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MU researcher awarded $4 million U.S. Department of Education grant

5-year project will help increase social studies knowledge, reading comprehension for middle school students in Missouri, Michigan, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.

July 7, 2020
Contact: Brian Consiglio, 573-882-9144, consigliob@missouri.edu

This is a photo of Matthew Burns.

Matthew Burns is a professor in the MU College of Education.

Students who struggle with reading comprehension often perform poorly in classes like social studies because they have difficulty understanding the material. To solve this problem, educational researchers have been searching for the most effective interventions to help increase reading comprehension for struggling students.

Now, a $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education will allow University of Missouri College of Education professor Matthew Burns and Kathryn Drummond with the American Institutes for Research to examine the effects of an intervention known as PACT, or Promotion of Acceleration of Comprehension Through Text, on middle school students in social studies classes.

“Throughout the American education system, we have a large group of students who are struggling in school; one of the best things you can do as an educator is teach them how to read,” Burns said. “Much of the current research on reading interventions is done with younger kids in kindergarten or elementary school. By middle school, many think it’s too late to reach those kids. I could not disagree more.”

Over a 5-year period, Burns and Drummond will help implement an eighth-grade social studies curriculum in 150 schools throughout Missouri, Michigan, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. The curriculum focuses on improving students’ reading comprehension and knowledge of American history by using overarching questions to stimulate motivation, vocabulary lessons, educational videos and team-based activities.

“The students who I think can benefit the most from this intervention are the ones that can decode and read words well but don’t have a great understanding of what the words mean,” said Burns. “If you ask them to read a page of a textbook, they can read it no problem, but if you ask them questions about what they read, they can’t answer.”

Burns added that there is a higher level of individual differences in reading skills for students throughout American classrooms than ever before, and this has heightened the need for more individualized approaches to address the needs of all learners.

“Our long-term goal is to create better citizens who are engaged civically,” Burns said. “This is a time now where we need civically-engaged adults, and we can start building that early in middle school.”

Funding for the grant was provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

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