BVU Education Department Receives Prestigious Grant from National Institutes of Health

Buena Vista University was awarded a research grant in the amount of $329,633 to study reading comprehension in middle schoolers.

Buena Vista University was awarded a research grant in the amount of $329,633 in support of a project titled Knowledge Accessibility and Availability in Forming Knowledge-to-Text Inferences Among Middle Grade Readers.

This three-year, Academic Research Enhancement Awards (AREA) grant on behalf of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) is the first of its kind in regard to topic and size awarded to BVU. Principal investigator on the project, Dr. Amy Barth, BVU assistant professor of education and literacy education, will focus the project’s research on serving the literacy needs of middle school students. The project’s research will build year after year, informing Barth and BVU student researchers on best practices for middle school teachers and students. The Storm Lake Community School District and the Cherokee Community School District will partner with BVU to provide opportunities for BVU students to work with middle school students who are at-risk for reading difficulties and disabilities.

Barth says, “This research project is important because reading is a major determinant of college and career readiness and basic health literacy.” The project addresses the role of inference-making, which relates to Barth and her colleagues’ research stating that inference-making is the strongest predictor of reading comprehension among adolescent readers. When readers do not form inferences that accurately or efficiently combine knowledge from text with their understanding of the topic, comprehension is at risk.

To date, few studies have examined the role knowledge plays when forming inferences among adolescents. To extend this limited body of research, this project will conduct experimental studies that examine how knowledge influences inference-making and methods for improving the accuracy and rate in which inferences are made. The project will also build an applied research laboratory experience for students in the School of Education so that they graduate with the knowledge and skills needed to deliver state-of-the-art reading instruction for struggling readers in the middle grades.

NICHD supports research on reading and the development of reading interventions for adolescent struggling readers because a sizeable number of adolescents with learning difficulties and learning disabilities are not responding to the current state-of-the art instructional practices. Barth says that there is a significant need to identify students who are struggling to read early and to develop interventions that effectively remediate their reading difficulties. Her project will examine risk factors among rural students. She says, “This is important for Iowa because a significant number of students in rural areas do not read at proficient levels.” The work has the potential to inform screening approaches, as well as the design of intensive interventions and services for adolescents who show minimal response to instruction.

Barth is excited to work with Storm Lake and Cherokee Community School Districts, and she says that the teachers are highly engaged in the research process, supportive of student researchers, and interested in informing their own instructional practices. Barth added that given the importance of middle school literacy for college-level success and beyond, learning how to help middle grade readers make inferences more accurately when reading is of critical importance.

According to Dr. Ann Monroe-Baillargeon, dean of BVU’s School of Education and professor of education, this project will also significantly enhance undergraduate research opportunities for education students at BVU. “This increases our opportunities for students to engage in high-level cognitive thinking tasks,” she says. “Thinking innovatively about instruction in classrooms and taking that data to inform practice is a step beyond theory and application. It’s about thinking creatively and becoming innovative.” Because of these experiences, Barth’s students will graduate from the BVU Teacher Education program with skills that are highly sought after by school districts across the state of Iowa.   

Please note: Research reported in this publication was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute Of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R15HD092922. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.