Randomised controlled trial of a whole-school reading programme

A study published in The Curriculum Journal presents the findings of a randomised controlled trial that evaluated the efficacy of the Bug Club programme on the reading, spelling and vocabulary skills of pupils in the first two years of primary school compared to pupils in a control group.

Bug Club is a whole-school reading programme based on the principles of guided reading and synthetic phonics. It is offered as part of, rather than in addition to, standard literacy lessons. This study analysed data from 1,273 pupils in Years 1 and 2 from 30 schools in the UK (15 intervention, 15 control). Pupils were tested at baseline and again at 6 months, 12 months, and 18 months, using the InCAS reading assessment for 5- to 11-year-olds.

At the 6- and 12-month tests, pupils in the Bug Club schools showed more progress on the standardised reading measure than pupils in control schools (effect size = +0.18 and +0.16). For disadvantaged pupils, the picture was mixed. After six months, there was a greater impact on reading gains in schools with high levels of pupils eligible for free school meals than those in control schools. After twelve months, this effect had disappeared, but pupils eligible for pupil premium were found to have improved more on reading gains than those in control schools.

Source: Evaluation of Bug Club: a randomised control trial of a whole school primary aged reading programme (February 2020), The Curriculum Journal. DOI: 10.1002/curj.29

Examining the effects of the CW-FIT intervention

Class-Wide Function-Related Intervention Teams (CW-FIT) is a classroom programme designed to increase academic, social and behavioural success for pupils. The programme emphasises group contingencies and self-management. It teaches positive social skills, uses teacher praise and group points for good behaviour, incorporates goal setting and provides rewards.

In order to build CW-FIT’s research base, a randomised controlled trial was carried out over four years, designed to replicate one site’s original study by adding two more research groups and to include investigators who were not the developers of the programme.

Seven elementary (primary) schools in three US states participated. Pupils were in grades K–6 (Years 1–7), 55% were of minority ethnicities, and 69% received free- or reduced-price school meals. Within each school were experimental and control classes – 83 experimental and 74 control in total. Baseline data collection included measures of pupil time on-task and teacher use of reinforcement during business-as-usual conditions for two to three weeks. At baseline, no teacher was observed using token rewards or group rewards. During the study, control group teachers received a two-hour training in general classroom management and were referred to district protocol when pupil behaviour problems occurred. Experimental group teachers implemented CW-FIT during one targeted period three to five times per week from October to March. During CW-FIT sessions, after teaching pupils the appropriate way to get attention, follow directions, and ignore inappropriate behaviour, the teacher set a timer at two to five minute intervals, awarding a point to teams with all members behaving at that moment. At the end of class, awards were given to all team members who met specific goals.

At the end of the study, results favoured the CW-FIT group. On-task behaviour for CW-FIT pupils increased from 55% to 80%, while the control group remained close to baseline at 58%. Teacher classroom management behaviours increased from 52% to 86% for the CW-FIT group, but remained at 55% for the control group. These results are reflective of earlier studies’ findings.

Source: Class-wide Function-Related Intervention Teams (CW-FIT): student and teacher outcomes from a multisite randomized replication trial (September 2018), The Elementary School Journal 119, no. 1

Restorative Practices Intervention did not produce significant changes

The results of a randomised controlled trial of a whole-school intervention designed to build a supportive school environment and reduce bullying found that it did not produce significant changes in the treatment schools.

The study, published in Journal of Youth and Adolescence, evaluated the Restorative Practices Intervention to assess the extent of implementation and changes in school connectedness, positive developmental outcomes, and bullying. The intervention involves training all school staff on how to carry out 11 restorative practices (eg, communication approaches that aim to build stronger bonds among leadership, staff, and pupils such as using “I” statements, encouraging pupils to express their feelings).

For the randomised controlled trial, Joie Acosta and colleagues collected baseline and two-year post survey data from pupils in grades 6 and 7 (Years 7 and 8) at 14 US middle schools. Schools were randomised so that seven schools received the Restorative Practices Intervention and seven did not.

The results of the study suggest that the intervention did not produce any significant changes in the treatment schools. Intervention schools did not report more school connectedness, better school climate, more positive peer relationships, or less victimisation. Indeed, the Restorative Practices Intervention only delivered a modest amount of restorative experiences, and not much different from the amount control schools received.

