Skip to main content
Skip to main content


Connor, C. M., Dombek, J., Crowe, E. C., Spencer, M., Tighe, E. L., Coffinger, S., . . . Petscher, Y. (2017). Acquiring science and social studies knowledge in kindergarten through fourth grade: Conceptualization, design, implementation, and efficacy testing of content-area literacy instruction (CALI). Journal of Educational Psychology, 109(3), 301-320. doi:10.1037/edu0000128 NIHMSID: NIHMS818550

With national focus on reading and math achievement, science and social studies have received less instructional time. Yet, accumulating evidence suggests that content knowledge is an important predictor of proficient reading. Starting with a design study, we developed content-area literacy instruction (CALI) as an individualized (or personalized) instructional program for kindergarteners through 4th graders to build science and social studies knowledge. We developed CALI to be implemented in general education classrooms, over multiple iterations (n 230 students), using principles of design-based implementation research. The aims were to develop CALI as a usable and feasible instructional program that would, potentially, improve science and social studies knowledge, and could be implemented during the literacy block without negatively affecting students’ reading gains (i.e., no opportunity cost). We then evaluated the efficacy of CALI in a randomized controlled field trial with 418 students in kindergarten through 4 th grade. Results reveal that CALI demonstrates promise as a usable and feasible instructional individualized general education program, and is efficacious in improving social studies (d 2.2) and science (d 2.1) knowledge, with some evidence of improving oral and reading comprehension skills (d .125).

Johnson, L., Terry, N. P., Connor, C. M., & Thomas-Tate, S. (2017). The effects of dialect awareness instruction on nonmainstream American English speakers. Reading and Writing. doi: 10.1007/s11145-017- 9764-y

The achievement gaps between poor and more affluent students are persistent and chronic, as many students living in poverty are also members of minorities where dialects such as African American English and Southern Vernacular English are often spoken. Non-mainstream dialect use is associated with weaker literacy achievement. The principal aims of the two experiments described in this paper were to examine whether second through fourth graders, who use home English in contexts where more formal school English is expected, can be taught to dialect shift between home and school English depending on context; and whether this leads to stronger writing and literacy outcomes. The results of two randomized controlled trials with students within classrooms randomly assigned to DAWS (Dialect Awareness, a program to explicitly teach dialect shifting), editing instruction, or a business as usual group revealed (1) that DAWS was more effective in promoting dialect shifting than was instruction that did not explicitly contrast home and school English; and (2) that students in both studies who participated in DAWS were significantly more likely to use school English in contexts where it was expected on proximal and distal outcomes including narrative writing, morphosyntactic awareness, and reading comprehension. Implications for theory and practice are discussed.

Kaschak, M. P., Connor, C. M., & Dombek, J. L. (2017). Enacted Reading Comprehension: Using bodily movement to aid the comprehension of abstract text content. PLoS One, 12, e0169711.

We report a design study that assessed the feasibility of Enacted Reading Comprehension (ERC), an intervention designed to teach 3 rd and 4 th grade students (n = 40 and 25, respectively) to use gestures to understand an increasingly abstract set of texts. Students were taught to use gestures to understand the idea of “opposing forces” in a concrete setting–the forces at play as tectonic plates move past each other–and then taught to use the gestures to understand opposing forces in more abstract situations. For example, students were taught to use gestures to understand the opposing sides of an argument, and to understand the internal conflicts that arise as individuals are faced with moral dilemmas. The results of our design study suggest that ERC has promise as a method for introducing students to the idea of using gesture to understand text content, and to employ this strategy in a range of reading contexts.

