Hongxia Fu

Date of Award

January 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning

First Advisor

Richard Van Eck


While research suggests that secondary language (L2) learners at postsecondary institutions face academic reading challenges, and that reading strategy training can improve primary language (L1) learners' reading comprehension, it remains a challenge to find scalable ways to deliver such training to L2 learners. Intelligent tutoring systems (ITS) have been shown to be nearly as effective as human tutors while reaching potentially unlimited numbers of learners in a variety of subjects, including reading comprehension. However, few studies have explored the effectiveness of such systems for improving L2 learners' reading comprehension. Self-Explanation Reading Training (SERT) is an instructional model that combines self-explanation and five reading strategies (monitoring, paraphrasing, prediction, elaboration, and bridging), and has been shown to be effective. SERT has also been built into a game-based intelligent tutoring system environment called Interactive Strategy Trainer for Active Reading and Thinking ---Motivationally Enhanced (iSTART-ME). Studies have demonstrated the effects of iSTART-ME in improving L1 students' reading comprehension and learning motivation, but little evidence exists for its efficacy for L2 learners.

This research tested the reading strategy training effect through iSTART-ME on 34 incoming international L2 students admitted to a large public American higher institution in the Southwest. In addition to pretests, presurveys, posttests, and

postsurveys, these students received three hours training within two consecutive days right before their fall semester school courses formally started. The results showed that their self-explanation quality scores, short-answer reading comprehension test scores, and learning motivation scores were significantly improved with a medium effect size. The results also suggested that students with lower self-explanation and comprehension ability benefited the most, although all students benefitted from the training. After the training, the interviewees reported that their learning with iSTART-ME was interesting and successful, expressed a desire to learn more strategies with iSTART-ME in the future, and expected to apply the strategies they learned to other subjects.

This study implied that iSTART-ME, with low cost in reaching large numbers of students, effectively taught the incoming international college students reading strategies, and improved their L2 reading comprehension abilities and learning motivations.