Targeting skill and will : an intervention designed to motivate struggling adolescents while improving comprehension proficiency

Meth, Jessica Matthews, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Figgins, Margo A., Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Tomlinson, Carol, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
McKenna, Michael, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Deutsch, Nancy, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

According to the Alliance for Excellent Education's 2007 Issue Brief, every school day 7,000 students drop out of high school. At-risk students, those battling to survive academically in the lowest quarter of their class, are 20 times more likely to drop out than high-achieving peers. Striving adolescents often have histories of reading failure. The Matthew Effect (Stanovich, 1986) suggests that discrepancies between high and low-achieving third-grade readers can be expected to widen over time unless measures are taken to prevent this outcome.

This study tackled the challenge of finding enduring strategies and approaches to motivate literacy achievement among struggling adolescents. This study implemented an evidence-based intervention in a Standard level seventh grade language arts classroom at a small town public school in the Southeastern region of the United States. The nine-week WebQuest project involved: (1) high-interest, thematically sequenced expository texts designed to develop knowledge of a topic; (2) student-selected written tasks and thematically sequenced readings based on universally appealing themes (McKenna, 1986; Wood, 1997); and (3) purposeful collaborative student interactions. Students also interfaced with local community experts during introductory exercises designed to develop students' awareness of why reading matters in the real world. During the intervention, the teacher-researcher team scaffolded the reading process via direct explanation of a repertoire of comprehension strategies (e.g., Almasi, 2003; Duffy, 2003, NICHHD, 2000; Pressley, 2002), gradually releasing responsibility as students moved towards independent strategy use (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983). To allow struggling readers to access more difficult, sophisticated texts, teachers read aloud from high interest materials (Ivey, 2002). During the course of the intervention, the teacher-researcher team evaluated students' interests, needs, challenges, and successes, and adjusted instruction accordingly to achieve the intervention's goal of simultaneously raising motivation and improving comprehension proficiency.

In this mixed-methods study, qualitative data included daily classroom observations and accompanying field notes and analytic memos, student artifacts, and interviews with students and teachers. Triangulating quantitative data included pre-post scores on the Degrees of Reading Power comprehension measure and on the Adolescent Motivation to Read Profile (Pitcher et al., 2007).

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
literacy, at-risk youth, motivation

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-03-14 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:35:40.

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