Image Logo of UCSD Library of Comp and Human Cognition Laboratory of Comparative
Human Cognition
University of California, San Diego

Juanita M. Cole, Ph.D.

Research Project Summary:
Effect of Web-Based Intervention
on Elementary Students’
Reading Performance and Motivation

The following is summary of an 8-week experimental research study conducted in the spring 2003 semester by Juanita M. Cole, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow, in the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition at the University of California, San Diego.

Numerous intervention strategies to improve literacy outcomes for children struggling to read have been well documented in the research literature. However, few interventions take into consideration important issues such as students’ interests, culture, and everyday practices. Additionally, advances in computer technology afford the delivery of reading instruction to a diverse population of students, yet research documenting its effectiveness is limited. Thus, the purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of a web-based program, Reading Upgrade, and a traditional intervention program on the reading outcomes of children who demonstrated difficulty acquiring basic literacy skills.

Twenty-five third grade children enrolled in a public-elementary school’s reading enrichment program were randomly selected to participate in this 8-week study. Their teachers identified students as “struggling readers” based on skill assessments and classroom observations. Children were randomly assigned to one of two types of reading intervention, traditional or Reading Upgrade.

Traditional Reading Intervention

Extended Day Reading Enrichment is a supplemental program offered by the school in this study and it provides small group remedial instruction with a reading resource teacher. Each student spends approximately 30-90 minutes a day with the reading enrichment teacher who works with small groups of 5-6 students at a time or larger depending on skill level. Children who qualify for reading enrichment have either scored below a certain level on standardized achievement/reading tests, are below grade level in reading or have been referred by the classroom teacher.

 Web-Based Reading Intervention: READING UPGRADE

The new instructional method under study is the web-based reading intervention program, Reading Upgrade. The 50 lessons of this program teach phonics, phonemic awareness, word decoding, vocabulary, and comprehension. Each lesson consists of a teaching portion with instructional songs and digitalized videos, followed by a practice activity consisting of an interactive game.

The Reading Upgrade group of students received intervention for 1-hour a day, twice a week, while students in the traditional intervention program met for 1-hour a day, three times a week. At the close of the 8-week period, all participants in both groups were administered pre-post test measures on reading performance and motivation. Also observation field notes were written on students participating in the Reading Upgrade group after each intervention session.


Reading Performance

  • Reading Upgrade students performed significantly better than the traditional intervention program students.
  • The gain achieved for Reading Upgrade students was equivalent to one-grade level improvement in reading.
  • Observations of Reading Upgrade students revealed high student engagement, positive teacher perception of the intervention, and a culturally relevant learning context.

Reading Motivation

  • Non-struggling readers were invited by books and motivated to read by intrinsic factors such as book content, one’s ability to read well, and reading satisfaction.
  • Struggling readers were inhibited by books and motivated to read by extrinsic factors such as recognition from parents or teachers, rewards and incentives.

Improvements from Reading Upgrade prove to illustrate a more effective reading intervention. Moreover, Reading Upgrade appears to be a realistic intervention approach because it is culturally responsive and web-based which affords wide classroom deployment. Evidence from this study further confirms the relationship between reading performance and motivation. Through stimulating video, games, rewards and certificate, the Reading Upgrade program provides the extrinsic motivation essential to engaging a child who is primarily insecure and discouraged by reading.

While the findings are very compelling, further evaluation on Reading Upgrade is needed to measure mastery of reading skills, efficacy of other reading skills such as comprehension, and carry-over effects in classroom. Therefore the following recommendations are made:

  •  An in-depth evaluation with a larger sample
  •  Additional reading assessments covering all content areas
  •  Computer tracking of performance within the Reading Upgrade program

There is certainly enough empirical evidence from this study to encourage teachers and schools who want to engage children who are struggling to read, to use Reading Upgrade as an intervention strategy.

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