About the Author
Sally Neaum is a lecturer in early childhood, and teaches primary English in Initial Teacher Training (ITT). She has worked as a nursery and primary school teacher and as an advisor in early years and inclusion. Her doctoral research was in the pedagogy of early literacy. She has published a number of texts focused on child development and on language and literacy in the early years.
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Beyond Early Reading
By David Waugh, Sally Neaum
Critical Publishing LtdCopyright © 2013 John Bennett, David Boorman, Eve English, Daniel Harrison, Steve Higgins, Sally Neaum, Jemma Rennocks Martin Richardson, Craig Small, Jayne Stead, Seven Stories, Claire Warner and David Waugh
All rights reserved.
What can we learn from research?
2 Promote good progress and outcomes by pupils
demonstrate knowledge and understanding of how pupils learn and how this impacts on teaching
3 Demonstrate good subject and curriculum knowledge
demonstrate a critical understanding of developments in the subject and curriculum areas, and promote the value of scholarship
4 Plan and teach well-structured lessons
reflect systematically on the effectiveness of lessons and approaches to teaching
» What can we learn from research into early literacy?
» What do international comparisons tell us?
» What can we learn about the teaching of early literacy?
» How can this information be used effectively?
Why do we need research?
Imagine going to see your local doctor and hearing her (or him) say, Oh I don't keep up to date with research. I just use the things that I know work for my patients. I learned what I know on the job, so I'm not really interested in how research can help me or my patients. Would you be impressed? Of course, medical research and educational research are different, but we can still learn valuable lessons from what research tells us will help make us more effective teachers, which will keep us up to date with evidence as it develops, and which will help keep us effective and fresh as teachers through trying out and evaluating new ideas.
In this chapter, you will find evidence from research that will help you reflect critically on the teaching of literacy in schools, by comparing what we do with what happens in other countries and by looking at some examples of research evidence about what has helped in the teaching of literacy.
There are a number of large-scale international comparisons of educational performance. The oldest is the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), which was first administered in 1995 by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) to allow the countries involved to compare their pupils' educational attainment in mathematics and science. The IEA also manages the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), which assesses 9- and 10-year-olds in reading and literacy (see below). The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is another international study, undertaken by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), of 15-year-old school pupils' attainment in mathematics, science and reading. It was first administered in 2000 and then repeated every three years. These studies can help us to understand how our children are learning compared with progress in other countries. They also can shed light on other debates, such as the age that children start school, and on the teaching of the subjects that are assessed, including literacy. The tests and the design of the sampling of pupils aim to make the fairest comparisons possible, given differences in language and culture.
Progress in international reading literacy study (PIRLS) 2011
The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) is an international study of reading. It is conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). It has measured trends in the reading and literacy achievement of 9- and 10-year-olds every five years since 2001. It also collects information about reading and literacy policies, teaching practices in schools and home experiences. In 2006 PIRLS tested over 215,000 pupils from 45 countries.
In 2011, the results showed that only five out of the 45 countries involved performed significantly better than England. These countries were Finland, Hong Kong, Northern Ireland, the Russian Federation and Singapore.
England's performance improved between 2006 and 2011. Only the United States and Chinese Taipei showed greater improvement in this period.
Pupils in England had a wider spread of attainment than the top performing countries. The highest attaining pupils in England were similar to those in Singapore and higher than the best readers in the three top performing countries (Finland, Hong Kong and the Russian Federation). However, low attaining pupils in England scored less well than the low attaining pupils in other countries.
This indicates that overall progress in reading at primary school in England and Northern Ireland is good compared with other countries around the world (Scotland did not take part in PIRLS). It also suggests that although the highest attaining pupils in England do as well as the best countries in the world for reading, we are not as good as these countries in supporting the reading achievement of our lower attaining pupils. England had one of the largest proportions of pupils reaching the Advanced International Benchmark (18 per cent). However, the proportion of pupils in England who did not reach the Low International Benchmark (5 per cent) is similar to the proportion that do not achieve level 3 or above in National Curriculum tests of reading in England at the end of primary school. Overall this international evidence therefore suggests that this is an area where we could improve our overall performance, and at the same time provide a more equitable education system for our children. In other countries, the gap between the highest and lowest attaining pupils is not as wide as in England.
Activity 1: Why do you think we are not as good as other top performing countries at supporting the progress in reading of low attaining pupils?
» As a pupil in school yourself, and most likely a successful reader, did you see or experience anything that you think might help you to understand this?
» In your more recent experience, have you seen anything in schools that might explain why low attaining pupils do not make such good progress with their reading and writing?
