Studies and Resources

Dynamic Assessment

Denyse V. Hayward, PhD., Linda M. Phillips, PhD, & Stephen P. Norris, PhD, Faculty of Education, University of Alberta

“Are beginning readers from non-mainstream backgrounds classified as poor readers really poor readers? Comparisons of static and dynamic measures of word reading” otherwise known as the DA Project.

The purpose of this ongoing research is to examine the contributions of an alternative assessment model to the assessment of reading skills in beginning readers from non-mainstream backgrounds. Literacy development for children from lower income, or educational backgrounds is currently a matter of considerable concern. As beginning readers, children from these populations are considered at higher risk for reading difficulties, and are more likely to be diagnosed as ‘poor readers’. However, static standardized tests have been criticized when used with children from these populations for their linguistic and cultural content bias. Additionally, children from these backgrounds often lack exposure or experience with the testing task. These issues have potentially serious consequences for the interpretation of test results for children from these populations. An alternative assessment model, referred to as Dynamic Assessment (DA), has improved assessment accuracy and validity in cognitive and language domains with children from these backgrounds. Hence, we have done repeat comparisons of static and dynamic measures of word reading. Data analyses are complete and manuscripts are forthcoming!

Teaching Children to Read Science in Grades K-6

This research is based upon results of nearly two decades of our SSHRC-based research. That previous research has focussed on how scientific text is interpreted by senior high school and university students; how commercial reading programs used in Canada approach the teaching of reading when the content is science; theoretical work on how reading is fundamentally related to scientific literacy and on how explanation cast in the narrative genre might find a place in science and in science instruction; and on patterns of relative reading achievement change over the K-6 grade levels. This study aims to begin an intensive effort to integrate and to apply the findings of these former studies. The first objective is to document through classroom observation and analysis of materials that children read in school how the reading of science is taught in K-6 classrooms. The second objective is directed to determining the effects of genre and instructional strategy choice on learning to reading. The third objective is focussed on instructional and curriculum development.

Teaching High School Science Using Adapted Primary Literature

Stephen P. Norris, PhD. & Linda M. Phillips, PhD., Faculty of Education, University of Alberta

This is a SSHRC study underway with CRYSTAL Alberta.

Scientists read a great deal, by some estimates nearly one-fourth of their total work time. Studies show that scientists rate reading as essential to their research and as the primary source of creative stimulation. Moreover, the award-winning and high-achieving scientists read more than others. Therefore, teaching students how to read scientific texts could be extremely beneficial both to those who pursue scientific careers and to those who seek a general understanding of scientific content and of its methods.

However, the main aim of reading in the science classroom is understanding relatively isolated technical terms. Hence, students beyond elementary school have great difficulty reading scientific texts. Our previous investigations have shown that students' interpretative abilities are hampered by limited knowledge of scientific writings, such as the elements of argumentative prose that require readers to interpret degrees of expressed certainty and logical relationships among statements. Other researchers have reported difficulties experienced by students interpreting scientific texts such as weaknesses in critical thinking about scientific research.

The purpose of the proposed research is to explore the effectiveness of a form of scientific text called "Adapted primary literature"(APL) in helping to teach science and scientific reading to high school students. APL comprises scientific papers that have been modified from the original articles. As much as feasible, APL preserves the canonical structure of the original articles, but is altered to be understood by those who are not scientists, such as school or undergraduate university students. APL contains research questions, descriptions of method, reports of data, interpretations of the data, arguments defending those interpretations, and arguments meant to impeach alternative interpretations of the data, and includes where necessary brief explanations of terms or procedures suitable for the target audience. APL remains more consistent with the nature of scientific inquiry than traditional textbooks, because it starts with questions about phenomena and offers conclusions tentatively.

Research conducted thus far on APL at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel (Dr. Anat Yarden) in the area of genetics and by us in Alberta on mathematically modeling the West Nile virus transmission has demonstrated a capacity for APL to foster greater scientific inquiry skills such as critical thinking. Yet, much remains to be learned about the effectiveness of APL. The research will focus on high school students and address a series of questions: 1) What are the potential goals of using APL that best justify its use? 2) What are the types of scientific article that usefully can be adapted for high school students? 3) Are different features of APL associated with different pedagogical outcomes? 4) Can different sorts of scaffolding for students help to make APL more effective?

Test of Early Language and Literacy (TELL)

Linda M. Phillips, PhD., Denyse V. Hayward, PhD., & Stephen P. Norris, PhD.

