A synthesis of reading interventions and effects on reading comprehension outcomes for older struggling readers
Volume 79 Number 1, Spring 2009; Page 262–300
The authors synthesised 29 studies of interventions designed to assist students in Years 6–12 who were struggling with reading comprehension. The interventions, collectively covering 976 students, focused variously on word study, including phonics and structural analysis of text; fluency; comprehension; or a combination of these intervention types, sometimes also including vocabulary. The interventions were reported in articles published during 1994–2004. The current article describes the results of a meta-analysis covering 13 of the interventions. Secondary schools do not usually teach reading comprehension, but students covered by the interventions were found to benefit from such teaching, and students with learning disabilities benefited most. The analysis found a diminishing link between reading comprehension and reading accuracy (eg fluency and word recognition), as understanding of meaning became more dependent on students’ background knowledge, vocabulary, and awareness of reading strategies. The students acquired comprehension skills most effectively by learning to reflect on their own reading processes, through self-questioning, and collaboration with peers. The key importance of such reflection is reinforced by the nature of the difficulties students displayed in mastering comprehension skills: they often failed to generalise from single strategy instruction, such as locating the key idea in a text, to wider forms of comprehension, and even when taught multiple strategies they often struggled to apply them flexibly and independently in new situations. Teaching word-level knowledge produced meaningful but modest improvement for the students most lacking in comprehension skills; the authors conclude that such teaching should be accompanied by teaching of comprehension strategies. Teaching of comprehension for older students should also address the distinctive demands of informational and expository texts, eg through graphic organisers and structural analysis, which involves ‘multisyllabic chunking’ of text. The article includes a table of information about each of the 29 interventions’ study design, sample, and forms of implementation. A further table compares the nature of each intervention with effect sizes for reading outcomes.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
The motivations of career change students in teacher education
Volume 37 Number 1, February 2009; Pages 95–118
Some stakeholders in school education have argued for more career change teachers as a means to broaden the base of skills and knowledge in the profession, to represent a broader cross-section of the community, and to bring maturity and life experience, and high levels of motivation. At present however, there is limited evidence by which to test these claims. Earlier studies of career change teachers have found them to be motivated most strongly by intrinsic or altruistic rewards, particularly the chance to work with children. Some extrinsic motivations, while secondary, were still significant; they included family-friendly working conditions, job security, flexibility and long holidays. The current article reports on evidence from a survey which obtained responses from 375 career change student-teachers at three Victorian universities. Respondents were graduate or undergraduate and covered early childhood, primary and secondary education. In terms of motivation to teach, the desire to work with children rated highly, in line with earlier studies. A motivation to ‘contribute to society’ was mentioned by over half the respondents. Over a third mentioned holidays, a response that may reflect that many of the career changers have children. Pay was mentioned by only 13.6% as a motivator. Almost half referred to career prospects. Nearly one-quarter indicated that they were keeping ‘their work options open’, suggesting that they had not decided on teaching as a long-term career. The great majority were well-satisfied with their decision to enrol in teacher education. In terms of self-perceived attributes, more than half the respondents mentioned their broad life experience. However, only 4.3% felt they were bringing subject-specific knowledge to teaching, a finding that contrasts with calls for the recruitment of career changers as a way to overcome shortages of teachers in Maths, Science and LOTE. The authors conclude that the findings offer strong support for the active recruitment of career changers to teaching, and also support fast-tracking schemes to encourage such candidates. They call for further research to track career changers following their graduation, and to compare participants in fast-track programs to other career change student-teachers.