Gender and attainment in literacy
International comparisons can provide information about more than overall national performance or the spread of scores however. We worry a lot in the UK about the underperformance of boys and the difficulties that boys seem to have in literacy, in particular in early reading and writing, but what is the evidence for this from PIRLS? It is certainly true that in England girls performed significantly better than boys in PIRLS, but this is true for almost all other participating countries, with scores for girls on average about 3 per cent better than boys. So, girls all over the world, on average, do a little bit better on tests of literacy at age 10. It is also true that the difference between the attainment of boys and girls is a little bit bigger in England than in most other countries, and this has stayed about the same in all three PIRLS surveys. So the problem is an international one, and we do a little less well than other countries at solving it. The difference between the UK and the average of the other countries is just less than 1 per cent however. So, although there is a difference, and that difference hasn't really changed since 2001, it is a very small difference. It is also true to say that the difference between boys and girls is not as great as the 'gap' between low attaining and high attaining pupils' results in PIRLS. We have 5 per cent of our pupils who don't even reach the low benchmark, whereas 99 per cent of the pupils in Hong Kong and 98 per cent of the pupils in the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States do.
Activity 2: Do you think people worry more about gender differences or about the attainment 'gap' between high and low attainers?
» What issues have you picked up as important in schools in terms of differences in attainment?
» What about how this is represented in the media? What makes the news?
» What are your own views? Which difference do you think is more important?
Other findings from PIRLS
PIRLS assesses different kinds of reading: reading for literary purposes and reading to acquire and use information. In 2011, pupils in England performed equally well on both scales and this was better than they did in 2006. This was not true of all countries.
In terms of reading comprehension, pupils in England were particularly good at the more challenging aspects of comprehension such as interpreting, integrating and evaluating information. Surprisingly, they were not quite as good at the more basic skills of retrieving information and inferencing.
Pupils in higher performing countries spent less time on reading activities than the average, suggesting that these countries are both very efficient and very effective at teaching reading. It may also be that reading skills are also developed through other activities in these countries. Alternatively some of the differences may be due to differences in the languages involved. Finnish, for example, has almost perfect phonemic orthography where a single letter represents each speech sound, so teaching phonics is relatively straightforward. Other languages, such as Chinese and Japanese, are logographic where each symbol or character represents a word or a morpheme. Both of these differences may make aspects of learning to read less complex than in English where the correspondence between sound and symbol is more variable.
Internationally, the average achievement scores were the same regardless of whether or not computers were available for use in reading lessons. Average achievement in England was similar for pupils who did and who did not have access to a computer for reading lessons.
PIRLS also asks questions about children's wider experience of schooling, including bullying. In England, reports of bullying from pupils were very similar to international averages and about 45 per cent of pupils reported that they were almost never bullied. However, 20 per cent reported that they experienced bullying behaviours about weekly. This suggests that, on average, one in five children in each class experience bullying each week in school.
There are other issues that international studies can also shed light on that are not so well known or talked about. International studies indicate that it is a disadvantage to being the youngest in the class. School systems in different parts of the world start at different times of the year, but those who are youngest in the year tend to do less well. How much does this matter?
FOCUS ON RESEARCH
Does it matter in which month you are born?
A study of longitudinal data on 3,187 children in Flemish primary education in Belgium (Verachtert et al., 2010) found that there were season-of-birth effects on both grade retention and achievement during the first two years of primary school. (Grade retention is where pupils have to repeat a school year and do not progress with their peers.) Because the Flemish cut-off date is 31 December, children born in the last quarter (October to December) invariably are among the youngest in their grade age group. Almost 20 per cent of these children born towards the end of the school year were found to have been retained or referred to special education by the end of Grade 2, whereas for the oldest children in the school year who were born in the first quarter (January to March), this was only 6 per cent. The study also investigated whether this effect was the same for teachers who provided different work for the children and those who did not, but differentiated teaching was not found to be related to any decrease in the disadvantage associated with the month in which the children were born.
In England, there is evidence that children born in July and August make slower progress at school, particularly for reading and writing. They are also more likely to be put in lower attaining groups and are more likely to be diagnosed with special educational needs (Crawford et al.,2007).
If we consider, on average, the differences in the proportions of August-born and September-born children who reach the expected level at Key Stage 1, August-born children are about 25 per cent less likely to reach the expected level than September-born children in the same year group. On average, at Key Stage 1, about three-quarters of September-born but only about half of the August-born children attain the expected level. These differences are fairly consistent across ethnic groupings, but children receiving free school meals (which is used as an approximation for economic disadvantage) are even less likely to succeed. Boys born in August who receive free school meals (FSM) are 58 per cent less likely to reach the expected level by the end of Key Stage 1 compared with FSM-eligible September-born boys. These differences also persist into Key Stage 2 where August-born children are about 13 per cent less likely to achieve the expected levels.
Overall, the analysis indicates that there is a significant disadvantage in being born in August across all outcomes and at every age for children in English state schools. In terms of average scores and the proportion of children achieving the expected level, this disadvantage is largest when a child first enters school (about 25 per cent less likely) and it declines over time, but is still significant at ages 16 (about 6 per cent) and 18 (about 2 per cent), when students are making decisions about career choices and/or future study. Slower development in literacy makes it difficult for children to participate in the wider curriculum when this involves reading and writing
Of course, we have to start the school year at some point. The research from Belgium indicates that we could not solve the problem by changing the starting month of the school year. If we started the school year in January, the 'August-born' problem would become a 'December-born' problem. Also the routine kind of differentiation that teachers used in Belgium (see above) did not solve the problem. Although this affects children's progress in school generally, the impact is especially detrimental in terms of the development of reading and writing skills as these are fundamental to young children's learning at school.