Connor, C. M. (2016). A lattice model of the development of reading comprehension. Child Development Perspectives, 10(4), 269-274. doi: 10.1111/cdep.12200 PMCID: PMC5110216

In this paper, evidence is presented for a developmental model of how children learn to comprehend what they read, which builds on current models of reading comprehension and integrates findings from instructional research and evidence- based models of early and middle childhood development. Essentially, the lattice model holds that children’s developing reading comprehension is a function of the interacting, reciprocal, and bootstrapping effects of developing text-specific, linguistic, and social-cognitive processes, which interact with instruction as child- characteristic-by- instruction (CXI) interaction effects. The processes are developing over time and in the context of classroom, home, community, and other sources of influence to impact children’s development of proficient reading comprehension. Models of reading comprehension are described, as are text- specific, linguistic, and social cognitive processes implicated in learning to read. The role of instruction and CXI interactions in the context of the lattice model are also described. Finally, implications for instruction and research are discussed.

Connor, C. M., Day, S. L., Phillips, B., Sparapani, N., Ingebrand, S. W., McLean, L., Kaschak, M. P. (2016). Reciprocal effects of self-regulation, semantic knowledge, and reading comprehension in early elementary school. Child Development, 87(6), 1813-1824. doi:10.1111/cdev.12570 PMCID: PMC5138137

Many assume that cognitive and linguistic processes, such as semantic knowledge (SK) and self-regulation (SR) subserve learned skills like reading. However, complex models of interacting and bootstrapping effects of SK, SR, instruction, and reading hypothesize reciprocal effects. Testing this “lattice” model with children (n = 852) followed from 1 st –2 nd grade (5.9–10.4 years-of- age), revealed reciprocal effects for reading and SR, and reading and SK, but not SR and SK. More effective literacy instruction reduced reading stability over time. Findings elucidate the synergistic and reciprocal effects of learning to read on other important linguistic, self-regulatory, and cognitive processes, the value of using complex models of development to inform intervention design, and how learned skills may influence development during middle childhood.

Connor, C. M., Dombek, J., Crowe, E. C., Spencer, M., Tighe, E. L., Coffinger, S., Zargar, E., Wood, T., and Petscher, Y. (2016). Acquiring Science and Social Studies Knowledge in Kindergarten through Fourth Grade: Conceptualization, Design, Implementation, and Efficacy Testing of Content-Area Literacy Instruction (CALI). Journal of Educational Psychology. Online first publication. doi: 10.1037/edu0000128

Connor, C. M., and McCardle, P. (Eds.). (2016). Reading Intervention: Research to Practice to Research. NY: Brookes Publishing.

Kim, Y.-S. G., & Phillips, B. (2016). 5 minutes a day: An exploratory study of improving comprehension monitoring for prekindergartners from low income families. Topics in Language Disorder, 36, 356-367.

Comprehension monitoring has received substantial attention as a reading comprehension strategy. However, comprehension monitoring is not limited to the reading context, but applies to the oral context for children’s listening comprehension, which is a critical foundation for reading comprehension. Therefore, a systematic and explicit instructional routine for comprehension monitoring in oral language contexts was developed for prekindergartners from low-income families. Instruction was provided in small groups for approximately 5 min a day for 4 days a week for 8 weeks. Results showed that children who received comprehension monitoring instruction were better at identifying inconsistencies in short stories than those who received typical instruction with a medium effect size (d = .57). These results suggest comprehension monitoring is malleable and can be taught in the oral language context to prereaders from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Furthermore, the instructional routine reported in this study is flexible for individual, small group, or whole class settings, and likely can be easily delivered by educators such as teachers and paraeducators.

Phillips, B. M., Tabulda, G., Burris, P. W., Jangra, S., Sedgwick, T. K, & Chen, S. (2016). A Syntax and Theory of Mind Intervention for High-Need Prekindergarten Students: Results From a Randomized Trial. Manuscript in press Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research.2015

Connor, C. M., Radach, R., Vorstius, C., Day, S. L., McLean, L., and Morrison, F. J. (2015). Individual Differences in Fifth Graders' Literacy and Academic Language Predict Comprehension Monitoring Development: An Eye-Movement Study. Scientific Studies of Reading, 19(2), 114–134. doi: 10.1080/10888438.2014.943905

Lonigan, C. J. (2015). Early Literacy. In R. M. Lerner, Lynn S. Liben, and U. Müeller (Eds.), Handbook of Child Psychology and Developmental Science. Volume 2: Cognitive Processes (pp. 763–805). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley and Sons. Spencer, M., Kaschak, M. P., Jones, J. L., & Lonigan, C. J. (2015). Statistical learning is related to early literacy-related skills. Reading and Writing, 28, 467-490.

