Doctoral Dissertations

Orcid ID

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School Psychology

Major Professor

Christopher H. Skinner

Committee Members

Tara Moore, Merilee McCurdy, David F. Cihak


Some researchers have found difficult-to-read, disfluent materials can improve learning. Thus, this dissertation is comprised of three studies investigating the effects of difficult-to-read materials on learning. In Study I, we used an adapted alternating treatments design to compare sight-word learning in three students with intellectual disability when flashcards were presented in easy-to-read (i.e., fluent) and difficult-to-read (i.e., disfluent) fonts. All students learned words presented in both fonts; however, two learned more words presented in fluent font, and the third experienced no differences between conditions. Another area where difficult-to-read material could affect learning is multicultural reading curricula, which often include diverse names that differ phonetically from a student’s native language. Study II was designed to determine whether diverse names in grade-level reading passages impact early elementary students’ reading outcomes. We used a mixed-factors experimental design to evaluate and compare reading comprehension and comprehension rate on grade-level passages with simple, common names verses unfamiliar diverse names. Results indicated diverse names significantly reduced comprehension levels and rates. Effect sizes were moderate. Considering the far-reaching benefits of multicultural education, we wanted to find a solution to the reading difficulties we found to be associated with unfamiliar diverse names. We designed Study III to evaluate the effectiveness of a simple pre-teaching intervention familiarizing students with diverse names before they read those names embedded in passages (i.e., constant time delay presented paired with a brief description and pictures). We used a between-subjects experimental design to compare the reading comprehension and comprehension rate of students who did and did not receive the intervention. Results indicated students who received the intervention comprehended significantly more of the passage than students who did not. The effect size was large, supporting practical significance. Overall, our findings demonstrate difficult-to-read material can hinder learning, particularly in unskilled readers. There is a need for aptitude-treatment interaction research, in addition to studies designed to evaluate academic outcomes in relation to multicultural content. Most importantly, researchers should validate simple and efficient methods teachers can use to familiarize their students with phonetically unfamiliar words, allowing students to benefit from multicultural content without hindering reading.


The final, definitive version of Study I in this dissertation will be published in Remedial and Special Education, published by SAGE Publishing, all rights reserved, available at under the citation Taylor, K. L. H., Skinner, C. H., Cazzell, S., Gibbons, S., Ryan, K., Ruddy, J., Ciancio, D., Beeson, T., & Cihak, D. (in press). Disfluent font can hider sight-word acquisition in students with intellectual disability. Remedial and Special Education.

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