Evidence Base for the SEEL Approach

SEEL meets the criteria for Title One instruction because it draws on evidence-based practices and has been shown by empirical evidence to be effective.

The SEEL project provides high quality language and early reading instruction founded on evidence-based instructional principles and practices. Children receive instruction that is sufficiently intense, explicit, systematic, and engaging to meet their needs in developing strong language and literacy skills. Research supporting the SEEL approach includes studies that (a) illustrate the importance of systematic and explicit encounters with targeted language and literacy skills, (b) support the use of engaging instructional interactions to facilitate oral language, comprehension, and vocabulary, (c) demonstrate the value of activating and building on children’s prior knowledge, and (d) illustrate the importance of engaging children in concrete, hands-on experiences with language/literacy targets. Additional research documents the importance of adjusting instruction to meet the needs of individual children, including those who have language or cognitive delays or deficits; creating print-rich, language-rich environments; and guiding learning through adult scaffolding.

The SEEL approach is continually assessed, adapted, and modified based on research specifically evaluating its effectiveness. As SEEL is a comprehensive program that addresses key literacy components (phonological awareness, decoding, alphabet knowledge, story comprehension, vocabulary, oral language, print concepts, and meaning), as well as the motivation to read, write, and communicate, program administrators consider empirical evidence to be an important aspect of its development.  Empirical studies were initiated in 1999 as part of a federally funded model demonstration project titled Contextualized Approach to Language and Literacy. The past 10 years of research have involved multi-group, crossover, and qualitative designs and have included formative and summative evaluations. SEEL has demonstrated improved student performance in phonological awareness, early reading, student engagement, and story comprehension. The SEEL intervention practices have been effectively implemented in preschools and kindergartens in English and in Spanish.  A list of research studies conducted on the SEEL approach is attached.

The importance of research in SEEL

Research Abstracts

Project SEEL: Systematic and Engaging Early Literacy Instruction

Quantitative and Qualitative Documentation of Early Literacy Instruction
Contextualized Approach to Early Literacy Instruction
The Effectiveness of Supplemental Early Literacy Instruction Embedded Across Contexts and Themes
Hands-on Early Literacy Instruction in a Spanish-speaking Kindergarten: A Three-part Series
Systematic and Engaging Literacy Instruction in a Spanish Kindergarten
Effectiveness of Early Literacy Instruction Implemented by Paraeducators
Teachers’ Implementation of SEEL in Kindergarten Classrooms
Teacher Evaluation of SEEL Effectiveness

Quantitative and Qualitative Documentation of Early Literacy Instruction

Culatta, B., Kovarsky, D., Theadore, G., Franklin, A., & Timler, G.  (2003).  Quantitative and qualitative documentation of early rhyme instruction.  American Journal of Speech Language Pathology, 12, 172-188.

Quantitative and qualitative procedures were used in this pilot study to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of language and literacy instruction for meeting the needs of children with impairments, delays, and differences who were attending regular Head Start classes.  Although the project addresses a variety of literacy domains, this article focuses on rhyming and letter naming.  In the instruction children were exposed to motivating examples of rhyme and letter targets in different activity structures embedded across the curriculum.  A crossover design compared two classes of children trained on letter and rhyme targets in a different sequence.  Results of an ANOVA revealed a significant Condition (rhyme-first versus letter-first) x Task (rhyme generation versus letter generation) x Time (posttest 1 versus posttest 2) interaction. At the first posttest, children in the rhyme-first condition performed better than those in the letter-first condition on rhyme generation, while children in the letter-first condition performed better on letter generation.  At the second posttest, after the groups had experienced instruction in both areas, the children performed comparably on both tasks.  In addition to the quantitative analyses, qualitative analyses were conducted.   A qualitative examination of children’s participation revealed affective involvement and engagement in instructional activities.  Changes in the children’s awareness of their capacity to rhyme and changes in their displayed abilities to participate in rhyming activities were also documented.

Contextualized Approach to Early Literacy Instruction

Culatta, B., Hall, K., Kovarsky, D, & Theadore, G. (2007).  Contextualized approach to language and literacy instruction.  Communication Disorders Quarterly, 28, 216-235.

Purpose: In a federally funded early literacy project, various activities were embedded into a variety of classroom contexts to provide supplemental instruction in rhyme and letter knowledge and to contrast children’s engagement and participation in different contexts and participant structures.

Method/Results:  The study was conducted in Head Start classrooms with English- and Spanish-speaking children as participants.  In a crossover project design, children were trained on similar sets of rhyme and letter targets at different times.  Three-way ANOVAs  [Order of training (AB vs. BA) X Set (A targets vs. B targets) X Time (posttest 1 vs. posttest 2)], with rhyme and letter difference scores as the dependent variables, revealed significant time-of-test effect for rhyming and significant time-by-order-by-set interactions for rhyme and letter generation.  Children performed better on trained than untrained targets.  Observations of children revealed growth in performance and spontaneity of rhyme skills in classroom contexts.