The Test of Early Language and Literacy (TELL) is a comprehensive diagnostic assessment of language and literacy for children three to eight years of age. TELL is designed to determine whether children are at risk of school failure and to identify areas

of strength and weakness. TELL is evidence-based and built upon the latest research on language, literacy, and testing in these areas. TELL is individually administered and contains the

following eight main sections:

  • Print Understanding
  • Letter Knowledge and Naming
  • Phonological Awareness
  • Oral Vocabulary
  • Oral Narrative
  • Word Reading
  • Oral Reading and Reading Comprehension
  • Written Spelling and Writing

The authors of TELL include a literacy specialist, language specialist, and test validation expert.

What's new?

TELL is the first test to:

  1. Combine the assessment of language and literacy;
  2. Cover a comprehensive age range that includes the most sensitive and critical development period crucial to school success;
  3. Provide contemporary and Canadian norms; and
  4. Include intervention targets across a broad range of language, literacy and numeracy development.

More about TELL:

  1. Suitable for administration by teachers, speech and language pathologists, and early childhood educators
  2. Provides Oral Language, Literacy, and Composite scores based on Canadian norms
  3. Supports early identification of language and reading delays and delineates between the two
  4. Option to include phonological awareness in all scores
  5. Hand-scorable for immediate results
  6. Administration time is 30–60 minutes

Visit our website for more information on TELL.

Why test these areas in one test?

  • Approximately 25% of all children starting school are at risk of school failure. Most children in this 25% exhibit language and literacy difficulties and many of them have overlapping difficulties in more than one of these areas.
  • Many children from low education or economic backgrounds and who are Aboriginals, members of visible minorities, and English language learners are inaccurately diagnosed by current tests of language and literacy.
  • The early and accurate identification of language and literacy difficulties, which the TELL will achieve, is the most important step needed to offer comprehensive and targeted intervention programs.
  • Investment in the palette of early language and literacy skills and strategies leads to enormous economic, fiscal, and social benefits.

Where will TELL lead?

TELL will support:

  • Integrated diagnosis and remediation of problems underlying language, literacy, and numeracy;
  • The reduction of both over-identification and under-identification of specific language, literacy, and numeracy problems of children who are members of at-risk populations;
  • The development of learning modules and intervention programs targeting language, literacy, and numeracy;
  • Diagnosis and intervention capacity building among teachers, speech-language pathologists, and early educators; and
  • Building capacity for learning how to score and interpret children's performance on TELL for informed program development.

TELL Update:

The TELL is now available with Nelson Education. www.nelson.com/assessment

Evaluating the Trustworthiness of Tests of Language, Phonological Awareness, and Reading

Tests are used in educational settings for a variety of purposes. Although there has been some attempt to examine the reliability and accuracy of testing instruments, these examinations have addressed tests within a single domain, that is, reading or language, and most reviews have been published in journals infrequently read by practitioners. It is important for researchers and practitioners to have an understanding of the utility and trustworthiness of tests not only within a single domain but across domains because a large proportion (50% - 73%) of children exhibiting reading difficulties also have impairments in language abilities. Reading and language tests are used extensively in educational settings. Given their widespread use, it is important for researchers and practitioners to consider the trustworthiness of assessment instruments used for screening, diagnosis, progress monitoring, outcome evaluation, and research purposes. In our Language, Phonological Awareness, and Reading Test Directory we provide a framework for evaluating test trustworthiness of language and literacy tests, and present results of a systematic and critical examination of the most widely used tests in language, phonological awareness, and reading.

Alphabet Knowledge Research

Knowledge of the Alphabet is fundamental to early language and literacy development. A comprehensive search of the research literature was undertaken on every aspect of alphabet knowledge, factors, and features. These included the identification of:

  • Most common sound the English alphabet letters represent
  • Instances of letter name and sound match
  • Consonant blends to be avoided except for the letter Q which is always followed by the letter u.
  • Easiest font for children to read
  • Importance of repetition for memory development
  • The importance of letter, word, and corresponding strong illustration
  • The need for a predictable and meaningful format
  • Importance of having children label illustrations
  • Development of mental graphic representations of alphabet letters through the use of common and beautiful complementary illustrative pictures and corresponding alphabet letter and word.
  • Importance to teach alphabet knowledge, specifically, letter name, letter-sound correspondence, visual cues (including corresponding illustration), and oral vocabulary.
  • Importance of focusing on alphabet letters in the beginning position
  • Importance of a high visual salience for each alphabet letter
  • Use of the dominant sound for each letter
  • In English, the majority of ABC books are similar to ours but ours promotes focused attention on actual print whereas while others present the alphabet letter of interest followed by a word, there may also be multiple words and objects, and sentences starting with the same letter.

These are just a sample of the points we researched – in conclusion, effective design, position of alphabet letter and illustration were examined as well as what research reports on the most desirable and evidence-based characteristics. This work is incorporated into the Test of Early Language and Literacy (TELL) as well as our forthcoming book, Alphabet Stage.