Subject HeadingsEducational evaluation
Teaching and learning
Equity and quality in the early years of schooling
Volume 29 Number 1; Pages 91–97
A range of measures can help to promote equity and quality in the early years of schooling in Australia. Some valuable steps have already been taken. The current Australian Government has undertaken to provide access to free, quality early childhood programs with qualified staff. The Queensland Preparing for School study examined the State’s universal full-time play-based program and found that it narrowed the gap in social development, numeracy and literacy between children. However, equity of access to quality early childhood programs also requires interventions to overcome barriers such as poverty and cultural and linguistic disadvantage. Working parents require ‘wrap around’ services at or near the childcare centres, and other measures may be needed for families in remote areas or facing special circumstances. A flexible early years’ curriculum and syllabus is needed to allow schools and teachers to adapt teaching practices, curriculum and assessment to students’ specific needs and backgrounds. Rigid and over-centralised curriculum, assessment and accountability measures used in the USA have de-skilled teachers by disallowing local decision making. Finland and Canada, in contrast, have high equity and high quality education systems, ‘levelling up’ rather than ‘dumbing down’ content and smoothing the transition to school through a unified pre-compulsory and early years curriculum. Nordic countries have achieved considerable success by extending early childhood pedagogy to the early years of school. Conversely, Britain and France have ‘schoolified’ the preschool year with a premature focus on cognitive development and the acquisition of skills and knowledge. This approach is associated with a concept of ‘school readiness’ which tends to brand socially disadvantaged children as failing when they simply lack the access to social capital and the literacy development commonly privileged by teachers. Such deficit judgements of disadvantaged children often lead to less challenging and stimulating instruction. The problem can be aggravated by other challenges in the transition to primary school: higher teacher–child ratios, and less frequent, less personal and frequently less positive contact between parent and teacher. Equity can be achieved for these students by promoting teachers’ cultural awareness of children, outreach to parents, and early intervention to address learning problems.
Early childhood education
Autumn 2009; Pages 7–8
There is considerable concern to overcome educational disadvantage in Australia, but it is often addressed through inappropriate approaches. Independent and selective schools achieve high test results essentially by teaching to the test – focusing teaching and curriculum on what will be tested, and providing ample test practice – as well as by drawing on parents’ social capital. These strategies are less realistic for comprehensive schools, taken as a whole, although individual comprehensives can raise their ranking by ‘ramping up competition’, increasing discipline and on-task time, and especially by removing disruptive students. However, these strategies probably worsen education for most children, and certainly do so for disadvantaged ones. Performance pay for teachers is another inappropriate approach. It ignores – but also works to undermine – the major contribution to student performance made by collaboration between teachers, and by institutional support to teaching practice. The use of national standards works to the benefit of privileged social groups: social stratification in education has deep historical roots and reasserts itself within the framework of these standards. A national curriculum, if overly prescriptive, will neglect the needs of working-class students and those from non–English-speaking backgrounds. Narrowly conceived inclusion programs will not confront the system-wide causes of educational inequalities. A range of more appropriate approaches exist. Firstly, the curriculum should draw on the cultures and address the needs of immigrant, Indigenous, rural, and other marginalised students, applying the principle of ‘curricular justice’. Secondly, education reforms should recognise and encourage teachers’ professional role in adapting the curriculum to particular students’ needs. A third strategy is to direct resources to areas of greatest social need. Fourthly, reforms are needed in technical and vocational education, which offers the most promising prospects for improving social inclusion, second only to the period of primary schooling. Fifthly, schools should be developed as community resources, offering a range of services and playing a number of cultural roles, and anchoring schools more firmly in their local communities.
Subject HeadingsSocially disadvantaged
Volume 52 Number 2, October 2008; Pages 155–164
Annotation is a literacy strategy that can help students read more effectively and improve their content knowledge. While students may be proficient at analysing narrative texts, they are often less familiar with the expository texts used in science classes and other content areas. Annotation can assist in making texts easier for learners to navigate by providing a method by which textual content and argument structure can be highlighted and broken down. By marking critical ideas and arguments, students are encouraged to focus on science content, and learn to identify essential information. When introducing annotation to a class, students should be made aware of the purpose of the strategy, and should be shown how to highlight different types of information in consistent and readily identifiable ways: for example, by underscoring evidence, double underscoring main ideas, or by drawing a box around key content vocabulary. Students can initially be led through the annotation process as a group, or work in small groups to identify certain textual elements. The introduction of annotation techniques should be gradual to allow students time to develop their skills in recognising main ideas and supporting evidence and in teasing out arguments: students could first learn to identify headings and content words before moving on to more subtle elements such as inferences and conclusions. Teachers can call on students to discuss identified elements and their reasons for identifying them; in this way annotation can be a valuable tool to teach content, and gives students cause to engage with the subject material. Students should be encouraged to annotate all class materials to ensure annotation is seen as part of the standard practice of reading rather than as optional. Annotation can be used successfully across disciplines, and has been correlated with increased learning achievement. In explicitly connecting annotation and content, students both develop effective reading skills, and engage more deeply with subject materials.
