Digital Scaffolding for English Language Arts

Examine the efficacy of Visual Syntactic Text Formatting (VSTF) on 7th and 8th-grade students’ reading and writing outcomes.


Mark Warschauer (University of California, Irvine, School of Education)
Penelope Collins (University of California, Irvine, School of Education)
George Farkas  (University of California, Irvine, School of Education)

Joanna Yau (University of California, Irvine, School of Education)
Jenell Krishnan  (University of California, Irvine, School of Education)
Tamara Tate (University of California, Irvine, School of Education)
Ying Xu (University of California, Irvine, School of Education)
Yenda Prado (University of California, Irvine, School of Education)

Project Funding:
U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES # R305A150429) $3.5 million award

Project Duration:
July 1, 2015 to September 30, 2019

In this project, researchers are examining the efficacy of Visual Syntactic Text Formatting (VSTF), a technology for reformatting text to make it easier to understand, on 7th and 8th grade students’ reading and writing outcomes. Students are expected to read and understand progressively more complex texts as they get older, and many of these texts are complex both in their language and their structure. One way to help students better understand the complex text they read is to adjust the text itself; even changing the size or spacing of letters can help students’ reading comprehension. VSTF is an empirically validated text formatting tool that arranges phrases so that it highlights the meaning of the text. Researchers are examining whether reading text in VSTF improves students’ reading and writing as compared to reading text in standard blocks.


Project Activities:
VSTF separates phrases and clauses onto short, separate lines. It also uses a cascading pattern and different colors to highlight active verbs. The result is a streamlined column of text that makes reading easier and more efficient. In this project, classrooms of students will be randomly assigned either to read their language arts text in VSTF on an iPad or Chromebook, or to read their language arts text in traditional block format on an iPad or Chromebook. Researchers will also examine whether reading VSTF on an iPad or on a Chromebook makes a difference in how well the intervention works to improve students’ reading and writing outcomes. This project is taking place in Garden Grove Unified School District (GGUSD).  Approximately 4,800 students in 7th and 8th grade, as well as their 57 teachers are participating.

Research Design and Methods: Researchers will use a randomized control trial to study the efficacy on VSTF 7th and 8th grade students’ reading and writing outcomes. Additionally, four of the schools in the study will implement the intervention on iPads and six  will implement on Chromebooks. Students in the VSTF condition will receive regular language arts curriculum and selected California Common Core aligned texts digitally in VSTF. Students will read in VSTF for 50 minutes each week. Additionally, teachers will provide explicit instruction in language structure. Students in the control condition will use the same curriculum as students in the treatment condition. Also, readings will be presented digitally, but not in traditional block formatting. Students in the control classrooms will read for 50 minutes a week and will receive the same explicit instruction from teachers as students in the treatment classrooms. Students randomly assigned to the control condition will receive the same texts and same instruction as students in the treatment condition. They will also read their texts on iPads or Chromebooks, but in block text formatting instead of in VSTF.

Key Measures: Student measures will include grade point average in language arts and scores on the California English Language Development Test and the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Teacher measures will include the Teacher Practices inventory and the Measuring Teacher Content Knowledge for Teaching Elementary Rescore Items. The team will adapt the Pathway Observation Measure to assess the quantity and process of implementation of the intervention.

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will use hierarchical linear modeling to assess the impact of VTSF on student outcomes with students at level 1 and teachers at level 2. The research team will include interaction terms between the treatment condition and the iPad/Chromebook condition to examine whether the effect of VSTF varies depending on technology. The research team will conduct a cost analysis to examine the cost of the VSTF intervention as compared to reading text digitally in block formatting.

Visual syntactic text formatting, also referred to by its trademarked name of Live Ink, was developed by Walker Reading Technologies.

Instruments: GGUSD language arts Benchmark assessments and the Smarter Balanced reading test

Reactions from our pilot teachers:

I like the short phrases and how it looks. It doesn’t look as intimidating as a block form text.”

Information for Teachers and Educators:

Video on how Live Ink works

Try Live Ink out!


Park, Y., Warschauer, M. (under review). Syntactic enhancement and second language literacy: An experimental study. Language Learning & Technology.

Warschauer, M., & Park, Y. (2012). Re-envisioning reading in English as a foreign languageJACET-KANTO Journal, 8, 5-13.

Warschauer, M., Park, Y., & Walker, R. (2011). Transforming digital reading with visual- syntactic text formatting.The JALT CALL Journal, 7(3), 255-270.

Park, Y., Warschauer, M. (2014, April). Building up knowledge of language structures in adolescent literacy development. Roundtable discussion presented at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Park, Y., Collins, P., Warschauer, M., & Oak, M. (2013, July). The effect of Syntactic scaffolding on adolescent literacy development. Paper presented at the 20th annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Reading, Hong Kong, China.

Park, Y., & Warschauer, M. (2013, April). The effect of visual-syntactic text formatting on adolescents’ reading competencies. Poster presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Seattle, WA.

For more information, please contact: Mark Warschauer at


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