“SERP field sites are structured as a set of three closely connected, and partially overlapping, groups: The Core Group, The Design Team, and the Research Team.”
Current Research Collaborations
How do we address the urgent problem of students entering high school unable to comprehend their textbooks?
Researchers at Harvard University and SERP, in collaboration with the Boston Public Schools, are developing a program named Word Generation for building the academic language middle school students need to comprehend subject area texts, develop and support arguments, and write persuasive essays. The program is now undergoing a controlled field study in three sites across the country.
Timeline: 2006 to present
Catherine Snow, Harvard University
Claire White, SERP
Additional Contributors, Collabtorators and Advisors
Word Generation is a program for building the academic language middle school students need to comprehend subject area texts, develop and support arguments, and write persuasive essays. The program is meant to be implemented grade- or school-wide, as it depends on the participation of teachers in different content areas to display discipline-specific contexts for use of the target words. Each week, launch texts introduce controversial topics of high interest to adolescents, while displaying academic language use. Activities highlight authentic uses of the target words by subject matter, and link to standards and skills expected of students within the various content areas. The introductory paragraphs and supplementary activities introduce students to domains of world knowledge that are important for reading popular media with comprehension, and to which they have little access in the standard curriculum.
Word Generation was developed in response to the Boston Public Schools' desire to address the urgent problem of students entering high school unable to comprehend their textbooks. A team of researchers and BPS practitioners collaborated over a five year period in the program's development and pilot testing. A focus group of practitioners familiar with young adolescents selected issues likely to be highly engaging to students. Teachers in different content areas vetted and modified the activities developed for language arts, math, science, and social studies classrooms. SERP created an innovative web presence to provide easy access to materials and video-taped professional development. The site is widely used, and the program has been downloaded thousands of times in states across the nation, and in many other countries.
Pilot data show positive impacts on vocabulary scores as well as on state standardized test scores for students receiving Word Generation as opposed to traditional instruction. Test results after 12 weeks of Word Generation participation showed improvement on the curriculum-based test that was equivalent to approximately two years of incidental vocabulary growth.
The Word Generation program is being tested in Baltimore City, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco public schools as part of an extensive experimental study conducted by Catherine Snow (Harvard) and David Francis (Houston) in collaboration with SERP. This research is being funded by the Institute of Education Sciences of the Department of Education.
Developers are refining and creating new materials for 6th – 8th graders to support more extensive treatment of topics that link to district science and social studies curricular emphases, and to support more extended writing. At the same time a team is developing a new curriculum for 4th – 5th graders. The work is being funded by the U.S. Department of Education as part of its Reading for Understanding initiative.
Additional information is available on the Word Generation website