The Comparative Effects of Traditional, Vocabulary, and Grammar Instruction on the Reading Comprehension and Fluency of High School English Language Learners

  • Author / Creator
    Lee, Kent K.
  • To meet the academic demands of high school content courses such as science, English language learners (ELL) require more exposure to academic language than they currently receive (Wong Fillmore, 2014). Although vocabulary is a key source of difficulty for students’ comprehension of science texts (e.g., Coxhead, Stevens, Tinkle, 2010), academic discourse also contains complex structures such as long noun phrases (Biber & Gray, 2011) that are problematic for ELLs to understand (Abedi, 2006). In Bernhardt’s (2005, 2011) compensatory model of second language (L2) reading, grammatical knowledge plays an important role due to its strong relationship with L2 passage level reading comprehension (Jeon & Yamashita, 2014). Based on Anderson’s (1993, 2007) skill acquisition theory and findings from pedagogical research grounded in Systemic Functional Linguistics (e.g., Fang & Schleppegrell, 2010), instruction and practice in unpacking meaning from complex noun phrases should help improve ELLs’ academic reading comprehension and fluency; however, the effect of this type of instruction on high school ELLs remains to be investigated through a classroom-based experiment. To fill this gap, I conducted a randomized pre- post-test experiment with 81 high school ELLs. Three groups were provided with 15 hours of instruction. Each group read identical grade 10-level science passages followed by different activities: group one answered comprehension questions; group two studied Academic Word List (Coxhead, 2000) vocabulary that appeared in the passages; group three analyzed the meaning of complex noun phrases from the passages. MANOVA was used on pre-post reading comprehension and fluency gain scores to examine the comparative effects of the three interventions. Participants’ comments from a post-intervention questionnaire and researcher field notes were thematically analyzed to augment the quantitative findings. Results provide evidence to support linguistic instruction beyond vocabulary.

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  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
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