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Laboratory for Clinical Research and Practice

Head: Prof. Michal Shany

Laboratory for Clinical Research and Practice
Michal Shany's and her students' research:

Developing reading comprehension tests for grades 2-12:
The main focus of this year's practical research activities was the development of a reading comprehension test. In Israel today, there is no standard reading comprehension test with national norms.

Prof. Shany's team for the project was:

From the Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities: Dr. Orly Lipka, Dr. Anat Prior, Prof. Tami Katzir.

From the Department of Communication Disabilities of Tel Aviv University: Dr. Amalia Bar-On, Dr. Ronit Levi.

Shira Bleicher, a graduate of the Department of Learning Disabilities of the University of Haifa was the coordinator for research and development.

Reading comprehension is a complex task that combines linguistic, cognitive and meta-cognitive processes. Reading comprehension is not just an essential skill for academic success but for success in everyday life as well.

Within the framework of a new seminar on the evaluation of reading comprehension, Dr. Shany implemented development of the test. This is a developmental test designed to evaluate in depth the processes of reading comprehension from 2nd grade to 12th grade. The test was developed on the basis of integrating the theoretical model of multiple components of reading comprehension, recent research on profiles of both successful readers and weak readers and variables discerned between them, critical analysis of reliability and validity of reading comprehension tests and research that suggest effective ways to measure the processes associated with reading comprehension.

Development procedure: The tests included:
  1. A wide range of age-matched texts
  2. Comprehension tasks;
  3. A collection of additional measures to asses comprehension and self image evaluations
  4. In depth testing for weaker readers.
Implementing the Edmond J. Safra-Haifa Intervention Model to Advance Arabic and Hebrew speaking reading disabled:
Beginning last year, a change was made in the way the Edmond J. Safra-Haifa Intervention Model was administered. Instead of direct implementation within the schools it is now being implemented through teacher in-service training courses.

This year we made contact with the supervisors for regular and special education and opened 4 in-service training courses conducted by graduates of the Department of Learning Disabilities and coordinated by Ms. Shira Bleicher from the Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities.

Details of the Training Sessions:
Place Number of participants Number of schools Participants Funding of lecturers and coordinators
Tiberias 40 Special Education teachers  Ministry of Education - through the Atid Network, Pisgah Center
Beit Shean 40 12  Special Education teachers   
Haifa 33 29 Special Education teachers  
Tel Aviv 22   Special Education District coordinators  Ministry of Education - through the Continuing Education Department of the University of Haifa
Total 135 50    

Theoretical rationale of regular and disabled language, reading and writing acquisitionThe training program includes:
  • Familiarization and use of normative assessment tools to assess language, reading and writing abilities and the building of a reading profile
  • Familiarization with the fluency-based intervention program –RAP- to promote reading.
  • Guidance in ways to accompany students in their activities with the program
  • Documentation of capabilities improvement
As part of the courses, questionnaires were distributed to the participants for them to provide feedback and evaluation of the quality of the course. Results were very good.

Pilot Study:
A pilot study was held during the months of May-June that included 192 students: 96 girls and 96 boys. Of these 99 were in 2nd grade. 86 of these students were found to be at a high to intermediate reading level and 13 of a low level. Of the 93 3rd grade students, 75 were found to be at a high to intermediate level and 18 were at a low level.

Analysis was done on the differences in the higher comprehension processes between standardized tests and class level differences between those with good comprehension skills and those with weaker comprehension skills in calibration and ranking interest in the text subject; self image in reading and using strategies; the links between the different components of the exam and variables that explain differences in test results.
Computerized test:
The computerized text accompanies the reading acceleration program in order to be able to place the reading disabled student in the appropriate stage of the RAP program. The RAP program has different stages, each with different content and tasks that are matched to the stages of reading acquisition and different class levels. Until now, sub tests in reading and writing for Grades 2-4 have been developed as well as have cognitive tests for a wide range of ages. In development are short reading comprehension tasks that will be displayed on the computer screens. 