Clinical Implications:  Qualitative analyses documented high levels of child engagement in all instructional contexts, illustrating the value of varying activities and contexts for instruction. Both groups demonstrated their ability to gain from concrete instruction and interactive participation.

The Effectiveness of Supplemental Early Literacy Instruction Embedded Across Contexts and Themes

Culatta, B., & Kovarsky, D. (2004).  US Office of Education, Model demonstration grant final progress report.  Project CALL:  Contextualized Approach to Language and Literacy Instruction.  Grant Award Number: H32M990066.

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of Systematic and Engaging Early Literacy (SEEL), a supplemental early literacy program addressing story comprehension, print concepts, and phonological awareness skills by engaging children in Head Start classrooms in hands-on activities related to themes in books and curricular units. The instruction frequently exposed children to salient examples of literacy skills in a variety of classroom contexts and activity formats.  A multi-group comparison design illustrated differences in performance between children experiencing the contextualized instruction and children participating in a control group.  Two-way ANOVAs were conducted with group (SEEL versus control) and time (pre-test versus post-test) as the independent variables, and with rhyming, alliteration, letter knowledge, and story comprehension measures as dependent variables.  Results revealed significantly better performance by the group receiving the SEEL instruction over the control group on story comprehension and rhyming, but not on letter knowledge or alliteration measures. Processes for structuring activities to keep instruction systematic and meaningful are discussed.

Hands-on Early Literacy Instruction in a Spanish-speaking Kindergarten:  A Three-part Series

Project SEEL:  Children’s Engagement and Progress Attainments

This three-part series details the implementation of a personalized and engaging program for early literacy instruction conducted in Spanish.  The project, Systematic and Engaging Early Literacy (SEEL), uses engaging interactive activities to increase children’s motivation and ability to read and write.  Varied and personalized texts and activities were used to expose children to literacy patterns. Part I describes the project’s purpose, activities, and texts.  Part II details the processes and resources used for creating computerized books and activities.  Part III provides preliminary outcome data collected as the project was implemented in a dual-language kindergarten classroom.

Part One

Culatta, B., Setzer, L. A., & Wilson, C. (2004).  Project SEEL:  Children’s engagement and progress attainments.  Communication Disorders Quarterly, 25(3), 127-144.

Part I of this series describes Systematic and Engaging Early Literacy (SEEL), a program designed to engage and motivate children as they learn early literacy skills. Implemented in Spanish as part of a dual-language curriculum, the program used a variety of interactive literacy activities and tailor-made texts to expose children to target phonic patterns.  The teacher and trained assistants provided practice with reading and writing the target literacy patterns using customized texts associated with read-alouds, story enactments, play routines, and “make and do” activities.  This article provides rationale for the project; describes the texts, activities, and contexts; and explains how the program was implemented in a dual-language (Spanish-English) kindergarten.

Part Two

Culatta, R., Culatta, B., Frost, M., & Buzzell, K. (2004).  Project SEEL:  Using technology to enhance early literacy instruction in Spanish.  Communication Disorders Quarterly, 25(2), 89-96.

Custom-made digital media can be rich, varied, and motivational early literacy materials.  An important component of Project SEEL was the use of tailor-made digital books and activities in the reading curriculum.  Project SEEL team members created computerized materials in Spanish to relate to children’s personal experiences and highlight target literacy patterns.  These materials provided children with additional exposure to literacy patterns along with more variety in the instruction.  This part of the series describes the rationale for developing digital materials and explains how they were created and integrated into a Spanish kindergarten literacy curriculum.

Part Three

Culatta, B., Aslett, R., Fife, M., & Setzer, L. A. (2004). Project SEEL:  Systematic and engaging early literacy instruction.  Communication Disorders Quarterly, 25(2), 79-88.

This article presents preliminary outcome data collected as Project SEEL was implemented in a dual-language kindergarten classroom.  Information regarding children’s progress, participation in the instructional activities, and performance on trained versus untrained targets was obtained, along with parent and child satisfaction data.  The authors transcribed and analyzed videotaped segments of interaction, collected samples of children’s reading and writing, interviewed the children and their parents, and monitored children’s progress.  The children made noticeable gains in skills, with all but those with disabilities being able to read primer level texts and write CVCV words by the end of the school year.  Students also demonstrated high interest in the activities and made relevant contributions to the co-construction of texts in the story enactments.  There were no differences, however, between reading and writing of trained versus untrained targets, because the children had acquired generalized phonics skills by the time the comparisons were made.

Systematic and Engaging Literacy Instruction in a Spanish Kindergarten

Culatta, B., Reese, M., & Setzer, L. A. (2006). Early literacy instruction in dual language (Spanish/English) kindergarten. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 27, 67-82.

