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Technology and Reading Performance in the Middle-School Grades: A Meta-Analysis with Recommendations for Policy and Practice

Technology and Reading Performance in the Middle-School Grades: A Meta-Analysis with Recommendations for Policy and Practice
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   Journal of Literacy Research , 40:6–58, 2008Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 1086-296X print/1554-8430 onlineDOI: 10.1080/10862960802070483 Technology and Reading Performance inthe Middle-School Grades:A Meta-Analysis withRecommendations for Policyand Practice 1 Juan Moran University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign Richard E. Ferdig University of Florida P. David Pearson University of California Berkeley James Wardrop  Emeritus, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign Robert L. Blomeyer, Jr.  Blomeyer & Clemente Consulting Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Richard E. Ferdig, Associate Professor, Universityof Florida, 2403 Norman Hall, Gainesville, FL 32611. E-mail: 1 This work was srcinally produced in whole or in part by the North Central RegionalEducational Laboratory (NCREL) with funds from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), U.S.Department of Education, under contract number ED-01-CO-0011. The content does not necessarilyreflect the position or policy of IES or the Department of Education, nor does mention or visualrepresentation of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by thefederal government. 6  TECHNOLOGY AND READING PERFORMANCE  7 The results of a meta-analysis of 20 research articles containing 89 effect sizesrelated to the use of digital tools and learning environments to enhance literacyacquisition for middle school students demonstrate that technology can have apositive effect on reading comprehension (weighted effect size of 0.489). Verylittle research has focused on the effect of technology on other important aspectsof reading, suchas metacognitive, affective, and dispositional outcomes.The evidencepermits the conclusion that there is reason to be optimistic about using technologyin middle-school literacy programs, but there is even greater reason to encouragethe research community to redouble its efforts to investigate and understand theimpact of digital learning environmentson studentsin this agerange andto broadenthe scope of the interventions and outcomes studied.ResúmenEn este estudio se reportan los resultados del meta-análisis realizado en 20 in-vestigaciones, las cuales contienen 89 medidas de efectos relacionados con el usode herramientas digitales y medios de aprendizaje para mejorar la adquisiciónde lecto-escritura en estudiantes de escuela media. Los resultados indican quela tecnología puede tener un efecto positivo en la comprensión de lectura (me-dida de efecto de 0.489). Pocas investigaciones se han enfocado en los efectosde la tecnología en otros aspectos importantes de la lectura, tales como meta-cognición, afectividad y disposición. Los resultados de este estudio permiten con-cluir que hay razones para ser optimistas acerca del uso de la tecnología parala enseñanza de lecto-escritura en la escuela media, y que hay razones para:(a) estimular a la comunidad investigativa a multiplicar los esfuerzos para es-tudiar y entender el impacto que tienen los medios digitales en los estudiantesde esta edad y (b) ampliar el enfoque de las intervenciones y los resultadosestudiados.  8  MORAN ET AL. RésuméCette étude présente les résultats d’une méta-analyse de 20 articles de recherchequi contiennent 89 tailles d’effet relatifs à l’utilisation des outils numériques dansl’environnement éducatif pour améliorer l’acquisition de la lecture-écriture parmiles élèves de collège. Les résultats montrent les effets positifs que peut avoirla technologie sur la compréhension des textes (taille d’effet de 0.489). Peu derecherche a été faite sur l’effet de la technologie sur d’autres aspects importantsde la lecture, tels que les résultats méta-cognitifs, affectifs, et dispositionels. Lesrésultats de cette étude nous encouragent à rester positifs en ce qui concernel’utilisation de la technologie dans les programmes de collèges. Cependant, il y aplusieurs raisons pour encourager la communauté de chercheurs à redoubler sesefforts pour examiner et comprendre l’impact de l’utilisation de la technologienumérique dans les classes des élèves de cet âge, et d’élargir les possibilités desinterventions et des résultats étudiés. BACKGROUND FOR THE META-ANALYSIS Over the past several years, a great deal of attention has been given to the roleof new technologies, such as multimedia and hypermedia, on learning (e.g.,Cavanaugh, Gillian, Kromney, Hess, & Blomeyer, 2004; Waxman, Linn, &Michko, 2003; & Dynarski et al., 2007). The impact of new technologies onliteracy acquisition and instruction is no exception to this trend. Increasingly,accumulating research evidence has begun to provide recommendations forreading policy and practice (Labbo & Reinking, 1999; Leu, 2002; Reinking,2003).For better or worse, most of the studies in this research corpus have addressedliteracy or reading acquisition in the early years of schooling. To test thehypothesis that these technologies may be equally as important for older readers,particularly those who have not experienced great success in their school careers,we examined existing research about the impact of digital tools on the readingperformance of middle-school studentsby conductinga meta-analysis ofas manyof the relevant experimental studies as met the standards for inclusion in thisimportant summative effort.The primary purpose of this work was to determine whether digital technolo-gies can affect the acquisitionof advanced reading skills, such as comprehension,metacognition, strategy use, and motivation and engagement. Another purposewas to identify, or at least to point in the direction of, substantive (i.e., topics orskills are being taught), technical, and contextual factors that might mediate ormoderate effective interventions. The ultimate outcomes of this second purpose,we hoped, would be (a) a set of implications to guide policy makers in theirquest to improve reading acquisition in these vexing middle-school years and(b) a menu of promising pathways to guide future research.  