The Importance of Research in SEEL

The SEEL program was initially developed according to research-based principles and practice.  Its operation is continually assessed and evaluated. Changes and adaptations are made according to this internal research as well as ongoing research throughout the field of literacy education. 

The terms research-based and data-based are used often in the education profession; and they may be applied in different forms and on different levels.  To illustrate the high level of research on which SEEL creation and implementation are based, a few examples of this research are mentioned below.

Importance of Early Literacy

In the United States today, 40 million adults cannot read at all, and 50 million cannot read above a fifth grade level (Grim Literacy Statistics, 2007).  Researchers are finding that literacy success actually begins before children enter first grade, as they are acquiring basic understanding of how text conveys meaning and how the English alphabetic system works (McGee & Richgels, 2003).

Many studies show that children entering kindergarten or first grade with early literacy deficits are at risk for future academic difficulties (Justice, Invernizzi, & Meier, 2002; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998; Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998; Juel, 1988; Scarborough, 2001). But optimistically research also shows that regardless of cultural background or income level, children with early literacy support enter school with “high levels of reading and writing knowledge" (Barone, 1999 in McGee and Richgels, 2003).

To ensure school success, children with limited literacy skills must be provided with intense and appropriate early literacy instruction that focuses on both meaning (e.g., comprehension, vocabulary, and print awareness) and skills (e.g., letter knowledge, letter-sound associations, and phonological awareness) (Dickson, McCabe, Anastasopoulos, Peisher-Feinberg, & Poe, 2003; McCardle, Scarborough, & Catts, 2001; Bowman, Donovan, & Burns, 2001; Snow et al., 1998).

SEEL Self-Study

SEEL combines systematic and explicit instruction with engaging activities to offer frequent opportunities for children to practice literacy skills. Implementation and research demonstrate that SEEL motivates children to become engaged through instructional conversations and activities (Culatta & Hall, 2006; Culatta, Reese, & Setzer, 2006).

During a recent empirical study of a classroom implementation of SEEL, teachers and parents reported that children were motivated by and engaged in the playful but systematic instruction.  Children who had been shown to be at risk for language disabilities made measurable progress, even in a limited period of time (Culatta, Hall & Black, in press).

Systematic, Explicit Teaching

The first principle of SEEL is that instruction should be explicit. Although young children vary in their backgrounds and experiences, most children require explicit instruction in literacy skill areas (Morrow, 2001). Research suggests that children of all ages benefit greatly from explicit instruction, but it is particularly important for those who struggle with early literacy skills (Ehri et al., 2001; Elbro & Peterson, 2004).

In lessons or activities, teachers follow a simple set of steps to make instruction explicit: They label the target objective, frequently model examples, and provide multiple experiences with the literacy target or skill (Culatta & Hall, 2006; Gunter, Estes, & Schwab, 2003). The children should be assigned tasks that are “challenging but achievable with adult support” (McGee & Richgels, 2000, p. 141).

Engagement in Learning

The second SEEL principle is that instruction should be playful and engaging. Engagement has been referred to as the active component of positive learning, which “includes attention, persistence, flexibility, self-regulation” (Hyson, 2008; see also Ponitz, Rimm-Kaufman, Grimm, & Curby, 2009).  Active engagement allows children to associate literacy with success and fun (Neuman, 2006); Verhoeven and Snow (2001) assert that engagement occurs “only if joy is part of the experience” (p. 4).

For engagement to be genuine, teachers should approach every child “as a unique knower” (Fallon & Allen, 1994, p. 551).  Cognitive and motivational factors are integrated (Verhoeven & Snow, 2001) in individualized, personalized lessons and activities. Engagement is heightened when literacy skills are tied to children’s personal experiences (Gallego & Hollingsworth, 2000).

Research suggests that effective literacy instruction engages children in a variety of tasks that are child centered and interesting (Verhooven, 2001) and occur in classrooms that are rich in literacy materials and practices (McGee & Richgels, 2000).  When tasks are playful and engaging, they increase motivation and trigger memory skills (Justice & Kaderavek, 2004).

Instructional Conversation

Teachers who work with early-grade students must remember that there is more to gaining literacy than merely decoding words and sentences (Wallach & Butler, 1994; Silliman & Wilkinson, 1994).  Children need to experience and experiment with both oral and written language, and they learn to deal with written language through the medium of oral expression. The Center for Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence (2002) explains that instructional conversation is a natural form of teaching that “[assumes] that the student has something to say . . . [and] engages in conversation.”

Through this “exploratory talk,” students try out ideas, sort their thinking and make sense of what they are learning (Barnes, 2008). Talking things over helps children connect ideas in a text to experiences they have had and to the knowledge they possess (Naremore et al., 1995).  

The teacher is able to meet the needs of individual students by asking questions that assess understanding, monitor their participation, and provide the repetition that is essential for learning new skills (Gunter, Estes, & Schwab, 2003). 

Research by Project SEEL personnel is continuous and purposeful.  Existing features are assessed for effectiveness on both group and individual levels.  And new learning, understanding, and developments in the fields of literacy education, language and linguistics, elementary education, early childhood education, special education, and English language learners will be widely sought and applied.