A Contextualized Intervention for Community College Developmental Reading and Writing Students
In recent years, discussion has arisen among educational researchers and practitioners on how best to teach academically underprepared community college students the basic skills they need to be able to learn from a college curriculum. Research conducted by the Community College Research Center has found that many creative approaches are used in developmental education, but there exists little quantitative evidence on their effectiveness. The study summarized here begins to fill this research gap.With funding from the U.S. Department of Education‘s Institute of Education Sciences, an intervention called the Content Comprehension Strategy Intervention (CCSI) was developed and tested at three community colleges. CCRC researchers drafted and pilot-tested the intervention in collaboration with science and developmental education faculty and senior administrators at Bronx Community College. The intervention was further tested and revised at Los Angeles Pierce College and Norwalk Community College. This Brief describes the intervention and presents data suggesting that it is a promising strategy for community college students who need to improve their reading and writing skills. The CCSI provides students with practice in critical reading and writing skills—written summarization, question formulation, defining and using vocabulary, persuasive writing, and reading test preparation—with varying levels of support to assist students in these tasks. It consists of 10 separate units, each taking 1—2 hours to complete. The course instructor assigns one unit per week during one college semester; students complete the work on their own time. Two sets of intervention units were developed. One set was contextualized in biology (referred to below as “science“), employing reading passages on topics in anatomy and physiology. The other set was not contextualized; it used a variety of unrelated, high-interest themes drawn from developmental education textbooks (referred to below as “generic“). Using a treatment group (in which students were randomly assigned to either the science or generic version of the intervention) and a business-as usual comparison group, the researchers analyzed data on 246 students enrolled in upper-level developmental reading and English course sections who took pre- and post-tests. The intervention, whether contextualized in science or using generic developmental education text, resulted in statistically significant gain on several variables, most notably the proportion of main ideas from a source text included in a student-written summary. After completing the CCSI, the contextualized science group identified 52 percent of the main ideas, up from 41 percent, and the generic group identified 48 percent of the main ideas, up from 40 percent. The business-as-usual comparison group did not improve on this measure. It is encouraging to note that the group practicing basic skills using science text also improved in the ability to present accurate information in a summary. Further research will be necessary to determine whether the benefits of the CCSI are generalizable and long-lasting.
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