Key Learning AreasScience
Volume 25 Number 2&3, 16 April 2009; Pages 192–204
Programs to address reading fluency often equate it with reading speed rather than the development of automaticity and appropriate speech rhythms. Direct methods of instruction that address these elements have been shown to improve the reading fluency of struggling learners. By reading regularly to students, teachers can provide a model for fluent reading. They can act as a fluency coach, monitoring students’ reading progress, providing encouragement and addressing areas of concern. Fluency can also be improved through assisted reading, the process by which a student reads a text simultaneously with a fluent reading of it, provided by the teacher or an audio recording. Teachers can collect materials such as audio books that promote reading fluency instruction, as well as texts designed for performance, such as poetry, song lyrics, and plays. Teachers can counteract students' lack of interest stemming from repeated readings by providing opportunities for students to practise their reading in creative ways, such as by singing songs, conducting poetry readings, or performing plays. Teachers should ensure that students are engaging in fluency activities on a routine basis. Successful classroom implementations have included daily work with a set text, where reading is modelled by the teacher, practised by students, performed to the class, and then studied again at home; parents can also work with their children in repeated and assisted reading of daily fluency texts set by the teacher. Singing song lyrics and performing excerpts from teacher-selected plays have been found to improve fluency, including prosody, as they are designed to be performed orally and lend themselves to repetition. Use of more authentic materials helps students ‘recreate’ the author’s voice and identify and emphasise meaning contained within the text.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Early childhood education
Volume 41 Number 3, March 2009; Pages 387–409
Integrating playwriting programs into English classes can help engage disadvantaged students and improve their confidence and writing skills. A Californian school with a high proportion of disadvantaged, low achieving students of Latino background invited professional playwrights to teach a nine-week playwriting course as part of a Grade 8 language arts program. Eight classes took part in the program, which involved writing a three-scene play based on their own experiences, and seeing it performed by professional actors. Their composition skills and their confidence in their writing ability were subsequently compared with a control group. Students were involved in theatre skills and playwriting exercises, and were led through the writing process by the playwrights, who helped students develop characters through dialogue and character goals, compose story arcs and establish plot motivation, and undertake thoughtful, thorough revisions of their work. Students were required to use Standard English, rather than ‘written spoken English’ in their plays. To measure the impact of the program, students’ writing skills were assessed at the beginning and end of the school year using a district-wide standardised assessment requiring them to write a narrative essay, and students completed surveys relating to their self-perception before and after the program. Teachers also reported on students’ motivation and self-confidence. Prior to the program, students’ writing scores were similar for both the playwriting and control groups. However, the playwriting group scored significantly higher than the control groups on the writing test taken after completion of the playwriting program. The playwriting group's ability to develop arguments, organise information, provide evidence, and construct grammatical and coherent sentences improved. This was significant as it indicated that skills learnt in playwriting could be transferred to other types of texts. Students' reported self-confidence in their writing improved significantly for students in the playwriting group, whereas control group students showed a slight drop in confidence in their skills. Teachers reported that of those involved in the playwriting program, some quieter students had become more active in their classes, and that students’ attitude toward completing and presenting work had improved. The playwriting program allowed students control over their learning and validation of their personal experiences.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsUnited States of America (USA)
Arts in education
Putting reading first: teaching social studies in elementary classrooms
Volume 36 Number 3, 2008; Pages 233–255
