Faculty & Staff


Maria S. Carlo, PhD

Maria S. Carlo, PhD

Associate Professor

Phone: 813-974-5787
Office: MHC 1722

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View Curriculum Vitae

Dr. Carlo is an Associate Professor at the University of South Florida in the Department of Child and Family Studies. She joined USF in 2017 as part of the USF Rightpath Research and Innovation Center.

Dr. Carlo specializes in bilingualism and literacy development in children and adults and is involved in multiple projects involving these areas. Dr. Carlo’s research focuses on the cognitive processes underlying reading in a second language and in understanding the cross-language transfer of reading skills and how it affects the development of such skills.

She is also interested in generating educational interventions that support first- and second-language development, particularly around vocabulary. She has been involved in grants funded through the National Institute of Health and the Institute for Educational Sciences and has authored multiple publications. She earned her doctorate in Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She was previously on the faculty at the University of Texas, Harvard Graduate School of Education and at the University of Miami. She is a member of the American Educational Research Association and the International Reading Association.

Current Research

The Effect of Definitions, Contextual Support, and Cognate Status on 4th Grade Spanish-Speaking English Learner’s Understanding of Unfamiliar Words

This funding examines how word definitions, contextual support, and cognate status affect 4th grade Spanish speaking English learners’ (EL) understanding of unfamiliar wordsin text. The inclusion of monolingual and bilingual dictionary definitions as a support for independent word learning is a ubiquitous practice in EL instruction, yet, the field lacks experimental work that isolates and tests the
effect of dictionary definitions on EL vocabulary learning. Research on effective vocabulary instruction for ELs has typically relied on interventions that include multiple teaching strategies, each considered exemplary of best practice, but that lack evidence of their unique contribution to EL vocabulary learning.
The value of definitions as supports for independent learning has been brought into question in research with monolingual English speakers. The bulk of this work suggests that definitions are mostly ineffective in promoting independent learning of word meanings. However, a metaanalysis on the value of testing accommodations for ELs indicates that provision of an English dictionary is a form of accommodation that is effective in boosting ELs’ reading comprehension performance in testing situations. The same metaanalysis found that the estimates of the effect of providing a Spanish dictionary varied considerably
across studies, suggesting that some students benefited more from this practice than others. The widespread use of dictionary definitions in EL instruction coupled with the inconsistent evidence regarding their utility to ELs and English monolinguals, compel us to study how ELs’ use definitions to aid their understanding of unfamiliar words in text. Thus, we study the extent to which Spanish-speaking ELs benefit from English and Spanish definitions during independent learning situations and how ability to use definitions to understand English text interacts with other potential sources of information about word meaning, namely sentence context and cognate status.

PI: Maria Carlo,PhD
Funder: U.S. Department of Education