The tests that have been developed:

1. Word parsing

3. Evaluating homographic words

5. Aural perception- linguistic

7. Short term verbal memory

9. Short term graphic memory

11. Reading words with diacritical marks

13. Graphic perception - linguistic

15. Graphic perception - non linguistic

17. Aural perception- non linguistic

2. Semantic choices

4. Basic reaction time

6. Vocabulary-definitions

8. Verbal processing memory

10. Graphic processing memory

12. Motor skills

14. Flanker

16. Homophonic choice

18. Graphic information processing rate

Lorat-Elkaraa Test:
("The language of reading") - This is a standardized test to assess language reading and writing disabilities among Arabic-speaking children in grades 1-6. At this stage corrections are being made to the tests in light of the first experimental implementation workshop. Implementation of the test will be done through workshops run by coordinators who are graduates of the Department. Te leader of the implementation project is a graduate of the Department, Dr. Ibrahim Asadi. The Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities has invested $200,000 in adjusting the test. There is a contract with the Carmel Corporation (the commercial arm of the University of Haifa). It is important to complete the adjustments and to begin the implementation workshops for the coming academic year.

Future Directions:
At this stage, there have been requests to continue the courses in special education on a nation-wide basis in Hebrew and Arabic speaking schools. These courses will take place in all 7 districts nationwide for language coordinators and teachers of both Hebrew and Arabic speaking schools. We expected to open over 20 new courses as well as continuing the courses opened last year. In addition, we have received a request to open an additional nationwide course for the next school year and requests from different schools to open courses all over the country as well as from other professional bodies in the educational system. Ms. Shira Bleicher will be the coordinator for the courses.

In the coming year, we expect greater which will be expressed by choosing the teachers from the school staff who will take part in the courses and as such will be able to lead the intervention model in the schools at the end of the course.

Further, it is planned to open continuing courses in which additional tests that have been developed by the Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities will be incorporated. Among these tests will be the computerized assessment, accompanied by the Reading Acceleration Program.

Prof. Shany was appointed by the Minister of Education as a member of the "DSM-IV" National committee, which was established to develop national regulations regarding learning disability. The committee also determines regulations regarding the early detection, evaluation and treatment of children with academic difficulties.

Prof. Shany is supervising 4 Master's students (in conjunction with Prof. Katzir. Dr. Shaul and Dr. Goldfarb) and 4 Doctoral students (In conjunction with Prof. Katzir and Prof. R. Izikovitch)

Dr. Lipka specializes in academic intervention programs supporting students at risk for learning difficulties. Her research this year continued to focus primarily on post- secondary school students with learning disabilities, early literacy, reading comprehension.Dr. Orly Lipka's research:

During the 2013-2014 school years Dr. Lipka taught the clinical courses of academic intervention at the department of learning disabilities and she is coordinating the intervention practicum of the first and second year students at the schools. As part of their clinical intervention program the students are involved in observations, one- on one intervention, small group academic intervention and system intervention.

Over the last year, she began several studies examining two main areas: the self-perception and academic strategies of post secondary students who were diagnosed with learning disabilities and/or ADHD. The aim of these studies is to develop better academic and emotional support for students with learning disabilities at the post-secondary systems.
At the International Association of Special Education, that was held in Vancouver, Canada, Dr. Lipka presented on the topic: Perceptions of pre-service teachers with Learning disability of their professional identity. This study examined the perception of pre- service teachers with learning disability of teacher education during their first years at Teacher College. Main findings regarding five aspects: motivation for teaching, conceptions of teaching–learning, roles of teachers, components of teacher education, and agents of training were discussed.

Dr. Lipka is currently supervising 5 Master's students.

Dr. Yasmin Shalhoub-Awwad's research:
Dr. Shalhoub-Awwad was hired last year with funds made available by the Edmond J. Safra Foundation, to lead the Clinical Arabic section of the Laboratory.

Dr. Shalhoub-Awwad received her doctorate in June 2013. Her PhD dissertation was entitled: “the morphological structures in visual word recognition: Evidence from Arabic.” Her research compared the average of reaction time for word recognition between fifth grade Arabic readers and fourth grade Hebrew readers in Schiff et al, 2011. This research revealed that the reaction times of the Arabic fifth grade readers were slower than the Hebrew fourth grade readers. According to the Developmental model reading acquisition of Bar-On, 2010, fourth grade is the beginning of the skilled and efficient reading. In Arabic this process is longer; the reasons for these differences might be due to the challenges posed by diglossia and visual complexity of the Arabic writing system. Hence came the necessity and importance for reading intervention program to accelerate reading in Arabic. Therefore, the need arose for developing the rapid accelerated-reading program In Arabic (RAP).

