“Matthew Effect” in reading fluency development of EFL students in China: Evidence from an intervention study

“Matthew Effect” in reading fluency development of EFL students in China: Evidence from an intervention study

First Author: Yueming Xi -- Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto
Additional authors/chairs: 
Esther Geva
Keywords: Digital literacy, Reading fluency, Chinese, EFL readers, Technology
Abstract / Summary: 

Objectives: We examined the extent to which students with distinct English as a foreign language (EFL) profiles benefit differentially from the computerized “Reading Acceleration Program” (RAP; Breznitz, 2004), in which students read sentences on the computer screen and letters disappear, one at a time, at an increasing rate.

Method: Participants were 142 Chinese-speaking EFL undergraduate students in China. Students were randomly assigned to three treatment conditions: online acceleration, online non-acceleration, and business-as-usual. Students participated daily in 13 treatment sessions. Linguistic and cognitive skills were assessed on a test battery that included phonological awareness, processing speed, working memory, syntax, word and text reading fluency, administered pre- and post-treatment.

Results: Latent profiles analysis revealed two distinct classes on the English battery: (1) high-performers with relatively high scores on all the English measures and (2) low-performers. Repeated measures ANOVA showed that high performers benefitted more from the RAP intervention than low performers on English word- and text-level fluency, irrespective of treatment/control conditions. Latent transition analysis confirmed that individual student’s initial class membership (low/high) remained consistent from pre- to posttest.

Conclusions: Linguistic and cognitive profiles of adult EFLs resemble those of emerging ELLs, with English skills highly inter-correlated. At the onset students with better linguistic and cognitive skills also have better syntax and text reading skills in English and vice versa. “Practice makes perfect” but high performers consistently performed low performers regardless of treatment/control condition, suggesting robust “Matthew Effect” in literacy development of EFL students.