Professor finds Web-based tutoring system improves students' reading

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Bonnie Meyer, a professor of educational psychology in the Penn State College of Education, recently published a journal article that reported how a Web-based tutoring system helped improve reading comprehension among fourth- and fifth-grade students.

The tutoring system, Intelligent Tutoring System for the Structure Strategy (ITSS), is an online computer program that provides modeling of a reading strategy, practice lessons and individualized feedback.

According to Meyer, strong skills in understanding expository texts are important for success in school and effectively coping with everyday life across the life span.

“Fourth- and fifth-grade students are expected to read their textbooks and other informational texts,” said Meyer. “Learning about how texts are organized and using text structures strategically can improve reading comprehension and learning.”

“For example, students learn that scientific articles often start with a problem and its cause,” said Meyer. “The next part of the text often provides a solution that responds to the problem and eliminates or reduces the cause.”

Positive results from randomized experiments involving many classrooms and schools—which she said are rare in research efforts like this one — are important to both students and teachers, according to Meyer.

“Structure strategy instruction is important to students because it provides an effective way to learn information needed in school across the grades and throughout life,” said Meyer. “ITSS is important to teachers because they can use it to teach about text structure that is individualized for each child.”

“I collaborated with a teacher who took the structure strategy lessons and adapted them to her classrooms and extended them to reading and writing across the content areas in very effective ways at the middle school level,” said Meyer.

Meyer added that reading from expository text is also emphasized in the newly adopted Common Core State Standards in Pennsylvania.

Meyer said she started this work because of her fascination with the big relationships among ideas in expository and persuasive texts and how that affects understanding and remembering ideas.

“I have studied how the logical structure of a text affects people’s understanding of it and their ability to remember and use the information in everyday decisions,” said Meyer.

According to Meyer, good readers are able to classify the text structure used by the authors, focus on the logical structure in the text, and take advantage of text structure to identify or construct main ideas, organize their memory and effectively produce coherent representations of the text.

“Only about half of ninth-grade students can do this,” said Meyer. “Thus, I was motivated to help these students, so my colleagues and I developed the structure strategy instruction.” 

Meyer added that it has taken many years to get the attention of educators and have text structure strategy the research adopted into practice.

“The delivery of the instruction via an intelligent tutor and research support by the Institute of Education Sciences in the last 11 years have helped to let more educators know about the benefits learning the structure strategy in schools,” said Meyer.

The article, titled “High-Fidelity Implementation of Web-Based Intelligent Tutoring System Improves Fourth and Fifth Graders’ Content Area Reading Comprehension,” was written with primary author Kay Wijekumar, Penn State Beaver associate professor of information sciences and technology who created the web-based tutoring system and also ran the large scale randomized controlled trials as principal investigator and director, and Pui-Wa Lei, associate professor of education, and was published in the journal “Computers & Education.”

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Last Updated October 01, 2013