Investigating online inference making during reading in children who speak English as an additional language

This project explores if and when children who speak English as an additional language (EAL) make inferences spontaneously as they are reading. The research project will use eye movement methodology to track reading behaviour as children read passages that require an inference to be made. This will allow us to see not only if they make an inference but when they make it, and if certain patterns of eye movements are associated with good reading comprehension.

Department: The Learning Hub

Supervised by: Holly Joseph

The Placement Project

Inference making is a central component of skilled reading. Through inferences, a reader can link ideas and fill in details which are not mentioned explicitly in the text, and failure to generate inferences has a significant impact on text comprehension (Oakhill, 1982). It is well-documented that children who speak English as an additional language (EAL) have particular difficulties with reading comprehension. However, as yet little is known about which components of reading comprehension cause them particular difficulty, whether inferencing is one of these components, and if so, why EAL children might fail to make inferences. This project therefore asks two critical questions: (1) Do EAL children have difficulty making spontaneous inferences as they read text compared to their monolingual peers? (2) If they do have difficulty, what might account for this? To investigate these questions, we will monitor the eye movements of 40 EAL children (age 9-11) while they read passages such as the example below. Mr Jones was on his way to a meeting and it was almost 5 o’clock. He looked up at the dark grey clouds in the sky. He let out a sigh and put his umbrella up sadly. If they make the inference (that it’s going to rain) spontaneously, then we would expect longer reading times on key words such as umbrella and dark grey clouds. We will also administer standardised tests of reading comprehension, vocabulary knowledge and language use (how much English and other languages are used at home and in other contexts) to see whether these are predictive of eye movement behaviour.


The successful candidate will have number of duties, including liaising with schools, organising a timetable for data collection, running the experiment in schools, and contributing to the analysis and dissemination of data. Before testing commences, the student will be fully trained in: 1) Administering standardised tests of reading accuracy and comprehension 2) Using an eye tracker and its associated software After testing, the student will also be trained in basic descriptive statistical techniques and setting up a database (in Excel) to prepare eye movement data for analysis. They will also be given the opportunity to use appropriate software to analyse eye movement data, conduct statistical analyses and present findings at an informal research group meeting. It is expected that initial training and liaising with schools will take one week. Testing is expected to take three weeks, leaving two weeks for data analysis and interpretation. If the student is keen to present results at a research group meeting, there will be an opportunity to do so at a later date (in the autumn term). There will also the potential to work as part of a team of researchers working on this and aligned projects (PI: Daisy Powell), if funded, at the IOE.

Skills, knowledge and experience required

Essential skills/knowledge/experience. Before collecting data the successful candidate must have obtained a DBS check, as data will be collected in local primary schools. The successful student will have: • Good written and spoken communication skills • Confidence in speaking to primary school-age pupils whose first language is not English • Sense of responsibility in presenting self in a professional manner in a primary school (including punctuality) • Good organisational skills • Good IT skills • Willingness to travel to local schools (within the Reading area) Desirable skills/knowledge/experience: • Experience of interacting with children (e.g.; volunteering in schools) • Experience in handling numerical datasets, ideally using software such as MS Excel or SPSS • Knowledge of/willingness to learn some statistical procedures • Knowledge of experimental design • Be expecting to achieve a high 2.1 or a 1st class degree • Interest in reading and reading development

Skills which will be developed during the placement

The successful candidate will gain skills in the administration of standardised assessments in a school setting. These will be both the specific skills for administering and scoring the tests to be used in the project, and generic skills in general test administration and scoring. The successful candidate will also gain skills in using an eye tracker which will include experiment creation, running participants, and using basic data analysis software). If the successful candidate has no existing skills in statistical analysis, there will be individual tuition in using Excel for exploring data and deriving descriptive statistics. If the successful candidate has basic skills in statistics there will be the opportunity for more advanced tuition in running linear mixed effects models using R. The successful candidate will be expected to be self-motivated and to negotiate with school administrators to organise the schedule for data collection. This will give the candidate transferrable skills which will be marketable in many employment situations. The successful candidate will be expected to report to the PI and to engage in discussions about interpretation of the data. The contribution of the student to any conference presentation and written paper resulting from the research will be acknowledged in accordance with American Psychological Association and Harvard guidelines. Finally, the student will be given the opportunity to present results to a research group, thereby gaining expertise in public speaking and improving their communication skills.

Place of Work

Institute of Education, University of Reading and 2-3 local primary schools (to be confirmed)

Hours of Work

7 per day

Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Monday 10 June 2019 - Friday 19 July 2019

How to Apply

The post will be advertised centrally on the UROP website between 25th February and 5th April 2019. Interested students should send a CV, an academic reference and a short statement to the PI (, outlining why they want to apply for the post, and how they meet the essential and desirable skills/knowledge/experience. Shortlisting and interviews will be conducted by the PI and a colleague at the IoE and interviews will be held in April. Candidates will be informed of the result in the week following interviews.

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