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Queen’s researchers contribute to report on the reading skills of primary school pupils

The reading skills of primary pupils can be boosted by an additional two months when teachers get them to think about, question and summarise different texts, according to new research report published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).

The study was carried out by researchers from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s University.

98 primary schools from the North of England and the Midlands took part in the trial of Reciprocal Reading, a programme created and delivered by a team from Fischer Family Trust Education Literacy (FFT Literacy) and designed to improve reading skills in older primary pupils (8-11 year-olds).

‘Reciprocal Reading’ is an approach widely used in English-speaking classrooms across the world but is not commonly used in the UK. It is a structured approach to teaching strategies – questioning, clarifying, summarising and predicting - that students can use to improve their reading comprehension. Over the course of the programme, pupils are encouraged by teachers – who receive training in the approach - to take on more responsibility for leading and shaping the discussion.

This trial tested two versions of the programme: a targeted intervention that was delivered to a small group of pupils which the teachers had identified as struggling with their reading; and a universal programme where teachers were asked to deliver the reading sessions to whole classes. In both versions of the programme, the intervention was delivered in 30-minute sessions for a minimum of 12 weeks over two academic terms.

The independent evaluation was led by Dr Liam O’Hare, from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s. The research team found that pupils who received the targeted version of the intervention made the equivalent of two additional months’ progress in reading and reading comprehension, on average, compared to a similar group of pupils in schools who did not take part in the programme.

However, the researchers found that pupils who took part in the whole class version of the programme overall made no more progress than pupils in comparison classes. They did show signs of promise for both the targeted and universal interventions on reading outcomes for children eligible for free school meals.

“The results from this rigorous evaluation are important because it is rare to find reading interventions that show a positive impact on pupil attainment. It also indicates that the Reciprocal Reading approach should target small groups of pupils in need of comprehension intervention, rather than a whole class,” said Dr O’Hare.

These findings – which the EEF assess as having moderate to high levels of security – build on a large body of research showing that high-quality, targeted interventions delivered by teachers and teaching assistants – like Reciprocal Reading - can be an effective way for schools to support children struggling with reading at the end of primary school and to help close the disadvantage gap.

The latest data shows that 62 per cent of disadvantaged pupils in England reach the expected standard in reading by the end of primary school, compared to almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of all pupils nationally. Pupils in the North of England (78 per cent) and the Midlands (76 per cent) were less likely to reach the expected standard than those in London (81 per cent) and the South East (80 per cent). 

Sir Kevan Collins, Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), said: “It is great that today’s findings give schools more evidence on the best ways to boost reading outcomes for their pupils. They add to a large body of evidence that show the positive impact that small-group programmes can have for pupils struggling with literacy. Targeted interventions should be an important part of every school’s literacy strategy.”

The full report is available here: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/projects-and-evaluation/projects/reciprocal-reading/

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