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UGA education researcher receives $1.5 million grant to explore reading instruction

Athens, Ga. -Many elementary schools today use repeated readings to increase the reading fluency of students, but a University of Georgia educational psychologist wants to find out if using a wider reading approach might increase fluency while also providing greater vocabulary and content.

Scott Ardoin, an associate professor in the College of Education’s department of educational psychology and instructional technology, has received a $1.5 million federal grant from the Institute of Education Sciences through UGA’s Institute of Behavioral Research to do a four-year study of the two instructional methods-repeated readings and guided wide readings.IES is the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education.

Extensive evidence shows the repeated readings method increases the oral reading rates of elementary students. As a result, schools are increasingly using repeated readings to increase students’ reading fluency. However, the research has not adequately examined the underlying factors that contribute to increased reading fluency across materials, and whether these factors might be similarly changed through guided wide readings, said Ardoin. The guided wide readings method is the reading of materials only once as opposed to multiple times.

Through repeated exposures to words, the orthographic, phonological and semantic representations become strengthened and thus students read these words with greater efficiency.

But drawing on the theory of automatic information processing, it is believed that non-fluent readers must devote so much attention to decoding text that they lack the resources to attend to the meaning of material; in contrast, fluent readers are able to decode words automatically, allowing them to devote sufficient attention to comprehension, according to Ardoin.

The UGA study will explore how these two different instructional conditions affect students’ reading fluency (rate and accuracy), variety of vocabulary and content, underlying reading behaviors, and comprehension and expression. It will evaluate procedures frequently used to improve the reading rate, accuracy and expression of normal achieving as well as students struggling in the area of reading. Effects will be explored through the use of eye-tracking methodology because changes in eye movement behavior can help indicate if reading has changed toward reading for meaning.

“This research will help us determine not only what reading interventions might be best for a student based upon his/her existing reading skills, but will provide valuable information for the development of reading curriculums that will better promote the learning of new vocabulary and comprehension skills,” said Ardoin.

The UGA researchers will work in a local school district with teachers and second graders whose reading is not yet fluent. In Phase I, 150 students will be randomly assigned to one of three 10-week instructional conditions (repeated readings, guided wide readings and business as usual).

In Phase II, the researchers will explore whether altering procedures designed to promote reading fluency will help to further enhance changes in underlying behavior observed during Phase I that might otherwise be inhibited by current fluency based instructional practices.

Ardoin is collaborating on the project with Kathy Binder, an associate professor of psychology at Mount Holyoke University.

A faculty member in the COE’s school psychology program, Ardoin teaches graduate courses in both behavioral and academic interventions. He also teaches an undergraduate course on classroom behavior management. His research focuses on the application of principles of applied behavior analysis in the development of improved intervention and assessment techniques within educational settings.

He currently serves as an associate editor for the Journal of Behavioral Education and on the editorial boards of numerous journals including the Journal of School Psychology, School Psychology Review and the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis.

Ardoin joined the UGA faculty in 2008. He received his Ph.D. in school psychology from Syracuse University.