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

Is the pen mightier than the computer?

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published a report assessing the impact of Abracadabra (ABRA), a 20-week online literacy programme, on literacy outcomes for Year 1 pupils. ABRA is composed of phonic fluency and comprehension activities based around a series of age-appropriate texts and is designed to be delivered by a teaching assistant to groups of three to five pupils in four 15-minute sessions per week. The EEF evaluation tested the ABRA online intervention alongside a paper-based alternative using the same material.

Fifty-one schools were randomly assigned to receive either a version of the intervention or to act as a control school delivering business as usual. In the schools receiving the intervention, pupils were randomised to receive the online intervention (ABRA), the paper-based intervention, or standard literacy provision.

Positive effects were found for both the online and paper-based interventions. Pupils in the online treatment group (effect size = +0.14) and the paper-based treatment group (ES = +0.23) both showed an improvement in literacy outcomes. The impact was higher for children eligible for free school meals for both ABRA (+0.37) and the paper-based intervention (+0.40). Pupils with below average pre-test outcomes seemed to benefit from ABRA, whereas the paper-based intervention seemed to benefit all pupils. Pupils who received normal literacy provision in the schools where the interventions took place did better than pupils who received normal literacy provision in control schools.

Source: ABRA: Online reading support: Evaluation report and executive summary (2016), Education Endowment Foundation

Teaching secondary students to write effectively

The Institute of Education Sciences has released a new What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) Educator’s Practice Guide. The guide, Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively, provides evidence-based recommendations for improving the writing skills of middle and secondary school students.

The WWC and a panel chaired by Steve Graham at Arizona State University synthesised existing research on the topic and combined it with insight from the panel to identify the following recommendations, which include a rating of the strength of the research evidence supporting each recommendation:

  • Explicitly teach appropriate writing strategies using a Model-Practice-Reflect instructional cycle (strong evidence)
  • Integrate writing and reading to emphasise key writing features (moderate evidence)
  • Use assessments of student writing to inform instruction and feedback (minimal evidence)

To help teachers put the recommendations into practice, the guide describes over 30 specific strategies for the classroom, including sample writing prompts, activities that incorporate both writing and reading, and ways to use formative assessment to inform writing instruction.

Source: Teaching secondary students to write effectively (2016), Institute of Education Sciences

One versus two years of ExCELL in preschool

While the effects of preschool programmes have often been studied, it is less common to find studies examining the effects of programme duration on student learning. Annemarie Hindman and Barbara Wasik from Temple University, Pennsylvania, examined the effects of providing one year versus two years of the teacher professional development programme Exceptional Coaching for Early Language and Literacy (ExCELL) on the language development and learning outcomes of three- and four-year-old children in the US preschool programme, Head Start.

ExCELL provides teachers with individualised coaching by providing a background in the concepts underlying preschoolers’ language and vocabulary development, evolving into ways to develop these skills in the classroom. Teachers are provided with curriculum materials and an academic year of month-long coaching, each month cycling through a group workshop, a coach modelling targeted techniques in the classroom, the teacher using these techniques independently, and finally the coach observing the teacher and providing feedback.

In the present study, 159 four-year-old children in Head Start experienced either one year (n=88), starting at age four, or two years (n=71), starting at age three, with teachers using ExCELL. Children were in 10 Head Start centres in the urban Northeastern United States in adjacent neighbourhoods with demographically similar populations. Almost all students and teachers were African-American and all were native English speakers.

At four years old, children were tested in the spring and autumn using standardised tests measuring vocabulary, sound awareness, and alphabet knowledge. Results showed that although the four-year-olds who had already received one year of the programme entered their second year with stronger vocabulary, phonemic awareness, and alphabet knowledge than their peers who had not yet experienced the programme, by the year’s end, these peers had caught up to them. The authors state that these findings suggest that ExCELL is most effectively taught in the second year of preschool.

Source: Is dosage important? Examining Head Start preschoolers’ language and literacy learning after one versus two years of ExCELL (2016), Early Childhood Development and Care

New guide to foundational reading skills

A new What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) practice guide focuses on the foundational reading skills that enable students to read words, relate those words to their oral language, and read connected text with sufficient accuracy and fluency to understand what they read.

The authors conducted a thorough literature search, identified studies that met protocol requirements, and then reviewed those studies against WWC standards. The review focused on studies published since 2000. The guide, Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade, provides four recommendations that can be used to improve literacy skills from kindergarten to third grade (Years 1–4). Each recommendation is assigned a level of evidence based on the quantity and quality of the research:

  • Teach students academic language skills, including the use of inferential and narrative language, and vocabulary knowledge (minimal evidence)
  • Develop awareness of the segments of sounds in speech and how they link to letters (strong evidence)
  • Teach students to decode words, analyse word parts, and write and recognise words (strong evidence)
  • Ensure that each student reads connected text every day to support reading accuracy, fluency, and comprehension (moderate evidence)

The practice guide is a companion to another WWC practice guide, Improving Reading Comprehension in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade.

Source: Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade (2016), What Works Clearinghouse