Dr. Jie Zhang presents Spencer Fellowship project to National Academy of Education

WKU’s Department of Educational Administration, Leadership and Research is pleased to congratulate and celebrate Dr. Jie Zhang, Assistant Professor, Research Methods, for presenting her postdoctoral fellowship research at the National Academy of Education (NAEd) Annual Meeting and Fellows Retreat, November 14, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Dr. Zhang was one of only twenty postdoctoral fellows selected nationally by NAEd for the 2013-2015 award cycle, receiving grant funding in the amount of $55,000 to support her research focused on English Language Learners (ELL) titled, “Morphological Awareness and Word Learning in First and Second Language.”

“I am extremely honored to be part of the NAEd/Spencer postdoc fellow 2013 cohort,” said Dr. Zhang.  “The research project and professional development activities throughout the fellow retreats have significantly enhanced my capacity and passion in being an educational researcher.”

Dr. Zhang’s research examined how children use morphology (word parts) to infer the meanings of new words while reading or in isolation, and whether morphological awareness facilitates word learning ability, which in turn, contributes to reading comprehension in both their first and second languages.

“Struggling ELLs seem to read texts as fluently and accurately as their native English speaking peers, but they don’t know what the text is all about,” explained Dr. Zhang.  “A big obstacle of reading comprehension difficulties for ELLs is their limited English vocabulary and background knowledge. Given the increasing text complexity in the common core reading era, helping struggling readers to achieve the goal of reading for understanding is important yet challenging.”

About 400 fourth- and fifth- \graders from two school districts in Bowling Green, KY participated in the study.  Major findings from the study include:   1) native English (NE) speaking students and fluent English proficient (FEP) ELLs are better able to use morphological analysis to derive new word meaning than the limited English proficient students; and, 2) word reading fluency mediates the relationship between morphological awareness and reading comprehension for the LEP group, but word meaning inference ability mediates the relationship for the NE and FEP groups.

The findings deepen understanding of how morphological awareness supports reading comprehension in first and second languages and call for attention to the role of English proficiency in investigating the underlying mechanism between morphological awareness and reading comprehension. An educational implication is that instructional programs that link instruction in decoding to word meaning inference strategies while reading are critical for LEP students.

Dr. Zhang’s presentation on her research was well-received by the Fellows during the retreat.  Her research presentation was facilitated by noted scholar Dr. Kenji Hakuta, Lee J. Jacks Professor of Education, Stanford University and expert in the implementation of the common core standards with ELL.  Over the past year while working on her research, Dr. Zhang has been mentored by two of the most prestigious scholars in language and literacy education, Dr. Catherine Snow from Harvard, and Dr. Annemarie Palincsar from the University of Michigan.

“Dr. Zhang is a bright star and emerging scholar in educational research,” said EALR department head Dr. Marguerita DeSander. “The Educational Administration, Leadership and Research department is proud of her accomplishments.”