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Getting Past the Fourth-grade slump with HyperRESEARCH

Authors Kurt A. Suhr, David A. Hernandez, Douglas Grimes and Mark Warschauer used HyperRESEARCH to code and analyze their interviews for their article "Laptops and Fourth-grade Literacy: Assisting the Jump over the Fourth-grade Slump". The authors have found little quantitative research that systematically investigates the impact of laptops use on test outcomes, and none among students at the fourth-to-fifth grade levels. According to the abstract, this study "investigated whether a one-to-one laptop program could help improve English language arts (ELA) test scores of upper elementary students, a group that often faces a slow down of literacy development during the transition from learning to read to read to learn known as the fourth-grade slump.

According to the study, this fourth-grade slump impairs students ability to achieve norms for reading progress through subsequent elementary and secondary school grades. As a consequence, cumulating deficits in academic literacy undercut learning performance across the curriculum. It is believed that if adjustments are made in the instructional program "the typical slumps found in their reading achievement can be prevented." One adjustment is to increase exposure to written texts that contain academic language children do not normally encounter in conversational contexts but which must be learned in order for students to maximize their cognitive abilities (Cummins, 2008). Cummins suggested computer-based technology can be harnessed to provide exposure to such texts, thus amplifying the development if academic language proficiency and ameliorating the fourth-grade slump. The purpose of this research was to investigate the effect of technology-intensive intervention-based upon individual student use of laptop computer-on students' academic achievement in language over a two-year period.

The authors used interviews, observations, surveys and document analysis to understand how laptops were used for teaching and learning in the one-to-one laptop classrooms, with a focus on literacy instruction. They focused on three closely related research questions: 1) Were there significant differences in the total ELA score changes in the California Standards Test (CST) over the two-year period from third grade to fifth grade between the one-to-one laptop group and the non-laptop group, after controlling for other factors?, 2) Were there significant differences in the six subtests used to compute those total ELA scores for the same two groups?, and 3) Can participation in a one-to-one laptop program be used to predict changes in ELA total and subtest scores over the two-year period for third grade and fifth grade?

This study did find that laptops may have a small effect on increasing such scores, with particular benefits in the areas of literary response and analysis and writing strategies. Further research was recommended.

The full PDF and findings are available online here

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