Positive results for early language and pre-literacy intervention

A new study published in Child Development has found positive results for an intervention designed to improve early language and pre-literacy skills in children in Denmark.

Dorthe Bleses and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial of three variations of SPELL (Structured Preschool Efforts in Language and Literacy), to evaluate to what extent the intervention increased children’s language and pre-literacy skills compared to business as usual. SPELL, which is a Danish version of an existing programme, Read it Again-PreK!, is a 20-week storybook-based intervention for children aged  three- to six-years-old. Twice a week, children receive 30-minute lessons in small groups which include a before, during, and after reading activity to address the lesson’s objectives, which is delivered via an iPad-based digital learning technology.

For the trial, 6,483 children from 144 childcare settings were randomly assigned to one of three variations of SPELL, or continued with business as usual. Pre- to post-test comparisons showed an impact of all three interventions for literacy skills (effect sizes = +0.21 to +0.27) but not language skills (+0.04 to +0.16), with little difference among the three variations.

Source: The effectiveness of a large-scale language and preliteracy intervention: The SPELL randomized controlled trial in Denmark (2017), Child Development doi:10.1111/cdev.12859

Children who enjoy reading over three years ahead in the classroom

Research published by the National Literacy Trust highlights the link between enjoyment of reading and achievement, with children who enjoy reading more likely to do better at reading – over three years ahead in the classroom – of their peers who don’t enjoy it.

The findings are based on data from 42,406 children aged 8 to 18 who participated in a National Literacy Trust survey at the end of 2016. At age 10, children who enjoy reading have a reading age 1.3 years higher than their peers who don’t enjoy reading, rising to 2.1 years for 12-year-olds. At age 14, children who enjoy reading have an average reading age of 15.3 years, while those who don’t enjoy reading have an average reading age of just 12 years, a difference of 3.3 years.

The survey also indicates that three-quarters (78%) of UK primary school children enjoy reading, with girls more likely to enjoy reading than boys. Overall, 64.9% of girls enjoying reading either very much or quite a lot compared with 52.4% of boys, and this gap increases with age. At ages 8 to 11, 82.8% of girls and 72.4% of boys said they enjoyed reading. By ages 14 to 16, this figure has dropped to 53.3% of girls and 35.7% of boys reporting that they enjoy reading.

Source: Celebrating reading for enjoyment: findings from our annual literacy survey 2016 (June 2017), National Literacy Trust

Scale-up evaluation of Switch-on disappoints

An independent evaluation for the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) of the Switch-on intervention has found no evidence that it improves the reading outcomes of pupils struggling with literacy at Key Stage 1 (ages 5–7 years) compared to schools’ usual practices.

Switch-on is an intensive, targeted literacy intervention that aims to improve the reading skills of pupils who are struggling with literacy. There are two versions of the intervention: Switch-on Reading and Switch-on Reading and Writing. Both involve specially trained Teaching Assistants (TAs) delivering a tailored programme of literacy support in daily 20-minute sessions over a ten-week period.

Schools selected pupils in Year 3 who were working below age-related expectations at the end of Key Stage 1 and who did not have a high level of special needs. Each of the 184 participating schools was then randomly assigned to receive either Switch-on Reading, Switch-on Reading and Writing, or to continue their usual practices of supporting pupils with reading difficulties. In total, 999 pupils were involved in the trial.

Estimated effect sizes were zero and not statistically significant. The intervention also showed no effect on pupils eligible for free school meals. These findings contradict a previous, smaller EEF-funded evaluation of Switch-on which had shown signs of promise in raising reading outcomes for Year 7 pupils.

Source: Switch-on – effectiveness trial (May 2017), Education Endowment Foundation

Links between pre-school absenteeism and academic learning

A new study, published in Child Development, found that children in the US pre-school programme Head Start who missed 10% or more of the school year had fewer academic gains than their peers who attended pre-school more regularly.

Arya Ansari and Kelly M Purtell used data from the Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES) 2009 cohort (n=2,842) to examine the effects of absenteeism among 3- and 4-year-olds on early academic learning. Their findings revealed that, on average, children missed eight days of the school year. However, 12% of children were chronically absent – defined as missing 10% of the school year or more – and missed an average of 22 days of school. Children who missed more days of school, especially those who were chronically absent, demonstrated fewer gains in maths and literacy during the pre-school year. For maths, this was equivalent to approximately two months of lost academic skill gains. In literacy the loss was three months.

The study also found that Black and Latino children were less likely to be absent than white children. Children from households with married parents were less likely to be absent than those from households without two parents. In addition, children were less likely to be absent when they were enrolled in classrooms that operate for more hours per week and in larger and bilingual classrooms. Children were more likely to be absent if their mother showed more depressive symptoms and was unemployed. The quality of interactions between teachers and children positively affected children’s development of literacy skills, and the benefits were roughly twice as large for children who were absent less often.

Source:  Absenteeism in Head Start and children’s academic learning (May 2017), Child Development doi:10.1111/cdev.12800

Trends in early literacy

The transition from kindergarten to first grade (Year 1 to Year 2 in the UK) is considered to be a critical period for children’s academic and social development. Expectation about children’s early literacy learning has risen over time, but has their achievement – and how?

Jerome V D’Agostino and Emily Rodgers analysed achievement data obtained from a US database for Reading Recovery (a literacy intervention for first grade pupils) for more than 364,000 children entering first grade in the same schools. From this data they created a literacy profile for pupils at entry to the first grade over a 12-year period, beginning in the 2002–03 school year.

Their research, published in Educational Researcher, found that overall, reading for all pupils in the first grade improved measurably between 2002 and 2013. Literacy scores on entry increased over time. The effect size change in achievement gaps narrowed (-0.10) on basic skills like letter identification, but widened on advanced skills like text reading level (+0.08) over 12 years.

Source: Literacy achievement trends at entry to first grade (March 2017), Educational Researcher, Vol 46, Issue 2.

Report presents latest research on Read 180 programme

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has updated its Intervention Report on READ 180, a programme designed for struggling readers who are reading two or more years below grade level.

The WWC identified nine studies of READ 180 that fell within the scope of the WWC’s Adolescent Literacy topic area and met WWC research standards. Three studies met WWC standards without reservations, and six studies met WWC standards with reservations (according to the WWC, studies receiving this rating provide a lower degree of confidence that an observed effect was caused by the intervention). Together, these studies included 8,755 teenage readers in more than 66 schools in 15 school districts and 10 states.

After examining the research, the WWC concluded that READ 180 has positive effects on comprehension and general literacy achievement, potentially positive effects on reading fluency, but no discernible effects on alphabetics.

Source: READ 180® Adolescent Literacy What Works Clearinghouse Intervention Report:  A summary of findings from a systematic review of the evidence (2016), Institute of Education Sciences