February 8, 2022
Many bilingual children in the U.S. are at risk of academic difficulties due to a need to support their English reading skills. Erin Walker joined a multi-disciplinary team to examine a reading intervention that prompts students to move images on an iPad that align with story text to build their understanding of multi chapter stories.
Main takeaways from this research are:
- There is a critical urgency for new, innovative reading interventions for DLL children in elementary school.
- Future research should aim to match text difficulty with children's skills when introducing new comprehension strategies to maximize benefit from the EMBRACE intervention.
In the United States, many bilingual children are at risk of academic difficulties due to risk factors such as an increased likelihood of growing up in poverty, education that is not aligned to their needs, and living in a sociocultural context that does not value their cultural identity and heritage. Among the most commonly discussed areas of academic need for this population is how to support their English reading skills.
Decades of research demonstrate that motor, language, and reading deficits often co-occur, yet the common co-occurrence of motor deficits is not often considered when thinking about language and reading disability. A cognitive theory that can reconcile this seemingly unlikely relationship is the simulation theory of reading comprehension based on embodied cognition. This theory proposes a role of the sensorimotor system in language and reading comprehension and allows for an additional prediction about the difficulty DLLs face when reading in a second language.
Recent research conducted by a multi-disciplinary team including University of Pittsburgh School of Computing and Information (SCI) Associate Professor, Erin Walker, examined an embodied reading intervention specifically targeting comprehension called "Enhanced Moved by Reading to Accelerate Comprehension in English" (EMBRACE) to test whether it would be effective for DLL children with identified difficulty with reading comprehension. Designed by Walker, the EMBRACE program prompts students to move images on an iPad to demonstrate understanding of multi chapter stories. The program then assesses students' vocabulary and syntactic knowledge, and provides them with tailored feedback. EMBRACE also adapts the texts the children receive based on their abilities.
Using this program, 56 participants in second to fifth grades with low language and reading skills were randomly assigned to one of two groups and studied. For this group of DLLs, the overall intervention effect was not statistically significant. However, DLLs with lower initial English reading abilities benefited more from the intervention than those with stronger reading skills. The intervention strategies were most effective with simpler stories, making the meaning of the texts more accessible to this population.
The EMBRACE intervention has promise for use with DLLs with low decoding and comprehension skills, particularly in early elementary grades. Future research should aim to match text difficulty with child skills when introducing new comprehension strategies to maximize benefit from the intervention.
Sanabria, A.A., Restrepo, M.A., Walker, E., & Glenburg, A. (2022). A reading comprehension intervention for dual language learners with weak language and reading skills. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research.