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Project descriptions: Learning and achievement-related problems and disabilities

Project 1-1

Personal initiative and its importance for the development of reading competence 
(2011–2014)

Promotion Project 1-1 examines the development of personal initiative in middle-aged childhood and its importance for developing  reading literacy in a longitudinal study. 

Personal initiative is defined as the behavioral tendency to show self-starting, proactive, and persistent behavior (Fay & Frese, 2001; Frese & Fay, 2001). Originally developed within the work context, the construct repeatedly showed positive relations with active learning behavior and individual and organizational performance in adults (Fay & Frese, 2001; Frese & Fay, 2001; Sonnentag, 2003). However, so far little is known about the relevance of personal initiative in children.

Therefore, the aim of project 1-1 is to investigate whether personal initiative shows positive effects on academic learning and performance in children. In particular, we focus on the impact of personal initiative on the development of reading competence. For this purpose, a parent and teacher rating scale were developed and validated (Wollny, 2015). Moreover, it was found that personal initiative relates to active learning in children. Elementary students with higher personal initiative actively used reading events (reading alone or with their parents) to increase their knowledge and to address comprehension issues. In doing so, they also scored higher on vocabulary knowledge and had better word reading ability (Wollny, 2015).

The present project follows up on these results by investigating if and how personal initiative functions as a longitudinal predictor of diverse reading skills. We investigate whether personal initiative does not only relate to word reading but also to more complex reading skills, such as reading comprehension. In particular, we expect that students with higher personal initiative actively develop and use their knowledge about reading strategies to support their own reading progress.

A further aim of this project is the investigation of personal initiative as a protective factor within individual academic trajectories. There is evidence that self-regulatory skills function as protective factors that promote academic achievement in at-risk children (e.g., Sektnan, McClelland, Acock, & Morrison, 2010). Because children with higher personal initiative are thought to be active problem-solvers, to be persistent, and to shape their own learning environment, we expect that proactive at-risk children show more beneficial academic careers than at-risk children with low personal initiative.

Fay, D. & Frese, M. (2001). The concept of personal initiative: An overview of validity studies. Human performance, 14, 97-124.

Frese, M. & Fay, D. (2001). Personal initiative: An active performance concept for work in the 21st century. In B. M. Staw & R. I. Sutton (Eds.), Research in organizational behavior, Vol.23 (pp. 133-187). San Diego, CA, US: Elsevier Academic Press.

Sonnentag, S. (2003). Recovery, work engagement, and practice behavior: A new look at the interface between nonwork and work. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88, 518-528. 

Project Manager:
Prof. Dr. Fay, Prof. Dr. Schiefele, Prof. Dr. Kliegl & Dipl.-Psych. Anna Wollny (Kohorte 1)


Personal initiative and its importance for the development of reading competence (2014–2017)

Results of Promotion Project 1-1 show that a higher amount of personal initiative is correlated to active learning in children. Children with more personal initiative actively use read-aloud situations to receive knowledge and to pose questions of understanding. In comparison to children with less developed personal initiative, highly personal initiative children possess extensive vocabulary and show better achievements in their basal reading ability (Wollny, 2015).

The present project follows up on these results by investigating if and how personal initiative functions as a longitudinal predictor of diverse reading skills. We investigate whether personal initiative does not only relate to word reading but also to more complex reading skills, such as reading comprehension. In particular, we expect that students with higher personal initiative actively develop and use their knowledge about reading strategies to support their own reading progress.

A further aim of this project is the investigation of personal initiative as a protective factor within individual academic trajectories. There is evidence that self-regulatory skills function as protective factors that promote academic achievement in at-risk children (e.g., Sektnan, McClelland, Acock, & Morrison, 2010). Because children with higher personal initiative are thought to be active problem-solvers, to be persistent, and to shape their own learning environment, we expect that proactive at-risk children show more beneficial academic careers than at-risk children with low personal initiative.

Sektnan, M., McClelland, M. M., Acock, A., & Morrison, F. J. (2010). Relations between early family risk, children's behavioral regulation, and academic achievement. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 25, 464-479.

Wollny, A. (2015). Eigeninitiative in der Kindheit und ihre Bedeutung für die Entwicklung der Lesekompetenz (unpublished dissertation). University of Potsdam. Potsdam, Deutschland.