It has been demonstrated that statistical learning, or the ability to use statistical information to learn the structure of one’s environment, plays a role in young children’s acquisition of linguistic knowledge. Although most research on statistical learning has focused on language acquisition processes, such as the segmentation of words from fluent speech and the learning of syntactic structure, some recent studies have explored the extent to which individual differences in statistical learning are related to literacy-relevant knowledge and skills. The present study extends on this literature by investigating the relations between two measures of statistical learning and multiple measures of skills that are critical to the development of literacy—oral language, vocabulary knowledge, and phonological processing—within a single model. Our sample included a total of 553 typically developing children from prekindergarten through second grade. Structural equation modeling revealed that statistical learning accounted for a unique portion of the variance in these literacy-related skills. Practical implications for instruction and assessment are discussed.

Apel, K., & Diehm, E. (2014). Morphological awareness intervention with kindergarteners and first and second grade students from low SES homes: A small efficacy study. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 47, 65-75. DOI: 10.1177/0022219413509964

This 8 week intervention was designed to increase awareness of affixes and the relations between base words and their inflected and derived forms for kindergarteners, first, and second grade students from low socioeconomic homes. Students in the intervention group were provided instruction four times a week, 25 minutes a day; students in the control group received “business as usual.” Students receiving the intervention showed statistically significant gains in morphological awareness with large effect sizes on most measures. All students who received the intervention demonstrated nonsignificant gains in literacy abilities with null to small effect sizes. Students with low morphological awareness abilities at the onset of the study demonstrated similar gains from the intervention as their peers with typical morphological awareness abilities. Our results suggest that explicit morphological awareness instruction may produce gains of practical importance to young elementary students at-risk for future literacy difficulties.

Barnes, A., Kim, Y-S., & Phillips, B. M. (2014). The relations of proper character introduction to narrative quality and listening comprehension for young children from high poverty schools. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 27, 1189-1205.doi: 10.1007/s11145-013- 9481-0

The present study explored the types and frequency of literate language features in children’s narratives, and the relation of literate language and proper character introduction to children’s oral language skills in a sample of 184 prekindergarten, kindergarten, and first grade students from high-poverty schools. Using hierarchical regression, the results showed that literate language features were not predictive of listening comprehension or narrative quality outcomes. In contrast, children’s skill in properly introducing characters significantly accounted for variance in all outcome measures (narrative comprehension, narrative quality, and listening comprehension) above and beyond the control variables (age, total number of words, and mean length of utterance) and literate language features (adverbs, conjunctions, mental and linguistic verbs, and elaborated noun phrases). These results indicate that the child’s retell and language comprehension skills may develop concurrently with proper character introduction.

Connor, C. M., Ingebrand, S., and Dombek, J. (2014). The Reading Side. In B. Miller, P. McCardle and R. Long (Eds.), Teaching Reading and Writing: Improving Instruction and Student Achievement (pp. 7–20). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Connor, C. M., Phillips, B. M., Kaschack, M. Apel, K., Kim, Y-S., Al Otaiba, S., Crowe, E. C., Thomas-Tate, S., Cooper-Johnson, L., & Lonigan, C. J. (2014). Comprehension tools for teachers: Reading for Understanding from pre-kindergarten through fourth grade. Educational Psychology Review. 26 (3), 379-401. Doi: 10.1007/s1064801492671.

