Does quality of teaching improve outcomes in early childhood education?

The Education Endowment Foundation has published an evaluation of a programme that trains early years teachers to improve children’s language outcomes. The Using Research Tools to Improve Language in the Early Years (URLEY) intervention is an evidence-based professional development programme for early years teachers. It is designed to improve teacher’s knowledge of how children learn and develop oral language skills, and how to support that learning through evidence-based practice.

Teachers take part in five day-long professional development workshops in which they are introduced to evidence-based learning principles and research tools to evaluate and refine pedagogy and practice. In particular, teachers are taught to use Environment Rating Scales (ERS) – research-validated observational rating scales known to predict aspects of children’s development, with higher scores linked to improved maths and English achievement. Teachers watched videos of effective practice and were supported to use the language principles and ERS to “tune in” to language-supporting practice.

Nearly 2,000 children from 120 schools from the West Midlands, Liverpool and Manchester participated in the study from October 2016 to July 2018. The programme was evaluated using a randomised controlled trial, testing the impact of the URLEY programme on children’s language development over two years, compared to business as usual in control schools.

The results of the trial found that children in schools receiving URLEY did not make additional progress in language development compared to children in control schools, as measured by a composite language score (effect size = -0.08). However, the programme did show a positive impact on the quality of teaching (as measured by ERS), with effect sizes in the range of +0.5 to +0.7.

Source: URLEY: evaluation report (February 2020), Education Endowment Foundation

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

The impact of shared book reading on children’s language skills

This meta-analysis, published in Educational Research Review, explores whether shared reading interventions are equally effective across a range of study designs, across a range of different outcome variables, and for children from different socioeconomic status (SES) groups.

Studies were included in the meta-analysis if they met the following criteria:

  • Must contain a universal and/or targeted shared book reading intervention.
  • Must include at least one control group.
  • Participants must be typically developing children ages seven years or younger.
  • Must not target multilingual populations and/or the acquisition of an additional language.
  • Must isolate the variable of interest (shared book reading).
  • Must report on objective quantitative measure of language ability.
  • Must provide sufficient data to calculate the effect size.

The results suggest that shared reading had an overall effect size of +0.19 on children’s language development. They also show that this effect was moderated by the type of control group used and was near zero in studies with active control groups (ES = +0.03). The meta-analysis also shows no differences across outcome variables or for SES.

Source: The impact of shared book reading on children’s language skills: A meta-analysis (September 2019), Educational Research Review, Volume 28

Let’s Talk about language development

The findings from a randomised controlled trial of Let’s Talk – an interactive intervention to support young children’s language development – suggest that the intervention has a positive effect on narrative and vocabulary development.

The trial, conducted by Gillian Lake and Maria Evangelou, and published in European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, involved 94 three- to four-year-old children in early education settings in Oxfordshire. The children were randomly assigned to control or intervention groups and tested pre- and post-intervention on standardised vocabulary and narrative assessments. Children in the intervention group attended twice-weekly sessions over ten weeks, in groups of three to five children. The first session of the week was a group shared storybook reading session with a puppet, while the second weekly session consisted of a planned pretend play session based on the storybook read in the first session that week. Children in the control group completed age-appropriate early numeracy activities and games – also in groups of three to five children.

The results suggest that the intervention had a positive effect on the vocabulary of the children in the intervention group, with medium to large effect sizes, and also on their narrative ability.

Source: Let’s Talk! An interactive intervention to support children’s language development (February 2019). European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 27:2

Improving the language and communication of secondary school children with language difficulties

A research report published in the International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders investigates the effectiveness of teaching assistant (TA)-delivered narrative and vocabulary interventions to secondary school children with language difficulties.

Researchers at City University of London and University of Oxford conducted a randomised controlled trial in two outer London boroughs. Across 21 schools, 358 Year 7 underperforming pupils (mean age = 12.8 years) were recruited, and randomised to four groups within each school: vocabulary intervention, narrative intervention, combined narrative and vocabulary intervention, and delayed waiting control group. The narrative programme focused on the understanding and telling of stories, using a story structure to support story generation. Pupils were introduced to different types of stories (fictional, non‐fictional, scripts) and narrative genres. The vocabulary programme focused on developing key concepts and vocabulary items relevant to the curriculum (eg, nutrition) and age-appropriate (eg, careers). A variety of tasks including word associations, categorisation, mind‐mapping and word‐building were used to reinforce word learning.

The language and communication programmes (narrative, vocabulary, and combined narrative and vocabulary) were delivered by TAs in the classroom, three times per week, for 45–60 min each, over six weeks, totalling 18 sessions. Assessments were conducted pre- and post-intervention.

Overall, pupils in the intervention groups made greater improvements on standardised measures of narrative (effect size = +0.296), but not vocabulary skills, compared with control group children.

Source: Improving storytelling and vocabulary in secondary school students with language disorder: a randomized controlled trial (March 2019), International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 54:4

Professional development for early childhood language and literacy

In the field of education, professional development (PD) is intended to improve both classroom teaching and children’s learning. A new study, published in Journal of Educational Psychology, looks at what effect PD has when used at scale with large numbers of educators.

In this large-scale randomised controlled trial, Shayne B Piasta and colleagues examined the effectiveness of a language and literacy PD programme on both teacher and child outcomes in early childhood education. More than 500 teachers across one US state took part in the trial and were randomly assigned to one of three groups: professional development with coaching, professional development without coaching, or a comparison group. Teachers in the PD groups received 30 hours of state-sponsored language and literacy professional development, with those assigned to the coaching groups also receiving ongoing individualised coaching throughout the academic year. Teachers in the comparison group also received state-sponsored PD, but in other subjects.

The results of the trial suggest that PD affected only a few aspects of classroom language and literacy teaching practices relative to the comparison group, and did not affect children’s literacy learning. PD with coaching showed a small positive impact on the quantity of phonological awareness, while both PD with and without coaching had a small positive impact on the quality of teaching in phonological awareness and writing.

Source: At-scale, state-sponsored language and literacy professional development: Impacts on early childhood classroom practices and children’s outcomes (June 2019), Journal of Educational Psychology