Project Manager:
Prof. Dr. Fay, Prof. Dr. Schiefele, Prof. Dr. Spörer, Prof. Dr. Kliegl & Dipl.-Psych. Greta Warner (Kohorte 2)


Project 1-2

Reading competence and gaze control

The development of reading competence and changes in attention and gaze control while reading are a parallel processes. The aim of this project is to investigate the relation of reading competence (reading fluency and reading comprehension), allocation of attention and gaze control in a sample of children. We expect a precise cross-sectional, as well as longitudinal measurement of eye movement while reading. Further, we assume that measurement of process modelling (Laubrock, Kliegl & Engbert, 2006) will help understanding the suit of reading development and its’ risks. Varying measures of fixation duration and landing position distributions of saccades will be gathered. 

First, the attention parameter ‚extension of perceptual range‘ (Sperlich, Schad, & Laubrock, 2015) was measured by means of a reading task with gaze-dependent display changes (moving window-Technik; McConkie & Rayner, 1975).

Second, a correlative study should connect measures of attention and gaze with achievement scores of different reading tests, as well as with general cognitive ability.

Third, the central issue of fundamental changes in attention and gaze control and their influence on the development of reading competence will be addressed by comparing varying times of measurement (Sperlich, Meixner, & Laubrock, in revision). 

Laubrock, J., Kliegl, R., & Engbert, R. (2006). SWIFT explorations of age differences in reading eye movements. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 30, 872-884.

McConkie, G. W., & Rayner, K. (1975). The span of the effective stimulus during a fixation in reading. Perception & Psychophysics, 17, 578-586.

Sperlich, A., Schad, D., & Laubrock, J. (2015). Development of the perceptual span in german beginning readers. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 27, 511-530.

Sperlich, A., Meixner, J. M., & Laubrock, J. (in revision). Development of the perceptual span in reading: A longitudinal study. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

Project Manager:
Prof. Dr. Schiefele, Dr. Laubrock & Dipl.-Psych. Anja Sperlich (Kohorte 1) & Dipl.-Psych. Johannes Meixner (Kohorte 2)


Project 1-3

Reading amount, reading motivation and reading competence 

Reading motivation is an important factor in development of reading competences (e.g., Guthrie et al., 2007; Schaffner & Schiefele, 2008). With this project, we want to clarify the extent of influence of different intrinsic and extrinsic incentives of reading on reading comprehension. Furthermore, we want to understand the underlying process, that’s why we examine the mediating role of reading amount.

For a complete understanding, we use data of elementary school students. This way, we can record the development starting with reading beginners and we can look at the early reading years. We assess reading motivation and reading amount with self-reported questionnaires. Reading competence is assessed with a reading achievement test that measures the comprehension of words, sentences and short texts. In addition, we ask the parents and teachers of the children for their ratings of the children´s behavior as well as their experiences and attitudes toward reading and reading education.

Guthrie, J. T., Hoa, A. L. W., Wigfield, A., Tonks, S. M., Humenick, N. M., & Littles, E. (2007). Reading motivation and reading comprehension growth in the later elementary years. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 32, 282-313.

Schaffner, E., & Schiefele, U. (2008). Familiäre und individuelle Bedingungen des Textlernens. Psychologie in Erziehung und Unterricht, 55, 238-252.

Project Manager:
Prof. Dr. Schiefele, Dr. Schaffner & M.A. Franziska Stutz (Kohorte 1) & Dipl.-Psych. Sebastian Löweke (Kohorte 2)


Project 1-4

Determinants of the course of math disabilities

Even if the currently mentioned prevalence rates are usually overestimated (Wyschkon et al., 2009) there remains a need for research on dyscalculia (DD) and mathematical problems. Based on research approaches on 3000 primary school children on issues concerning information processing, comorbidity and the natural history of  DD (Kohn, 2013), the stability of DD and its determinants will be analyzed in this doctoral project. The main interest of our research is focused on intrapersonal factors such as memory functions, attention skills and motivational aspects. These determinants will be investigated concerning their predictive power and their specificity for math achievement and dyscalculia.

Kohn, J. (2013). Rechenstörungen im Kindes- und Jugendalter: Psychische Auffälligkeiten und Kognitive Defizite. Universität Potsdam, Potsdam.

Wyschkon, A., Kohn, J., Ballaschk, K., & Esser, G. (2009). Sind Rechenstörungen genau so häufig wie Lese-Rechtschreibstörungen?. Zeitschrift für Kinder- und Jugendpsychiatrie und Psychotherapie, 37, 499-512.

Project Manager:
Prof. Dr. Esser, Dr. Lange & Dipl.-Psych. Johanna Graefen (Kohorte 1) und
Prof. Dr. Esser, Prof. Dr. Schiefele, Dr. Wyschkon & M.Sc. Finja Petersen (Kohorte 2)