Setting up in-class libraries in rural China

A study published in Reading Research Quarterly examined the effects of installing an in-class library providing students with age-appropriate books on student reading outcomes and achievements in rural China.

Most previous studies of the effects of age-appropriate books have been conducted in developed regions. However, in rural China, not only are age-appropriate reading materials scarce, but schools, teachers, and parents believe independent reading will negatively affect students’ performance on high-stakes college entrance exams.

To examine the actual effects in rural China, Hongmei Yi and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial including 11,083 fourth- and fifth-grade students from 120 schools in Jiangxi province in China. In the treatment schools, an in-class library stocked with 70 extracurricular books was installed in each classroom. The books were carefully selected based on recommendations of reading specialists and educators. Students received a baseline survey before the intervention and a follow-up survey after eight months of the intervention. Besides asking students about their attitudes toward reading and reading habits, students’ performance in Chinese language and maths was evaluated, and an assessment made of their reading skills using test items from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). They found that:

  • The in-class library significantly improved students’ reading habits after eight months. Students borrowed books more, read more, enjoyed reading more, and communicated more with their friends about reading.
  • There were no significant effects on students’ performance in maths and Chinese, despite the beliefs in China’s highly competitive system that independent reading would lower test scores.
  • However, there was no significant effect on students’ reading achievement.

The authors suggest that the lack of positive effects might be due to the book choices, short duration of the programme, and the fact that tasks were not assigned to teachers regarding the use of the in-class libraries. They suggest that the results highlight the importance of providing age-appropriate reading resources to primary students in rural China.

Source: Do Resources Matter? Effects of an In‐Class Library Project on Student Independent Reading Habits in Primary Schools in Rural China, (March 2019) Reading Research Quarterly 

What works in education around the world?

This report from the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement and the TIMSS PIRLS International Study Center at Boston College presents data from 9-10 year-old pupils in 34 countries who took both the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) and PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) assessments in 2011. Home environment information was also available because the PIRLS assessment includes a parent questionnaire. In total over 180,000 children, 170,000 parents, 14,000 teachers, and 6,000 school leaders participated in these two studies worldwide.

According to the authors, their analyses of the data suggest that, across countries, there are a number of school and home factors that can positively affect achievement in reading, mathematics, and science at the Year 5 level. For example, they say that when parents engage children in early literacy activities, it can help children develop both literacy and numeracy skills. The early literacy activities they mention include reading books, telling stories, singing songs, playing with alphabet toys, talking about things you’ve done or have read, playing word games, writing letters or words, and reading aloud signs and labels.

Source: TIMSS and PIRLS 2011: Relationships Among Reading, Mathematics, and Science Achievement at the Fourth Grade—Implications for Early Learning (2013), TIMSS PIRLS International Study Center.