UIC to Lead $19 Million Reading for Understanding Project

The University of Illinois at Chicago has been awarded a five-year, $19.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences to create a multi-institutional research team that will study reading for understanding among students in middle school and high school.

The grant, one of the largest in UIC's history, is funded through the Institute of Education Sciences' Reading for Understanding Research Initiative, a network of six research teams that will develop approaches aimed at helping students in pre-kindergarten to 12th grade to understand what they read.

The UIC-led project, "Reading for Understanding Across Grades 6 through 12: Evidence-based Argumentation for Disciplinary Learning," will focus on expanding students' abilities to perform beyond basic reading comprehension, think critically, and construct arguments from multiple text sources within the areas of history, science and literature.

"We want students to be able to tackle difficult text, to figure out how to interpret it, and how to use the information to solve problems," said the project's principal investigator, Susan R. Goldman, co-director of the Learning Sciences Research Institute at UIC and distinguished professor of liberal arts and sciences, psychology and education. "If they can't do that, they are not going to be able to meet the challenges in the workplace, in their personal lives, and in higher education."

Researchers from UIC, Northwestern University, Northern Illinois University, WestEd, and Inquirium LLC will examine promising practices in reading comprehension and identify targets for interventions, develop supporting classroom-based instructional models and software, and analyze social and emotional factors in understanding complex content.

The group aims to produce a set of empirically validated instructional units that are consistent with the proposed national Common Core College Readiness Standards. The units are designed to enhance students' interest and ability to engage in reading for understanding in history, science and literature.

"These dispositions and skills do not develop in one or two years. Accordingly, our work will examine learning progressions that extend from middle school to high school," Goldman said. "By emphasizing evidence-based argumentation in three subject-matter areas, we hope that students will better understand the similarities and differences in literary, scientific and historical thinking and reasoning."

The project personnel reflect a diverse set of perspectives on reading for understanding.

"A unique aspect of this project is the involvement of researchers, intervention developers, and educational practitioners around the table together from the beginning," Goldman said. "That is a different constellation than many previous grants on reading research have had."

The new project builds on previous research and collaborations bridging research and practice that have been supported by federal and foundation funding as well as university-based initiatives such as the Learning Sciences Research Institute.

"UIC's role in this project grows from a university investment in building a team of scholars and researchers in literacy, assessment and cognition," said Dwight A. McBride, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "Years of collaborative work by faculty from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the College of Education established the necessary groundwork to plan such an extensive and groundbreaking study."

"Our literacy specialists and programs have been outstanding for decades," said Victoria Chou, dean of the College of Education. "In my humble opinion, the Department of Education couldn't have found a stronger team to do this work."

The study's other principal investigators are: M. Anne Britt, Northern Illinois University; Matt Brown, Inquirium LLC; Cynthia Greenleaf, WestEd; and Carol Lee, Northwestern University. UIC faculty involved includes Thomas Griffin, Kimberly Lawless, James Pellegrino, Josh Radinsky, Taffy Raphael, Cynthia Shanahan, and Jennifer Wiley. A complete listing of research collaborators is available.

Learn more about the Reading for Understanding Research Initiative.

UIC ranks among the nation's leading research universities and is Chicago's largest university with 26,000 students, 12,000 faculty and staff, 15 colleges and the state's major public medical center. A hallmark of the campus is the Great Cities Commitment, through which UIC faculty, students and staff engage with community, corporate, foundation and government partners in hundreds of programs to improve the quality of life in metropolitan areas around the world.