This paper describes the theoretical framework, as well as the development and testing of the intervention, Comprehension Tools for Teachers (CTT), which is composed of eight component interventions targeting malleable language and reading comprehension skills that emerging research indicates contribute to proficient reading for understanding for pre-kindergarteners through fourth graders. Component interventions target processes considered largely automatic as well as more reflective processes, with interacting and reciprocal effects. Specifically, we present component interventions targeting cognitive, linguistic, and text-specific processes, including morphological awareness, syntax, mental- state verbs, comprehension monitoring, narrative and expository text structure, enacted comprehension, academic knowledge, and reading to learn from informational text. Our aim was to develop a tool set composed of intensive meaningful individualized small group interventions. We improved feasibility in regular classrooms through the use of design-based iterative research methods including careful lesson planning, targeted scripting, pre- and post-intervention proximal assessments, and technology. In addition to the overall framework, we discuss seven of the component interventions and general results of design and efficacy studies.

Kim, Y.-S & Phillips, B. M. (2014). Cognitive correlates of listening comprehension. Reading Research Quarterly, 49, 269-281. doi: 10.1002/rrq.74.

In an effort to understand cognitive foundations of oral language comprehension (i.e., listening comprehension), we examined how inhibitory control, theory of mind, and comprehension monitoring are uniquely related to listening comprehension over and above vocabulary and age. A total of 156 children in kindergarten and first grade from high-poverty schools participated in the study. Using structural equation modeling, results showed that all three cognitive skills (inhibitory control, theory of mind, and comprehension monitoring) were positively related to listening comprehension after accounting for vocabulary and age. In addition, inhibitory control had a direct relation to listening comprehension, not indirectly via theory of mind. Results are discussed in light of cognitive component skills for listening comprehension.

Phillips, B. M. (2014). Promotion of Syntactical Development and Oral Comprehension: Development and Initial Evaluation of a Small-Group Intervention. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 30, 63–77.

Vorstius, C., Radach, R., and Lonigan, C. J. (2014). Eye Movements in Developing Readers: A Comparison of Silent and Oral Sentence Reading. Visual Cognition, 22, 458–485.

Apel, K., Brimo, D., Diehm, E., & Apel, L. (2013). Morphological awareness intervention with kindergarteners and first and second grade students from low SES homes: A feasibility study. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 44, 161-173. DOI: 10.1044/0161-1461(2012/12- 0042)

We investigated the effect of a morphological awareness intervention on morphological awareness and literacy skills with students from low socioeconomic homes. We conducted a 9 week intervention to increase awareness of affixes and the relations between base words and their inflected and derived forms for kindergarten, first, and second grade students. The students were provided instruction four times a week, in groups of four to five students, for 25 minutes a day. Results showed medium to very large clinically- significant gains in morphological awareness and literacy abilities (ds = 0.29 to 2.96) across all participants. The results of our feasibility study suggest that morphological awareness instruction that requires students to analyze, recognize, orally produce, and determine spelling patterns of multi-morphemic words leads to therapeutic effects within a population of young students at-risk for future reading difficulties. Initial clinical implications, limitations of the study, and research suggestions are discussed.

Apel, K. and Diehm, E. (2013). Morphological Awareness Intervention with Kindergarteners and First and Second Grade Students from Low SES Homes: A Small Efficacy Study. Journal of Learning Disabilities 47(1), 65–75.

Apel, K., Diehm, E., & Apel, L. (2013). Using multiple measures of morphological awareness to assess its relation to reading. Topics in Language Disorders, 33, 42- 56. Doi: 10.1097/TLD.Ob013e318280f57b

We investigated whether 156 kindergarten, first, and second grade students from low socioeconomic homes would perform differently by grade on four tasks we created to assess different aspects of morphological awareness. We also sought to determine whether the different tasks uniquely predicted reading abilities above phonological awareness at each of the three grade levels. We found that two tasks, one that required students to consider the meaning relations between morphologically-related words, and one that required students to identify written affixes within a timed task, differentiated students across grades. Further, although different tasks predicted real word and pseudoword reading and reading comprehension at different grade levels, the former task, with its focus on meaning relations, most frequently related to and predicted the students’ reading skills across the three grades. Our results provide guidance about tasks that are suitable for young children from high poverty homes when assessing their morphological awareness abilities.

