Effects of different rewards on spelling scores and prosocial behaviour

A study published in Educational Psychology examines how different approaches to rewarding pupils affected their spelling scores and prosocial behaviour for different ability levels.

A total of 1,005 pupils, ages 9 and 10, in 28 classes were recruited from three primary schools in Singapore. Classes were randomly assigned to one of five reward conditions: competitive, cooperative, individualistic, cooperative-competitive, and cooperative-individualistic. An ABABA (A= implementation, B = withdrawal) design was used for each condition, and pupils’ spelling scores were tracked over a period of 10 weeks. Teachers were asked to rate pupils’ prosocial behaviour before and after the study.

The results showed that the different conditions did affect pupils’ spelling scores and prosocial behaviour, but that these effects depended on ability level, such that different conditions were more effective for different ability levels.  Across all five conditions, only the cooperative-competitive condition resulted in increased spelling scores and prosocial behaviour across all three ability groups, with these improvements maintained when the intervention was withdrawn. In the cooperative-competitive condition, pupils cooperated as a group and the group with the highest average spelling score (compared to other groups) was rewarded.

Source: Effects of reward pedagogy on spelling scores and prosocial behaviors in primary school students in Singapore (October 2019), Journal of Educational Psychology

How UK students’ writing has changed since 1980

Research published by Cambridge Assessment shows how 16-year-old students’ writing in exams has changed since 1980.

Aspects of Writing has been published by Cambridge Assessment approximately every 10 years, initially using a sample from 1980. This latest phase of the study focuses on writing samples from 2014. Key findings include:

  • The percentage of spelling errors at the lowest level of achievement is higher in 2014 than in most years. The incidence of spelling errors has changed very little among the mid- and higher-achieving students.
  • There is some evidence that use of “other” punctuation marks such as semi-colons has increased among higher-achieving students but decreased sharply among the lowest-achieving students.
  • There is a cautious indication of a general improvement in the use of commas.
  • There is an increase in the use of simple sentences among higher-achieving students. The researchers observed that these students tended to use simple sentences for literary effect.
  • Students of all abilities are using less-complex sentence structures.
  • Students at most levels of achievement are using more paragraphs than their predecessors.
  • There was almost no evidence of candidates using “text-speak” abbreviations in their work.

Source: Variations in aspects of writing in 16+ English examinations between 1980 and 2014. Research Matters Special Issue 4 (2016), Cambridge Assessment

Early oral competence linked to literacy

A new article published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology describes a three-year longitudinal study exploring the predictive relationship between oral narrative competence at age 5/6 and written narrative competence during the following two years.

A total of 80 Italian children participated in the study. They were followed for three years and tested three times:
  • Oral production was assessed at the end of the first year of the study, when the children were at the end of the equivalent of Year 1. This was in terms of narrative competence (cohesion, coherence, and structure).
  • Written production was assessed at the end of the equivalent of Year 2 in terms of narrative competence (cohesion, coherence, and structure) and orthographic competence (spelling).
  • Written production was assessed at the end of the equivalent of Year 3 in terms of narrative competence (cohesion, coherence, and structure).
Overall, the study demonstrated that oral narrative competence in Year 1 predicted written narrative competence in the following two years, with orthographic competence (spelling) playing a relevant mediating role.
The authors conclude that their results suggest the importance of practising oral narrative competence in Year 1 and Year 2 and the value of composition quality independent of orthographic text accuracy.
Source: The Relationship Between Oral and Written Narratives: A Three-year Longitudinal Study of Narrative Cohesion, Coherence, and Structure (2015), British Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(4).

Phonics works, but other approaches need more research

A new meta-analysis published online in PLoS ONE has concluded that phonics is the only approach whose effectiveness on reading and spelling performance in children and adolescents with reading difficulties has been proven.

The research aimed to determine the effectiveness of a number of different treatment approaches for improving the literacy skills of children and adolescents with reading problems. A total of 22 studies met the search criteria, and these assessed a number of approaches: phonemic awareness instruction, phonics instruction, reading fluency training, reading comprehension training, auditory training, medical treatment, and coloured overlays.

The analysis concluded that teaching phonics is the only approach proven to have a statistically significant effect on reading and spelling performance. However, this approach was also the most intensively investigated, and therefore the only one where enough trials had been conducted to provide a reliable answer.

The Education Elf blog provides further analysis of this research.

Source: Effectiveness of Treatment Approaches for Children and Adolescents with Reading Disabilities: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials (2014), PLoS ONE.

The long-term impact of intensive reading interventions

New research, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, investigates whether the reading benefits that result from early and intensive reading interventions are still evident as the participants move from adolescence to early adulthood.

The study evaluates reading outcomes approximately 11 years after participants completed an 8-month randomised reading intervention as 2nd or 3rd graders (the equivalent of Year 3 or Year 4). Of the original 69 participants, 58 (84%) took part.

The results showed statistically significant differences with moderate effect sizes between treatment and comparison groups on standardised measures of word recognition (ie, Woodcock Basic Skills Cluster, d = 0.53; Woodcock Word Identification, d = 0.62). However, statistical tests on other reading and spelling measures did not reach thresholds for statistical significance.

The authors suggest that the one-off delivery of an intensive intervention is not sufficient for children who are struggling. Rather they should continue to receive support throughout their school career. They also conclude that the field is lacking the long-term follow-up studies needed to understand how early reading interventions influence both long-term school performance and outcomes after secondary education.

Source: Intensive Reading Remediation in Grade 2 or 3: Are There Effects a Decade Later? (2014), Journal of Educational Psychology, 106(1).