Discourse Processes, 39(2–3), 299–316. https://doi.org/10.1080/0163853X.2005.9651685.
Van Dijk, T. A., & Kintsch, W. (1983). Strategies of discourse comprehension. New York: Academic Press.
Vaughn, S. (2015). Improving content knowledge and comprehension for English language learners: findings from two randomized control trials. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Reading. July 2015. Waikaloa, HI.
Vaughn, S., Martinez, L. R., Linan-Thompson, S., Reutebuch, C. K., Carlson, C. D., & Francis, D. J. (2009). Enhancing social studies vocabulary and comprehension for seventh-grade English language learners: Findings from two experimental studies. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 2(4), 297–324.
Vaughn, S., Martinez, L. R., Wanzek, J., Roberts, G., Swanson, E., & Fall, A. (2017). Improving content knowledge and comprehension for english language learners: Findings from a randomized control trial. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109(1), 22–34.
Wanzek, J., Vaughn, S., Scammacca, N., Metz, K., Murray, C., Roberts, G., & Danielson, L. (2013). Extensive reading interventions for students with reading difficulties after grade 3. Review of Educational Research, 83(2), 163-195. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/stable/24434155.
Wijekumar, K., Meyer, B. J. F., & Lei, P. (2012). Large-scale randomized controlled trial with 4th graders using intelligent tutoring of the structure strategy to improve nonfiction reading comprehension. Educational Technology Research and Development, 60, 987–1013. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-012-9263-4.
Wijekumar, K., Meyer, B. J. F., & Lei, P.-W. (2016). Improving content area reading comprehension with 4-6th grade Spanish Ells using web-based structure strategy instruction. In J. M. Spector, D. Ifenthaler, D. G. Sampson, & P. Isaias (Eds.), Competencies in teaching, learning and educational leadership in the digital age: Papers from CELDA 2014. Switzerland: Springer.
Wijekumar, K., Meyer, B. J. F., & Lei, P.-W. (2017). Web-based text structure strategy instruction improves seventh graders’ content area reading comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109(6), 741–760. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000168.
Wijekumar, K., Meyer, B. J. F., & Lei, P.-W. (in press). Improving content area reading comprehension with seventh graders using a web-based intelligent tutoring system. Journal of Educational Psychology.
Wijekumar, K., Meyer, B. J. F., Lei, P., Lin, Y., Johnson, L. A., Shurmatz, K., et al. (2014). Improving reading comprehension for 5th grade readers in rural and suburban schools using web-based intelligent tutoring systems. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 7(4), 331–357.
Wiederholt, J. L., & Blalock, G. (2000). Gray silent reading tests (GSRT). Austin, TX: PRO-ED.
Williams, P. J. (2007). Literacy in the curriculum: Integrating text structure and content area instruction. Reading comprehension strategies: theories, interventions, and technologies, pp. 199–219.
Williams, J. P., Hall, K. M., & Lauer, K. D. (2004). Teaching expository text structure to young at-risk learners: Building the basics of comprehension instruction. Exceptionality, 12(3), 129–144.
Funding was provided by Institute of Education Sciences (Grant No. R305A130704). The research reported here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through grant R305A130704 to Texas A&M University. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.
About this article
Cite this article
Wijekumar, K., Meyer, B.J.F., Lei, P. et al. Improving content area reading comprehension of Spanish speaking English learners in Grades 4 and 5 using web-based text structure instruction. Read Writ 31, 1969–1996 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-017-9802-9
- Reading comprehension
- Intelligent tutoring system
- Spanish speaking English learners
- Expository text