TECHNOLOGY AND READING PERFORMANCE  9Evolving Relationship Between Literacy and Technology Literacy and technology are two words that seem to be increasingly paired intoday’s world of research, practice, and policy. People often describe the needto become computer literate; authors write about digital literacy (and relatedterms such as visual literacy and media literacy) as one of the important newdiscourses in our schools; and research has investigated the role of technologyin improving literacy acquisition and instruction.The need to become computer literate is very real in the policy and practice of today’s schools. The National Educational Technology Standards (NETS), for in-stance, have been developed to ensure that children are learning with technologyand using digital tools to acquire knowledge in content areas ( The International Reading Association suggested the following rights forstudents in a 2001 position statement on literacy and technology:   Teachers who are skilled in the effective use of Information Communica-tions Technology (ICT) for teaching and learning   A literacy curriculum that integrates the new literacies of ICT into instruc-tional programs   Instruction that develops the critical literacies essential to effective infor-mation use   Assessment practices in literacy that include reading on the Internet andwriting using word-processing software   Opportunities to learn safe and responsible use of information and com-munication technologies   Equal access to ICTSuch goals and standards include not just attaining comfort with and knowl-edge of the machine but also related literacies including information literacy,visual literacy, digital literacy, new literacies, critical literacy, and media literacy(Holum & Gahala, 2001).As one looks broadly at the interface of technology and literacy, perhaps mostpotentially rewarding for literacy educators is the role of technology in literacyacquisition and instruction, especially for primary grade populations. We know,for example, that electronic storybooks help improve student comprehension andmotivation (Matthew, 1997; Doty, Popplewell, & Byers, 2001) and that they alsoprovide immediate decoding feedback to students (Labbo & Kuhn, 1998; deJong& Bus, 2002; Cazet, 1998; Doty, Popplewell, & Byers, 2001).In addition to electronic storybooks, teachers use software such as KidPix(Labbo, Eakle, & Montero, 2002), Hyperstudio, and Microsoft PowerPoint tohelp students learn to decode. Web sites such as  Hot Potatoes  ( and  Enchanted Learning  ( provide cloze exercises and paragraph, sentence, and letter  10  MORAN ET AL. scramblers. PBS Kids & Sesame Street’s  Letter of the Day  ( and Scholastic’s  Letter Matc h ( clifford1/flash/confusable/) provide activities at the letter level. Even Merriam-Webster’s allegedly lexicographically-oriented Web site ( support for phonemic awareness and instruction. Finally, Leu & Kinzer(1999) have argued that (1) Internet activities, (2) Internet projects, (3) Internetinquiries, and (4) Internet workshops can lead to effective literacy instructionand reading comprehension.Technology is also used for writing instruction; indeed, the interface of technology and writing is sufficiently sophisticated to have attracted both “bestpractice” syntheses as well as meta-analysis (Goldberg, Russell & Cook, 2003).The  Venn Diagram  website (, software tools suchas Inspiration and Microsoft PowerPoint, and hardware such as Smartboardsand Interactive Whiteboards provide students with opportunities to create visualdisplays such as concept maps to organize their writing. E-zines, or electronicmagazines, not only provide current and authentic reading material for students;they also publish student work and thus act as an authentic audience for studentwriting. Electronic portfolios are providing ways for students to showcase theirwriting to teachers, other students, and parents.Even simple word processors have tracking changes features where studentscan collaborate in their writing and thus receive scaffolding in their develop-ment. Blogs can provide online journaling space for students to write abouttheir growing expertise or their daily observations (Ferdig & Trammell, 2004),and word searches, word games, and online dictionaries and thesauruses buildstudents’ vocabulary and confidence in language use. Students and teachers alsofind great writing practice using webquests and inquiry pages. Finally, studentsget writing practice through authentic projects such as Keypals, where theywrite with classrooms in different states or countries, and the Internet ProjectRegistry, where classes can register their projects and collaborate with studentsfrom around the world.Beyond reading and writing, technology has been used to increase access toimages of and information about diversity in classrooms, both at the studentlevel with projects like  I Love Languages  ( and Say Hello to the World   ( and also at theinstructor and preservice level with projects like CTELL (Teale, Leu, Labbo,& Kinzer, 2002) and  The Reading Classroom Explorer   (Ferdig, Roehler, &Pearson, in press). Technology has been used to give struggling readers accessto scaffolding and individualized instruction through projects like  Technology- Enhanced Literacy Environment-Web  (TELE-Web; Zhao, Englert, Jones, Chen,& Ferdig, 2000). Computers, and even older media such as audio and videorecorders, give students practice with spoken language. Free online archivesprovide reading material for both storytelling and literature classes. Finally,
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