Two associate professors in the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford’s education program have received a University of Pittsburgh Seed Grant for research they will perform this academic year in the Bradford Area School District.
Dr. Wayne Brinda and Dr. Jonathan Chitiyo, whose area of expertise is special education, received the $24,800 grant, which will allow them to study the effectiveness of a reading technique they call “Pop Rocks and Punctuation.”
Brinda developed the technique to help teachers instruct their students who have reading challenges. Before he was a college education professor, Brinda was a radio announcer, actor, director and English teacher. For years, he has been using the skills he learned in these other areas to help struggling readers improve the fluency of their reading. “Pop Rocks and Punctuation” has looked promising as student teachers under Brinda’s tutelage have had anecdotal success with their own students.
“Reading is a major problem for 80% of students with learning disabilities,” Chitiyo said. “This has been an ongoing project, and we really just decided to put it into practice. Wayne had a student who had used the intervention method with her student, and it turned out to be very successful. We have been trying to use this method, but we haven’t had the chance or the resources.”
Brinda explains how the technique developed: “In elementary school, I was a reader. But in fourth grade, I became aliterate. As a sophomore in college, I was cast in ‘The Merchant of Venice.’ The director said, ‘You don’t know how to read.’”
The director taught Brinda how to read for meaning by marking and emphasizing words in the text. “All of a sudden and as I slowed down my reading, things began to make sense. I was reading something, and it was making sense to me a lot more quickly.”
As a radio announcer, he learned another method used by broadcasters to make news reports from a teleprinter quickly more readable by using slashes to mark pauses of various lengths. Sometimes the slashes mirrored standard punctuation, but sometimes it didn’t. Instead, it identified places for natural pauses and emphasis, bringing out the meaning of the words, which radio announcers did not have long to reflect on before reading them on air.
“I began using both of these techniques with students when I was an English teacher,” he said.
Brinda said he has used it with students of various ages and reading abilities, and although he has seen its effectiveness, he has not been able to quantify it before.
The two professors will teach the method, which is compatible with other reading methods, to teachers in Bradford area schools whose students lack fluency in reading.
After teaching teachers the technique, Brinda and Chitiyo will have a chance to observe whether it is working and use fluency test scores to measure its effectiveness. If the technique is successful, Pitt-Bradford faculty can add it to what education students are taught in reading methods courses.
The prevalence of reading testing in schools will also allow students to serve as their own test group. Their scores from before the intervention will be compared to their scores following the intervention.
Brinda and Chitiyo plan to present their findings at education conferences.
Chitiyo said, “These results are going to have implications for future research,” which Pitt-Bradford education students can play a part in. “This has been an ongoing project, and we’re glad that we got the resources to get it into full motion.”