Are prematurely born children at higher risk of lower academic performance?

Published in the open access journal JAMA Network Open, this systematic review and meta-analysis considers the associations between premature birth and academic achievement in reading and maths.

Melinda McBryde and colleagues looked at 33 unique studies comparing the academic outcomes of school-age children who were born prematurely (n=4,006) with children born full-term (n=3,317). The meta-analysis compared mean scores from standardised tests of reading and maths (and associated subskills).

The results showed that children who were born prematurely scored lower on reading comprehension and applied mathematical problems than their full-term peers. Premature children also scored lower than their term-born peers in maths calculation, decoding, mathematical knowledge, word identification and mathematical fluency.

Extremely premature children (those born at less than 28 weeks’ gestation) had significantly lower reading performance compared with children born full-term. However, children born at 28 to 32 weeks’ gestation did not exhibit later reading deficits compared with full-term peers.

Looking at the ages when assessments were carried out, in reading, prematurely born children ages 5 to 8 performed significantly worse than full-term peers, as did those ages 9 to 11. Reading deficits were significant but less pronounced when children were assessed at 12 to 18. In contrast, the magnitude of deficits in maths in prematurely born children was similar across age groups.

Source: Academic outcomes of school-aged children born preterm: A systematic review and meta-analysis (April 2020), JAMA Network Open. 2020;3(4)

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

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

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

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