Research on the literacy and language development of Spanish-speaking English language learners

VIAS Subproject 4

Cognate-Based Vocabulary Instruction: Using Cognates to Promote the Vocabulary Development and Reading Comprehension of Native Spanish Speakers
Also known as EVoCA (Enhancing Vocabulary through Cognate Awareness)

This research project sought to compare the relative efficacy of two cognate-based interventions (a monolingual English intervention and a Spanish/English cross-linguistic intervention) on the development of language and literacy skills in students in the middle school grades.

The project had four primary goals:

  • To develop a cognate-based English vocabulary intervention program with two conditions, a monolingual (MEC) and a cross-linguistic curriculum (CLC) for Spanish-speaking middle school students, as well as study-specific assessments to measure the direct impact of the curriculum on the component skills focused upon in the intervention.
    The Words in Motion curriculum is posted on the VIAS website to serve as a resource for educators.

  • To compare the relative efficacy of the two conditions of the intervention to each other and to a no-treatment control condition on the development of English language (i.e., vocabulary, morphology, spelling, and reading comprehension skills) in native Spanish speakers in the middle school grades. Both conditions employ a balanced approach that draws equally upon meaning-making activities and structural analysis in an effort to promote both depth and breadth of vocabulary knowledge. However, one condition is crosslinguistic and draws explicit connections between English and Spanish at the lexical and morphemic levels, while the other is monolingual in English and does not draw explicit connections across languages.

  • To determine whether the outcomes of the two conditions vary as a function of the amount of exposure to Spanish at home and/or school, and/or students’ current levels of English and Spanish oral proficiency and literacy ability as measured by pre-tests.

  • To contribute to the research base on transfer, specifically the transfer from Spanish to English, of the component skills focused upon in the intervention.

In addition to site recruitment, Year 1 activities included reviewing existing academic vocabulary curriculum (e.g., Word Generation), selecting the curriculum target words (all Spanish-English cognates), and the standardized assessments to be used.

The development of the curriculum and the vocabulary assessments was the focus of Year 2. Working with four veteran teachers, project researchers developed the first three units of the Words in Motion curriculum and two academic vocabulary measures (English and Spanish). Two parallel versions of the curriculum were developed, the cross-linguistic (CLC) and the monolingual English (MEC). Recruitment efforts continued during Year 2 and a site for the pilot study was secured. During Year 3, having developed two additional units of the curriculum, all five units of the curriculum and the two vocabulary assessments were pilot-tested in an urban district with a large percentage of Spanish-speaking middle school students (n=350). Two trained graduate students (GAs) from the University of Connecticut delivered the two versions of the curriculum to twelve classrooms and nine additional classrooms served as control. Because the curriculum had a strong focus on morphology, we decided to develop two additional assessments, one of them measuring knowledge of Latin roots and the other knowledge of derivational suffixes, and were able to get preliminary data on them during piloting.

The full implementation of the intervention took place during Year 4, in which we conducted a quasi-experimental study in three middle schools to test the efficacy of the two versions of the curriculum. A fourth school with a two-way immersion bilingual program was recruited to develop and test a bilingual version of the curriculum and to investigate its long-term effects. The first half of the year was spent revising the curricular materials and assessments based on pilot study findings, developing the Spanish version of the curriculum, recruiting teachers and training them to deliver the intervention, and pre-testing all participating students. During the second half of the year, we implemented the two versions of the curriculum with 31 teachers and 492 students. Research assistants from the University of Connecticut provided coaching to the teachers throughout the whole intervention, assessed fidelity of implementation, assisted with data collection, and carried out cognitive labs with a subset of students as well as interviews and focus groups with teachers at the conclusion of the intervention. While data analysis and dissemination took place throughout the project, it was the main focus of the no-cost extension period. The PIs worked closely with the project methodologist, Betsy McCoach, to analyze the effects of the intervention on student and teacher outcomes and report on project findings at conferences and in publications. Data collection for the longitudinal case study was also finalized during this year.

The Words in Motion curriculum is posted on the VIAS website to serve as a resource for educators.

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Principal Investigators

Igone Arteagoitia
Center for Applied Linguistics

Elizabeth Howard
University of Connecticut

Research Team

Betsy McCoach
University of Connecticut

Jennifer Green
Western Washington University

Eileen González
University of Saint Joseph

Angela López-Velásquez
Southern Connecticut State University

Words in Motion Curriculum

Words in Motion is a cognate-based curriculum that introduces academic vocabulary in meaningful contexts and promotes strategies for academic vocabulary acquisition. The curriculum is posted on the VIAS website to serve as a resource for educators.

View the curriculum.