Evaluation of computer game to teach pupils to read

The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) recently carried out an evaluation of a trial of the GraphoGame Rime intervention for the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and Wellcome Trust.

GraphoGame Rime is a computer game designed to teach pupils to read by developing their phonological awareness and phonic skills. The game is delivered in small groups supervised by a teacher or teaching assistant, with pupils working on individual devices, as the game is designed to constantly adjust the difficulty to challenge the learner at an appropriate level.

The pupil-randomised controlled trial involved 398 Year 2 pupils with low phonics skills in 15 schools in Cambridgeshire, and was designed to determine the impact of the intervention on pupils’ reading skills. The results of the evaluation found no evidence that GraphoGame Rime improved pupils’ reading or spelling test scores when compared to business-as-usual (effect size =-0.06). The intervention also showed no impact on reading or spelling test scores for pupils eligible for free school meals compared with the business-as-usual control group.

Source:  GraphoGame Rime: Evaluation report and executive summary (May 2018), Education Endowment Foundation

Open Court Reading receives judgement in multi-year trial

A multi-year scale-up study has examined the effectiveness of Open Court Reading (OCR), a phonics-based curriculum for grades K-6 (Reception to Year 7).

The study, by Michael Vaden-Kiernar and colleagues, and published in the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, was a school-level, cluster randomised trial, involving around 4,500 pupils and 1,000 teachers in 49 elementary schools across the US.

The OCR curriculum includes pupil materials, teacher manuals, diagnostic and assessment tools and test preparation practice guides. In all grades (K-5), the instructional format is a three-part lesson with specific instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics, vocabulary and comprehension skills and writing skills. The programme includes one- or two-day summer workshops at the start of each school year to train teachers on programme implementation, and ongoing support by OCR reading consultants.

An implementation study showed adequate to high levels of fidelity to the programme. However, there were no statistically significant effects on reading performance in Year 1, and a small negative effect (effect size = -0.09) in Year 2. Relative to the “business-as-usual” controls, no positive overall impacts of OCR and mixed impacts for pupil subgroups were found.

Source: Findings from a multiyear scale-Up effectiveness trial of Open Court Reading (June 2017), Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness

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

The long-term impact of phonics instruction

A discussion paper from the Centre for Economic Performance considers the impact of the introduction of synthetic phonics in English schools.

In the wake of a major report in 2006 (the Rose review), 172 schools in 18 local authorities introduced training in synthetic phonics as part of a pilot programme. The following year, a further 32 local authorities joined a similar scheme. Another 50 local authorities joined 18 months later, and the final 50 a year after that. For each scheme, the model was very similar – a literacy consultant would provide coaching support for at least ten schools in their area. The consultant worked mainly in the Reception year (age 4-5) and Year 1 (age 6-7), but also in Year 2 and nursery.

In this new working paper, using data from the National Pupil Database, researchers have been able to assess the impact of this phased introduction. It shows a substantial leap (an effect size of more than +0.2) in children’s “communication, language and literacy” scores at age 5 when the training is introduced. This effect is maintained even after the initial year of training.

The researchers were also able to follow cohorts as they progressed through primary school to see if any initial effects lasted until age 11 (phonics teaching stopped at age 7). There were no average effects at this age for reading, a broader measure of English attainment, or maths. However, there was a persistent effect (an effect size of more than 0.1) for those classified as non-native English speakers and economically disadvantaged (as measured by free school meal status).

Source: “Teaching to Teach” Literacy (2016), Centre for Economic Performance.

What works for preschoolers?

A new systematic review of research on early childhood programmes in Educational Research Review has been published. The paper seeks to identify effective approaches capable of improving literacy and language outcomes for preschoolers.

Researchers from The Institute for Effective Education (IEE) and The Center for Research and Reform in Education (CRRE) applied consistent standards to determine the strength of evidence supporting a variety of approaches, which fell into two main categories: comprehensive approaches, which include phonemic awareness, phonics, and other skills along with child-initiated activities, and developmental–constructivist approaches that focus on child-initiated activities with little direct teaching of early literacy skills. Inclusion criteria included use of randomised or matched control groups, evidence of initial equality, a minimum study duration of 12 weeks, and valid measures of literacy and language.

Thirty-two studies evaluating 22 programmes found that early childhood programmes that have a balance of skill-focused and child-initiated activities had significant evidence of positive literacy and language outcomes at the end of preschool and on kindergarten (Year 1) follow-up measures. Effects on both types of measures were smaller and not statistically significant for developmental-constructivist programmes.

Source: Literacy and Language Outcomes of Comprehensive and Developmental-Constructivist Approaches to Early Childhood Education: A Systematic Review (2016), Educational Research Review.

The long-term effects of reading interventions

Interventions that target comprehension and phonemic awareness maintain their impact, according to a meta-analysis published in the Journal of Reading Disabilities.

The analysis reviewed 71 studies of reading interventions, each of which had an intervention and control group, post-tests, and follow-up data an average of 11 months later. Among the findings were that normal readers appeared to profit least from reading interventions, particularly at follow-up.
Improvement was not sustained for interventions in preschool: effect sizes fell from +0.34 to +0.12 at follow-up. By contrast, in Years 2 and 3, the effect size only diminished from +0.40 to + 0.26, and for Years 4 and 5, the effect size increased from +0.35 to + 0.43 at follow-up.

The greatest effect sizes at follow-up appeared to result from interventions with a comprehension component.

Source: A Meta-Analysis of the Long-Term Effects of Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, and Reading Comprehension Interventions (2016), Journal of Learning Disabilities.