KU collaborative project that will evaluate method to help children’s literacy skills awarded $3.5 million

LAWRENCE – A national team that includes researchers from the University of Kansas has launched a five-year, $3.5 million project to study the efficacy of a language and comprehension program for elementary-age children.

The project aims to evaluate a language-facilitating intervention developed through several years of federally funded research. It will follow children's language and reading comprehension skills from first through third grades to examine the impact of the intervention, which will be offered to small groups of children in first grade most vulnerable for future problems with reading comprehension. Their reading comprehension skills will be compared to those of vulnerable children who do not receive the small group intervention.

Funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, the project is a collaboration between Tiffany Hogan at Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions and Shayne Piasta of Ohio State University, along with co-investigators Mindy Bridges at the KU Medical Center and Kandace Fleming from the KU Life Span Institute. 

Bridges, assistant professor of hearing and speech, said the project features explicit and systematic teaching of language and comprehension skills, which are often missing in the curriculum of U.S. schools.

“Although we know that many reading disabilities are language-based, there continues to be an emphasis on code-related skills in the early childhood and the primary grades, with a lack of systematic, explicit instruction related to language skills such as vocabulary, text structure knowledge, and inferencing,” Bridges said. 

The intervention, developed by the Language and Reading Research Consortium is called “Let’s Know 2!” and is offered to children who need extra support in developing literacy skills.

“This research is significant because of the importance of early literacy to later language and reading comprehension skills as well as school success,” said Fleming, who is the statistician for the project.

Fleming said the variation in the assigned groups along with the consideration for the evaluated models makes the project stands out.

“Methodologically, the proposed analyses are interesting to me because the children who are randomly assigned to receive intervention are clustered in treatment groups, while the business-as-usual children will not be nested in groups,” Fleming said. “Thus, the models we evaluate have to account for these different sources of variance which are possible for the groups.”