However, pupils’ self-reported experience with restorative practices significantly predicted improved school climate and connectedness, peer attachment and social skills, and reduced cyberbullying victimisation. The researchers conclude that, while more work is needed on how interventions can reliably produce restorative experiences, this study suggests that the restorative model can be useful in promoting positive behaviours and addressing bullying.

Source: Evaluation of a whole-school change intervention: findings from a two-year cluster-randomized trial of the restorative practices intervention (March 2019), Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 48

Digital vs. paper reading

A study published in the American Educational Research Journal compares reading processes and outcomes for pupils when reading a text from paper with the same text delivered on a touchscreen laptop.

Amanda P Goodwin and colleagues conducted the study with 371 pupils in grades 5–8 (Years 6–9) from three schools in an urban district in the southeastern US. Pupils were randomly assigned to two conditions: Condition A read the first section of a text on paper, and the second half digitally, whereas pupils in Condition B read the first part digitally and the second part on paper. The content in both conditions was identical. When reading on paper, pupils had access to highlighters, pens and sticky notes; when reading digitally, they had access to digital highlighters, annotating and dictionaries.

Results suggest that pupils highlight and annotate more when reading on paper vs. digital text. Also, reading on paper vs. digitally was slightly supportive of reading comprehension for the longer sections of text, although effect sizes were very small (odds ratio of 1.077).

Source: Digital versus paper reading processes and links to comprehension for middle school students (December 209), American Educational Research Journal

Learning together to reduce bullying

A study published in Public Health Research reports on an evaluation of the Learning Together intervention, which aims to reduce bullying and aggression and to promote pupil health and well-being.

Forty secondary schools in southeast England participated in the trial, with 20 schools randomly assigned to deliver the intervention over three years, and 20 schools continuing with existing practices. In the intervention schools, staff and pupils collaborated in an “action group” to change school rules and policies, with the goal of making it a healthier environment. This included focusing on improving relationships rather than merely punishment-based approaches to discipline, and using a classroom curriculum aimed at encouraging social-emotional skills.

All pupils completed a questionnaire at the start of the trial, and this was repeated three years later. Results showed that self-reported experiences of bullying victimisation were lower in intervention schools than in control schools (adjusted effect size = –0.08). There was no evidence of a reduction in pupil reports of aggression. Pupils in intervention schools also had higher scores on quality of life and psychological well-being measures, and lower scores on a psychological difficulties measure. They also reported lower rates of having smoked, drunk alcohol, been offered or tried illicit drugs, or been in contact with the police in the previous 12 months.

Source:  Modifying the secondary school environment to reduce bullying and aggression: the INCLUSIVE cluster RCT. (November 2019). Public Health Research Volume: 7, Issue: 18

Effects of Word Generation on academic language, vocabulary and reading comprehension outcomes

A study published in the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness reports on the impact of Word Generation on academic language, vocabulary and reading comprehension outcomes for pupils in grades 4 to 7 (Years 5 to 8).

Word Generation (WG) is a vocabulary programme designed to teach academic vocabulary words through English, maths, science and social studies classroom activities. For this study, 7,725 fourth to seventh grade pupils from 25 schools in the northeast US were randomised within pairs to either treatment or business-as-usual control conditions. In treatment schools, the programme was implemented throughout the school year. In grades 4 and 5 (Years 5 and 6), this involved 12 ten-day long units of 45-50 minutes per day. For grades 6 and 7 (Years 7 and 8), the programme was implemented in six-week long units designed to take 45 minutes each day in science and social studies classes.

At the end of the first year, pupils in grades 4 and 5 also made improvements on their academic language skills (ES = +0.06), and in their reading comprehension at the end of the second year (ES = +0.15). Reading comprehension also improved at the end of the second year for pupils in grades 6 and 7 (ES = +0.10).

The study also showed gains on tests of the specific words emphasised in the programme, but these effects are considered potentially inflated.

Source: Experimental effects of Word Generation on vocabulary, academic language, perspective taking and reading comprehension in high-poverty schools (August 2019), Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 12:3