The effect of linguistic comprehension training on language and reading comprehension

Kristin Rogde and colleagues from the Campbell Collaboration have completed a systematic review that examines the effects of linguistic comprehension teaching on generalised measures of language and reading comprehension skills. Examples of linguistic comprehension skills include vocabulary, grammar and narrative skills.

The authors searched literature dating back to 1986, and identified 43 studies to include in the review, including samples of both pre-school and school-aged participants. Randomised controlled trials and quasi-experiments with a control group and a pre-post design were included.

Key findings of the review were as follows:

  • The linguistic comprehension programmes included in the review display a small positive immediate effect on generalised outcomes of linguistic comprehension.
  • The effect of the programmes on generalised measures of reading comprehension is negligible.
  • Few studies report follow-up assessment of their participants.

According to the authors, linguistic comprehension teaching has the potential to increase children’s general linguistic comprehension skills. However, there is variability in effects related to the type of outcome measure that is used to examine the effect of such instruction on linguistic comprehension skills.

Source: The effect of linguistic comprehension instruction on generalized language and reading comprehension skills: A systematic review (November 2019), Campbell Systematic Reviews

How UK students’ writing has changed since 1980

Research published by Cambridge Assessment shows how 16-year-old students’ writing in exams has changed since 1980.

Aspects of Writing has been published by Cambridge Assessment approximately every 10 years, initially using a sample from 1980. This latest phase of the study focuses on writing samples from 2014. Key findings include:

  • The percentage of spelling errors at the lowest level of achievement is higher in 2014 than in most years. The incidence of spelling errors has changed very little among the mid- and higher-achieving students.
  • There is some evidence that use of “other” punctuation marks such as semi-colons has increased among higher-achieving students but decreased sharply among the lowest-achieving students.
  • There is a cautious indication of a general improvement in the use of commas.
  • There is an increase in the use of simple sentences among higher-achieving students. The researchers observed that these students tended to use simple sentences for literary effect.
  • Students of all abilities are using less-complex sentence structures.
  • Students at most levels of achievement are using more paragraphs than their predecessors.
  • There was almost no evidence of candidates using “text-speak” abbreviations in their work.

Source: Variations in aspects of writing in 16+ English examinations between 1980 and 2014. Research Matters Special Issue 4 (2016), Cambridge Assessment

Text messaging does not affect children’s grammatical development

Researchers from Coventry University carried out a longitudinal study to investigate whether “text speak” had any detrimental impact on grammatical development and other related literacy and language skills over the course of a year. They assessed the spelling, grammar, understanding of English, and IQ of three groups of children and young people (83 primary school children, 78 secondary school children, and 49 undergraduates), and compared those skills with a sample of their text messages.

There was no evidence of any significant relationships between poor grammar in text messages and their understanding of written or spoken grammar. For the primary school children, there was an association between punctuation errors in text messages and spelling ability. Children who made fewer punctuation errors when texting tended to be better at spelling and quicker to process writing than those who made more errors in their text messages.

For the undergraduate group, there was some evidence of a link between punctuation errors in text messages and the spelling ability and grammatical understanding of participants. However, this link was weak, and researchers concluded that it was probably related to children’s IQ score.

Source: Text messaging and grammatical development (2012), Nuffield Foundation

New study finds technology improves grammar learning

Hand-held technology can help to improve primary pupils’ learning of grammar, according to a new study by researchers at the Institute for Effective Education (IEE). A randomised evaluation of the use of Questions for Learning (QfL), a technology-enhanced, self-paced learning tool, was conducted in more than 40 primary schools. In QfL, each pupil responds to progressively more difficult questions that are presented on wireless hand-held devices at the rate that the pupil answers them. This allows both more advanced and weaker pupils to answer in a private way at a pace appropriate to them.

Pupils in classes who used QfL showed significant gains in grammar compared with pupils in the control group. This improvement was greater in schools that used QfL at least three days each week, and for low- and average-achieving pupils. If these results held over a school year, these pupils would make between three and four months of additional progress. Both teachers and pupils enjoyed using the strategy for formative assessment, believed it improved pupil achievement in grammar, and would recommend its use for other pupils and for other subjects.

Source: Effects of technology-enhanced formative assessment on achievement in primary grammar (2012), Institute for Effective Education

Harnessing grammar: Weaving words and shaping texts

The Department for Education’s Schools Research News has picked up on an article in a recent issue of Better: Evidence-based Education that has already proved popular with readers. It summarised research by the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Writing at the University of Exeter, which has developed and tested an intervention that aims to improve secondary pupils’ use and knowledge of grammar by embedding grammar teaching as part of writing lessons.

The study showed strong evidence for the beneficial impact of teaching writing in this way. However, the intervention was most effective with able writers, while for some less able writers it had a negative effect. This could be because the language used, and the needs addressed, were more relevant to able writers.

Source: Harnessing Grammar: Weaving words and shaping texts (2011), Better: Evidence-based Education, 3(2).