Activity 3: What do you think about this issue?
» In which month were you born? Do you think this affected you either positively or negatively?
» Why does this issue not capture the headlines? Had you heard of it before? The impact is much greater than the effects of gender and makes the disadvantage linked with FSM-status much worse.
» What could be done about this? Would it help to have different test times for children born at different times of year? Should we interpret test scores differently for children born at different times? How might you plan your literacy activities to take this into account?
At what age should children start learning literacy?
The question of at what age children should start learning to read and write is a complex one. Although there is extensive research and debate in this area, it is hard to draw firm conclusions. Since the late nineteenth century, the UK has expected children to start school at an earlier age than most other countries. In England, children are legally required to be in school in the term following their fifth birthday, though most start when they are 4 years old. In Northern Ireland, children start school when they are 4 years old. In most of Europe, children do not start school until they are older; in Finland and most other Scandinavian countries this is as old as 7. Of course, the age at which children start school does not necessarily reflect the kind of literacy teaching that they experience or the way that they learn about books and print. Young children may be in an Early Years setting, which is less formal or teacher-directed than a more formal and didactic playgroup. The type of Early Years experience, such as whether it is a school or a playgroup, may not make as much difference as what happens within each setting. It is important that young children receive developmentally appropriate support to develop their early literacy skills, knowledge and confidence.
It is certainly the case that early literacy experience, and in particular knowledge of letters and sounds, is associated with greater progress in reading and writing. However, the question of how we can best help those who do not start school with this knowledge and literacy experience is much more problematic. In Finland, although children start school relatively late, they make more rapid progress from 7 to 10 years old (but bear in mind the note above about the phonemic orthography of Finnish). It is also the case that many of them will have attended kindergarten or some form of preschool setting from the age of 6. For most children, a later start does not seem to make much difference in the long run. Overall, the message seems to be that it is the quality of these early literacy experiences that makes the difference. The challenge is to make sure that when children start school early this does not increase the time in which they have to experience failure.
Overall, the question should really be what kind of literacy learning is appropriate for young children? And how can we ensure that this increases their chances of becoming successful readers and writers in school and in later life?
Evidence from research about effective teaching
There is a vast amount of research on the teaching of literacy in schools. It spans the educational research journals, the psychology literature and research into speech and language development. There is research on phonics, on reading comprehension and on dyslexia. It is not possible to be familiar with all of it. A single study is never going to be conclusive in education. Even when you find evidence that something has been effective, you have to consider the differences in the contexts in which the research was conducted and the setting where you might want to make improvements based on research. Just because something worked in Belgium, with 10-year-olds, even if 50 schools and 100 classes improved their first language reading comprehension of French, it does not guarantee it will help you teach your class of Year 6 children to read better, but it might contain ideas or techniques that would get you off to a good start.
A good idea is to start with summaries and overviews of research for teachers. There are a number of trustworthy sites available on the internet (please see links below and the references).
The New Zealand government funds the 'Best Evidence Synthesis' which aims to provide trustworthy evidence about what works and what makes a bigger difference in education. One distinctive feature of the programme and the reviews it contains is a focus on explaining the evidence about the influences on valued outcomes for diverse learners. The range of Best Evidence Syntheses is designed to be a catalyst for systemic and ongoing improvement in education.
Excerpted from Beyond Early Reading by David Waugh, Sally Neaum. Copyright © 2013 John Bennett, David Boorman, Eve English, Daniel Harrison, Steve Higgins, Sally Neaum, Jemma Rennocks Martin Richardson, Craig Small, Jayne Stead, Seven Stories, Claire Warner and David Waugh. Excerpted by permission of Critical Publishing Ltd.
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Table of Contents
ContentsMeet the editors,
Meet the authors,
Introduction DAVID WAUGH AND SALLY NEAUM,
1 What can we learn from research? STEVE HIGGINS,
2 Developing vocabulary DAVID WAUGH,
3 Proficient readers: what next? EVE ENGLISH,
4 Learning to comprehend CLAIRE WARNER,
5 Beyond books JOHN BENNETT,
6 Lessons from Hogwarts MARTIN RICHARDSON,
7 Creative engagement with children's literature STAFF FROM SEVEN STORIES,
8 Active reading: its impact on writing DAVID BOORMAN AND JEMMA RENNOCKS,
9 Premier League reading DANIEL HARRISON,
10 A perfect storm: literacy in alternative provision CRAIG SMALL,
11 The modern storyteller: beyond KS2 JAYNE STEAD,
Conclusion DAVID WAUGH AND SALLY NEAUM,