Printed vs digital text: A meta-analysis

A meta-analysis in the Journal of Research in Reading has synthesised the findings of studies comparing print and digital text regarding time required to read, reading comprehension and readers’ perceptions of their comprehension. Researcher Virginia Clinton performed a systematic literature review, only including studies using random assignment and that were published between 2008 and 2018, yielding 29 reports of 33 studies for analysis. She found that readers require equal amounts of time to read print and digital text, although screen reading negatively impacted reading comprehension (effect size = -0.25). Readers were more accurately able to judge their comprehension on paper (effect size = +0.20) than on screen.

The negative effect on performance for reading text from screens rather than paper did not vary for readers who were adults or children (under 18). However, the author suggests this finding should be interpreted with caution because there were more studies with adult participants (26) than child participants (7).

Best Evidence in Brief reported on an earlier meta-analysis solely examining reading comprehension, whose results also favoured printed text.

Source: Reading from paper compared to screens: A systematic review and meta‐analysis (May 2019), Journal of Research in Reading, volume 42, issue 2

Small class size vs. evidence-based interventions

The Ministry of Education in France introduced a policy in 2002 that reduced class size to no more than 12 pupils in areas determined to have social difficulties and high proportions of at-risk pupils, called Zones d’Education Prioritaire (ZEP). In order to evaluate the effectiveness and usefulness of this policy, researcher Jean Ecalle and colleagues in France examined the results of the policy-mandated class size reduction on the reading achievement of first grade (Year 2) pupils (Study 1), and compared them to the effects of an evidence-based literacy intervention on the reading achievement of at-risk children in normal-sized classes (20 pupils) (Study 2).

Study 1, reducing class size, involved assigning classrooms to either small (12 pupils/class n=100 classes) or large (20–25 pupils/class, n=100 classes) class sizes (with the support of the Ministry). At the start of the 2002–03 school year, 1,095 children were pre-tested on pre-reading skills and matched at pre-test. At the end of the school year, children were post-tested, with results favouring the small-class-size group on word reading (effect size=+0.14) and word spelling (effect size=+0.22).

In Study 2, researchers separated 2,803 first grade (Year 2) pupils in ZEP areas into an experimental group who received an evidence-based reading intervention, and a control group who did not. The intervention was a protocol developed by the Association Agir pour l’Ecole (Act for School), who developed a hierarchy of teaching reading based on evidence-based methods of learning to read, progressing from training phonological skills, to learning letter sounds, decoding, and fluency. Act for School monitored compliance with the protocol weekly. Class size for both groups was 20 pupils. Experimental teachers received one day of training, and provided 30 minutes of teaching a day to average or high readers in groups of 10 to 12, and one hour a day for lower readers in groups of four to six. Again, children were pre-tested on reading skills and matched between groups. All areas post-tested favoured the experimental group, with significant effects in word reading (effect size=+0.13) and word spelling (effect size=+0.12).

Researchers stated that based on the results of both studies, the optimal recommendation to improve literacy skills for at-risk pupils would be a double intervention, combining evidence-based practices within small classes.

Source: Effects of policy and educational interventions intended to reduce difficulties in literacy skills in grade 1 (June 2019), Studies in Educational Evaluation, Volume 61

Setting up in-class libraries in rural China

A study published in Reading Research Quarterly examined the effects of installing an in-class library providing students with age-appropriate books on student reading outcomes and achievements in rural China.

Most previous studies of the effects of age-appropriate books have been conducted in developed regions. However, in rural China, not only are age-appropriate reading materials scarce, but schools, teachers, and parents believe independent reading will negatively affect students’ performance on high-stakes college entrance exams.

To examine the actual effects in rural China, Hongmei Yi and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial including 11,083 fourth- and fifth-grade students from 120 schools in Jiangxi province in China. In the treatment schools, an in-class library stocked with 70 extracurricular books was installed in each classroom. The books were carefully selected based on recommendations of reading specialists and educators. Students received a baseline survey before the intervention and a follow-up survey after eight months of the intervention. Besides asking students about their attitudes toward reading and reading habits, students’ performance in Chinese language and maths was evaluated, and an assessment made of their reading skills using test items from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). They found that:

  • The in-class library significantly improved students’ reading habits after eight months. Students borrowed books more, read more, enjoyed reading more, and communicated more with their friends about reading.
  • There were no significant effects on students’ performance in maths and Chinese, despite the beliefs in China’s highly competitive system that independent reading would lower test scores.
  • However, there was no significant effect on students’ reading achievement.