This study determined the effectiveness of an early literacy program that embedded skills instruction into meaningful contexts; documented children’s engagement in the instruction; and obtained insights into how language of origin (Spanish or English) influences performance when instruction is given in two languages. The program, Systematic and Engaging Early Literacy (SEEL), is a meaning-based approach that highlights literacy targets in hands-on and interactive activities. Researchers monitored the progress of children participating in dual-language Spanish-English classrooms and compared performance of children in classrooms where instruction was applied to different skills at different times (first or second 6-week block of instruction). ANCOVAs were conducted with time of assessment (Posttest 1 and Posttest 2) and class (alliteration-first versus rhyme-first) as independent variables; mean raw scores for each of the tasks (rhyme, alliteration, blending, and word recognition) as dependent variables; and entering performance on each measure as the covariate. Assessment of children who were native speakers of both Spanish and English showed significant time effects, reflecting progress in acquiring early literacy skills. English-speaking children demonstrated significant Time x Class effects for alliteration and rhyming. The ANCOVA analysis of data of Spanish-speaking children resulted in a significant Time ´ Class interaction for syllable alliteration, indicating that performance gains were related to the presence of instruction. In addition, observation of children’s performance demonstrated developmental progression in attaining the targeted literacy skills, revealed high levels of engagement in instruction, and gave insights into the role of language of instruction in the learning process.

Effectiveness of Early Literacy Instruction Implemented by Paraeducators

Bingham, G. E., Hall-Kenyon, K. M., & Culatta, B. (2010).  Systematic and engaging early literacy:  Examining the effects of paraeducator implemented early literacy instruction.  Communication Disorders Quarterly, 32(1), 38-49.

This study examined the impact of playful and engaging supplemental early literacy instruction on literacy development of at-risk kindergarten children. This study involved 63 kindergarten-age children who had been ranked in the lowest 20th percentile on basic literacy skills (38 in the treatment group).  Results revealed that children who received playful and engaging supplemental instruction from a paraeducator made significantly greater gains on rhyming, alliteration, letter knowledge, letter-sound association, spelling, and blending tasks than children who received one-on-one instruction through a tutoring program.  Findings highlight the important potential role of paraeducators in implementing playful and engaging literacy curriculum that positively impacts children’s development of early literacy skills.

Teachers’ Implementation of SEEL in Kindergarten Classrooms

Bingham, G. E., Culatta, B., & Hall-Kenyon, K. M.  (2006). Systematic and Engaging Early Literacy: Examining the effects of a one year intervention in kindergarten. Unpublished Manuscript.

This study examined the impact of playful and engaging whole-class early literacy instruction, using the Systematic and Engaging Early Literacy program, on kindergarten children’s development of phonological awareness, letter knowledge, and phonics skills. Five classrooms (97 students) participated in the SEEL treatment condition, and three classrooms (47 students) participated in the control condition.  Students were assessed on a battery of measures, including the PALS-K subtests and the Chall blending measure, at the beginning and end of the school year.  Teachers in the treatment condition participated in periodic professional development workshops where the SEEL activities were modeled, and they received instructional strategies and materials.

Multivariate analysis of variance revealed that the SEEL group performed significantly better than the control group on the combined measures.  Follow-up univariate ANOVAs revealed that students receiving the SEEL instruction made significantly greater gains than control students on measures of spelling, rhyming, letter knowledge, blending, and initial letter identification (with significance levels ranging from .05 to .001).  Findings indicate the importance of making targeted skills salient and intense by weaving exposure across contexts and by ensuring that children have purposeful reasons to practice skills in playful and engaging ways.

Teacher Evaluation of SEEL Effectiveness

Korth, B. B., Sharp, A. C., & Culatta, B. (2010). Classroom-based supplemental literacy instruction: Influencing the beliefs and practices of classroom teachers. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 31, 113-127.

Researchers have advocated providing frequent opportunities for young children to practice using literacy skills.  One way to increase intensity of instruction is to provide varied and engaging supplemental activities within the contexts of the regular classroom environment. Questions have been raised about whether professional development occurs as a result of supplemental service delivery and which factors influence classroom teachers’ beliefs and practices. The purpose of this study was to determine if teachers’ understanding and practices were influenced by their exposure to a supplemental classroom program titled CALL (Contextualized Approach to Language and Literacy Instruction).   In the CALL program, trained instructors conducted literacy activities in three teachers’ morning Head Start classes (while the afternoon classes did not receive the supplemental instruction). The CALL representatives integrated instruction into the class thematic units. Data were collected by interviewing the Head Start teachers at the end of each year of their involvement with CALL and then two years after their participation to gain information about whether they had adopted or adapted the program’s principles. Transcripts were reviewed from year-end and follow-up interviews, and relevant themes were identified.  Results revealed that teachers’ understanding and practices were influenced by their exposure to CALL procedures.  Teachers expressed an understanding of key strategies used by the program and compared the performance of their classes receiving CALL to those that did not participate. They supported their claims that the CALL intervention enhanced students’ performance and motivation and positively impacted ELL children’s literacy development and oral language development.  The teachers attempted to incorporate CALL procedures into their teaching practices and shared examples of how they engaged and responded to their students’ use of literacy skills.