Program improves reading skills for elementary students in five states

A statue of a boy reading a book

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Fourth and fifth graders at low-income schools in five states are improving their reading comprehension through a project led by Kay Wijekumar, a professor of teaching, learning and culture at Texas A&M University, who recently received a $3.5 million grant to support her efforts from the U.S. Department of Education.

Wijekumar’s project, known as the Intelligent Tutoring System for the Structure Strategy, started in 2001 at Penn State University and has improved reading comprehension levels for more than 15,000 students in Pennsylvania, Michigan, California, New Mexico and Texas.

The project employs software to teach students five text structures – comparison, problem and solution, cause and effect, sequence, and description – and speeds up their ability to understand the text.

Students are asked to summarize their work using the text structures, a process that encourages higher-level thinking than do typical exercises. Under the guidance of highly trained teachers, the software teaches the strategies using individualized-adaptive methods for 30 minutes twice a week.

“Computers are only helpful to the extent that they can make us strategic thinkers and problem solvers,” Wijekumar said.

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