The authors suggest that the lack of positive effects might be due to the book choices, short duration of the programme, and the fact that tasks were not assigned to teachers regarding the use of the in-class libraries. They suggest that the results highlight the importance of providing age-appropriate reading resources to primary students in rural China.

Source: Do Resources Matter? Effects of an In‐Class Library Project on Student Independent Reading Habits in Primary Schools in Rural China, (March 2019) Reading Research Quarterly 

Impact of shared book reading on children’s language development

A meta-analysis conducted by Claire Noble and colleagues explores the impact of shared reading interventions (where an adult reads with a child) on children’s language skills, and whether they are equally effective across a range of different outcome variables, for children from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and across a range of study designs.

The analysis included 54 studies conducted between 1989 and 2017. These studies included 316 effect sizes and 5,569 participants. Nine of the studies reported follow-up effects. Children in the studies were typically age 7 years or younger.

Their findings suggest that, while there is an effect of shared reading on language development, the effect size is smaller than suggested in previous meta-analyses (+0.23). They also found that the effect size is moderated by the type of control groups, and when compared to active control groups, is closer to zero (+0.04). In addition, the meta-analysis indicates only modest differences between types of language outcome, no effect for socioeconomic background, and a near-zero effect at follow-up.

However, given the low dosage of many of the studies included in the meta-analysis, the authors caution against the conclusion that shared reading interventions have no real effect on children’s language development.

Source: The impact of shared book reading on children’s language skills: A meta-analysis (October 2018), PsyArXiv

Examining research on the Big Lift preschool initiative

Celia Gomez and colleagues from the RAND Corporation have released a new research brief that examines Big Lift, a preschool to third-grade initiative designed to boost literacy skills and ensure that children are reading proficiently by third grade (Year 4). The initiative has been implemented in seven US school districts in San Mateo County, California, that have below-average third-grade reading levels. According to the brief, Big Lift seeks to improve third-grade reading through a set of four co-ordinated and integrated “pillars”: High-Quality Preschool, Summer Learning, School Attendance and Family Engagement.

The researchers have examined outcomes for two cohorts of pupils: Cohort 1 includes pupils in four districts who receive Big Lift services, and Cohort 2 an additional three districts. Data sources include early childhood cognitive assessments, kindergarten (Year 1) and first-grade (Year 2) entry forms completed by parents, and the San Mateo County Office of Education’s countywide data system.

The current research brief is part of a multiphase evaluation of Big Lift, and reports on findings after two years of implementation. Key findings are as follows:

  • Big Lift preschool children in the 2017–2018 kindergarten class were better prepared for kindergarten than demographically similar peers who did not attend preschool — but they were less prepared than similar peers who attended non–Big Lift preschool programmes.
  • Children who attended two years of Big Lift preschool were more kindergarten-ready than similar peers who attended only one year.
  • In the 2016–2017 kindergarten class, Big Lift preschool children had reading levels at the end of kindergarten and the start of first grade that were on par with similar peers who attended other preschool programmes and higher than similar peers who attended no preschool at all.

Source: The Big Lift preschool, two years in: What have we learned so far? (2018), RAND Corporation Research Briefs RB-10047-SVCF

Do pupils benefit from longer school days?

A study published in Economics of Education Review looks at the evidence from the extended school day (ESD) programme in Florida to determine whether pupils benefit from longer school days.

In 2012, Florida introduced the ESD programme, increasing the length of the school day by an hour in the lowest-performing elementary (primary) schools in order to provide additional reading lessons. The lessons had to be based on research, adapted for pupil ability, and include phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Schools were selected using school-level reading accountability measures. For this study, David Figlio and colleagues looked at reading scores for all pupils in Florida between grades 3 and 10 (Years 4 and 11) using school administrative data from 2005–06 and 2012–13, and employed a regression discontinuity design to estimate the effect of lengthening the school day, looking at the different performance of schools either side of the cut-off point.

Results indicated that the additional one hour of reading lessons had a positive effect on pupils’ reading achievement. ESD schools showed an improvement of +0.05 standard deviations on reading test scores in the first year. The annual cost of the ESD programme was $300,000-$400,000 per school, or $800 per pupil.

Source: Do students benefit from longer school days? Regression discontinuity evidence from Florida’s additional hour of literacy instruction (December 2018), Economics of Education Review, Volume 67