Background: Writing, implementing and evaluating a literacy programme is challenging particularly when the intervention is multi-faceted. In relation to literacy content, certain features have been shown to improve reading attainment (e.g. a systematic phonics programme); however, advice on how to integrate these strands into a whole is less clear. Furthermore, the success of an intervention is arguably as dependent on teacher quality as the literacy components. Evaluation of multi-faceted interventions can fail to explore the relative effects of different elements, whereas single strand interventions may be easier to measure but they can be atypical. It was with these thoughts in mind that the authors developed a literacy programme in North Lanarkshire, Scotland.
Purpose: The paper evaluates the impact of a two-year literacy programme on attainment in reading and spelling.
Programme description: The literacy programme 'Think About It' incorporated three strands: phonemic awareness and phonics instruction (strand 1), the development of semantic cueing systems (strand 2) and the use of metacognitive strategies to improve decoding and comprehension (metacomprehension, strand 3). The intervention was supported by continuing professional development, consultation and curriculum materials, parental involvement and by the deployment of early years' workers.
Sample: The study took place in a socio-economically deprived local authority in Central Scotland. Sixteen mainstream primary schools in rural and urban areas took part in the intervention, which targeted children in their first two years of school (ages five and six). A random sample of children from each intervention class in the 16 pilot schools was assessed yearly. Additionally a random comparison sample of 10 children came from each class in the year previous to the intervention. Over the period of the study, approximately 480 intervention children were assessed.
Design and methods: The study used a cross-sectional design over a period of four years, with standardised measures in each year. Each of the three intervention groups started in ensuing years. The longest established of these received the intervention for two years and were followed up for the next two years. The others followed this pattern as far as they were able. Because of the longitudinal nature of the study, the measures were not the same across all the years they were changed to match the development of the children's reading skills. Questionnaires were used with staff to assess their views of the intervention.
Results: Children's attainments in word reading, spelling and reading comprehension were significantly improved as result of the intervention. This was true not only at the end of the intervention, but at follow-up one and two years later.
Conclusion: The intervention (of phonemic awareness and phonic instruction, the development of semantic and syntactical cueing systems, and the development of metacognitive strategies) was evidence based and did appear to work. The intervention was multi-faceted, but the relative efficacy of these different resource components is unknown. Recommendations for practice and future research are made.
- continuing professional development
- semantic and syntactical cueing systems
- pupil performance