Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Educational Psychology


Linnea C. Ehri

Subject Categories

Higher Education Administration


Community College Students; Reading Comprehension; Vocabulary


The study reported here investigated methods that enable college students to learn the meaning of unknown words as they read discipline specific academic text. The ability to read and comprehend text is known to be positively correlated with academic success. However that ability is challenging to college students in part because of the sophisticated vocabulary encountered in academic text. The study reported here utilized an experimental design. Forty one participants read specific passages aloud during three sessions. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four intervention groups to investigate alternative methods of learning the meaning of unknown words. In the Strategies group, participants learned the use of context cues, morphological cues, and syntactic cues. Participants in the Definition group learned to use researcher supplied definitions. In the Strategies plus Definition group, participants learned to use both the strategies and definitions. Using a constructivist framework to create meaning while interacting with text, these three groups had time for practice and received feedback. Participants in the fourth group, the Control group, engaged in discussion of the passages. Intervention and outcome measures examined word learning and comprehension. All participants completed a transfer task to investigate the effects of treatment on independent text reading. It was expected that participants in the intervention groups would outperform participants in the Control group, and that participants in the Strategies plus Definition group would outperform participants in the other two intervention groups. Results were mixed. Analyses of data revealed that participants in all three intervention groups demonstrated significantly better word learning and comprehension as measured by definition recall, CLOZE and response to comprehension questions than participants in the Control group. Other measures did not support these hypotheses. There were also interaction effects involving time with treatment groups performing differently on intervention and outcome measures than on transfer task measures. In general participants in the intervention groups performed better during the first three training texts than during the final transfer task. Additionally, participants in the intervention groups did not perform significantly better on the transfer task than participants in the control group. Thus the word learning treatments and their impact on comprehension did not generalize to a novel task as was hypothesized. Results of this study contribute to the research by helping us understand the benefit of methods that enable college students to access academic text. Use of definitions and to a lesser extent, use of strategies, appear to have a positive impact on word learning and comprehension. The use of a combination of strategies and definitions also appears to have a positive impact but, with mixed results, this awaits further study.