Connor, C. M. (2013). Intervening to Support Reading Comprehension Development With Diverse Learners. In Brett Miller & Laurie E. Cutting (Eds.), Unraveling the Behavioral, Neurobiological and Genetic Components of Reading Comprehension: The Dyslexia Foundation and NICHD (pp. 222–232). Baltimore: Brookes.

Connor, C. M., Goldman, S.R. and Fishman, B. (2013). Reading and Writing Technology. In M. Spector, D. Merrill and M. J. Bishop (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology: Association for Educational Communications and Technology.

Kim, Y-S., Apel, K., Al Otaiba, S. (2013). The relation of linguistic awareness and vocabulary to word reading and spelling for first grade students participating in Response to Intervention. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in School, (44), 337-347.

Thomas-Tate, S., Connor, C., & Johnson, L. (2013). Design experiments: developing and testing an intervention for elementary school-age students who use non- mainstream American English dialects. Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness (Referred & Published Conference Proceedings).

Vorstius, C., Radach, R., Mayer, M. B., and Lonigan, C. J. (2013). Monitoring Local Comprehension Monitoring in Sentence Reading. School Psychology Review, 42, 191–206.

Tang, S., Reilly, R. G., and Vorstius, C. (2012). Eyemap: A Software System for Visualizing and Analyzing Eye Movement Data in Reading. Behavior Research Methods, 44, 420–438.

Al Otaiba, S., Connor, C.M., & Crowe, #. (in press). Promise and feasibility of teaching expository text structure: A primary grade pilot study. Manuscript accepted for publication in Reading and Writing.

Connor, C. M., and Al Otaiba, S. (in press). Primary Grade Reading Instruction in the United States. In A. Pollatsek & R. Treiman (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Reading.

Johnson, Lakeisha, Terry, N.P., Connor, C.M., & Thomas-Tate, S. (in press). The effects of dialect awareness instruction on nonmainstream American English speakers. Reading and Writing.

Tighe, E. L., Wagner, R. K., and Schatschneider, C. (in press). Multiple Group Causal Indicator Models of Reading Comprehension. Reading and Writing.

Connor, C. M., Day, S. L., Zargar, E., Wood, T. S., Taylor, K. S., Jones, M. R., & Hwang, J. K. (in review). Building word knowledge, learning strategies, and metacognition with the Word Knowledge e-Book. Computers & Education. 

Many children fail to comprehend what they read because they do not monitor their understanding, which requires making accurate judgements of what they know and then employing repair strategies when comprehension fails. Translating basic eye movement research into practice, we developed the Word Knowledge e-Book (WKe-Book) to improve children’s calibration of their word knowledge. A metacognitive skill, calibration is the ability to accurately judge whether one knows something or not. We also aimed to improve their word knowledge when confronted with unknown words by teaching them when and how to use word learning strategies. Strategy use in the service of word learning calls on metacognitive processes and is an important part of comprehension repair. The WKe-Book, which is read on a tablet computer, is a choose-your- own adventure book where choices require choosing between two rare words (e.g., intrepid and vacillate). Depending on the word chosen, the story follows a different plot. There are also embedded comprehension questions. We tested whether reading the WKe-Book would improve word knowledge, strategy use, and word knowledge calibration in a randomized controlled trial with twenty- five 3 rd through 5 th grade classrooms randomly assigned to read the WKe-Book immediately or later (delayed treatment). Then, within classrooms, students (n = 603) were randomly assigned to either participate in a 15 minute once weekly book club or to just read the WKe-Book with no book club. Results revealed a significant effect on word knowledge, word knowledge calibration, and strategy use, which predicted student performance on standardized reading comprehension and vocabulary measures. These findings suggest that word knowledge calibration, strategy use, and word learning skills may support stronger vocabulary and reading for understanding, that they are malleable, and that the affordances of technology appear to support metacognitive learning, particularly when accompanied by teacher support.