In pursuit to her research agenda, and based on accumulated knowledge, and the results of her previous studies, Dr. Shalhoub-Awwad's research agenda this year centered around developing the rapid accelerated-reading program (RAP) in Arabic. The aim was to check out if RAP can help achieve automaticity in reading. The software development was carried out by a development team: Geries Elias, linguistic education guide, Asala Husein-Saleh, a graduate student in the Department of Learning Disabilities, which was conducted under Dr. Shalhoub-Awwad's supervision.

In order to achieve their goal, there was a necessity to establish the principles for building the texts in the training units and to determine the format and the type of the activities in the training units.

At the initial stage, there was a need to set characteristics of the texts in terms of: vocabulary, text length, number of words in each sentence, syntax structures and morpho-syntax structures.

In addition, my concern was to stick to the benchmarks (standards) required by the linguistic education curriculum for elementary school.

In order to set the characteristics of the texts, there was a reliance on Meitzav examination from 2010 till 2013 in narrative and scientific texts. The criteria found in the Meitzav examination do not adjust the limitations of the acceleration software but it gave us a basis for what is appropriate and what is not.
In light of the above, below are the principles by which the texts have been built 40 units of training to each grade level from second grade till sixth grade. Each unit of training consists of texts ranging from 40 to 55 words. The content was consistent with the level of age, topics were taken from the textbooks in three subjects: Arabic, science and civics. Vocabulary in the texts was built from three types of vocabulary: high-frequency (everyday words), non-specialized academic words that occur across content area, specialized content-area words that are unique to the specific disciplines (science or civics).

Format and types of activities of the training units: Word attack:
12 target words from the text have been selected, when first two words are an example, and then there are 10 words that are the training itself.
Distracters on word attack in the first texts were from each text, but later, the distracters have been selected from previous texts. The reason for that is to enable more exposures to the words in previous units.

Word-level Activities:
Each training unit included 2-3 activities. Each activity have consists of 12 items. The first two items are an example, and then there are 10 items that are the training itself. Here also the distracters were from previous texts in order to control on repeated exposure to words.
Type of activities were accordance with the benchmarks of the curriculum of language education, which have been included activities from the morphological domain (singular-plural, male-female, noun-verb…) and from the semantic domain (relevance to specific category (animals, nature, people, fruit, color, human body parts, food…).

Sentence-level Activities:
These activities have been divided in two types:
Activities to practice high frequency words from the text, whose meaning is known to the reader- with the aim to reveal it again and again in order to identify them faster orthographically. Each activity has consists of 12 items. The first two items are an example, and then there are 10 items that are the training itself. Here also the distracters were from previous texts in order to control on repeated exposure to words. Type of activities: Cloze/ singular to plural or vice versa/ male to female or vice versa/ matching between adjective and name.

Vocabulary development activities The words have been distributed from the content-specific words and across content area words.

At the initial stage (as mentioned above), there was a need to set characteristics of the texts in terms of: vocabulary, text length, number of words in each sentence, syntax structures and morpho-syntax structures. In addition, my concern was to stick to the benchmarks (standards) required by the linguistic education curriculum for elementary school.
The second stage At this stage the development team began preparing the training texts for second-sixth grade. The preparation of the texts included choosing texts, re-writing these texts according to the principles mentioned above.

The third stage Preparation of the activities in each training unit according to the texts.

In conclusion, this year the team focused on developing the RAP in Arabic for all the elementary school grades as a preliminary phase before conducting the intervention research. In the next academic year 2014-2015, they will start the execution of the intervention research in school, in order to explore the phenomenon of acceleration and its meaning in Arabic. Also, Dr. Shalhoub-Awwad hopes it will enable her to examine the different effects of training by the RAP (rapid acceleration program) in Arabic in various ages and to make comparison between the training through the RAP in Arabic compared with other languages (such as Hebrew/English).

Dr. Shalhoub-Awwad is currently supervising 2 Master's students.

This year, our team carried out assessments in several Arabic-speaking schools in the North. Students were selected on the basis of their need. Click here for further reading.