Time allocated to social studies education in US primary schools has been sharply reduced to provide more time for the teaching of reading, as mandated by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law and Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) targets. The authors conducted classroom observations and surveys with 13 teachers and 6 principals to examine the impact of this change on schools’ approaches to the teaching of social studies. They found that the response of many schools and teachers had been to integrate aspects of social studies into set texts prescribed to facilitate reading. As a result, however, intellectual engagement with social studies topics tended to be at lower levels, as the curricular focus on basic reading skills and comprehension minimised time spent on critical investigation of topics. For example, a text on Nazi Germany was largely used as a tool for the study of phonics and vocabulary rather than as a subject for critical examination. Social studies learning often involved the rehearsal of reading strategies or simple verbal question and answer sessions, and tended to be cursory and unplanned. Some more experienced teachers felt less constrained by NCLB, and devised lessons around more sophisticated skills, trying to ‘get it all in’. In these teachers’ lessons students conducted interviews, reported on newspaper items, or undertook small-group research. However, while these lessons were more investigative and experiential in tone, the research process entailed students retrieving information as quickly as possible, and research materials were limited to pre-prepared worksheets. Attempts to combine social studies with language arts were largely unsuccessful, and resulted in social studies being addressed only as the opportunity arose, and then in a superficial manner. Teachers need to devise ways to integrate social studies more meaningfully into the curriculum, and design more in-depth pedagogical approaches for social studies. To do so they need to resist government attempts to over-regulate their professional roles. Professional development for teachers should respect their professional autonomy and avoid heavy-handed imposition of teaching methods.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Subject HeadingsUnited States of America (USA)
Volume 24 Number 1, 19 March 2009; Pages 34–57
Parents’ involvement in their children’s education has been linked with children’s academic success and attitudes toward learning. The authors undertook an analysis to determine the ways in which children’s own attitudes and their parents’ involvement in their learning at home influenced academic achievement. One hundred and thirty-one Canadian Grade 5 and 6 students of European, middle-class backgrounds completed two surveys relating to their parents’ home educational behaviours, and to their own academic and personal self-concept. Students’ teachers reported on students’ academic competence, encompassing academic skills and behaviours, and attitudes toward school and learning. The results indicated that school-focused parental involvement at home was linked with school achievement, but this association was mediated by children’s academic competence. Mothers’ involvement in homework and the home learning environment improved academic achievement, as did their emotional support. Fathers’ involvement in home learning such as reading and time management likewise produced positive results; however, the additional academic pressure exerted by fathers was negatively associated with academic competence, and therefore achievement, as competence and achievement were found to be directly linked. Pressure was also associated with negative self-concept, whereas parental participation and encouragement supported self-concept. Boys perceived receiving more academic pressure from their parents, whereas girls felt that their learning environments were positively managed by their parents. Girls showed higher academic competence than boys; however, in terms of self-concept, boys’ results were higher overall, despite reporting higher levels of parental pressure. These results highlight the complex relationship between family, self-concept, and student achievement, and have implications for policy and practice regarding the role played by parents in their children’s education. Further research needs to be undertaken to determine whether these results generalise to ethnically and socio-economically diverse groups.
Subject HeadingsParent and child
The effectiveness of volunteer tutoring programs for elementary and middle school students: a meta-analysis
Volume 79 Number 1, Spring 2009; Pages 3–38
Tutoring has been widely used in the USA to improve the academic skills of public school students. Increased public concern after the 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk saw numbers of volunteer tutors rise to over a million, and with a presence in three quarters of public schools. More recently, university partnerships and state and community interest in tutoring have grown as a result of the America Reads Challenge. However, while the efficacy of specialised and professional tutors on learning has been examined, less research has been undertaken regarding student achievement as a result of tutoring delivered by volunteers. Administrators may therefore be encouraging volunteer tutoring programs without evidence of their impact on learning. The authors undertook a meta-analysis of 21 articles covering 28 studies of volunteer tutoring programs of at least one month’s duration that targeted literacy or mathematics skills of K–8 students. A total sample size of 1676 students was recorded, including 873 in tutoring treatment groups, and 803 in control groups. Tutors were trained parents, university students, or community volunteers. Programs tended to focus on specific reading or general mathematics skills, and were classified as high or low structure depending on the amount of instruction and direction given by the tutor. The analysis indicated that volunteer tutoring programs had a significant positive effect on the verbal skills and reading outcomes of tutored students. Compared with control group students, tutored students showed gains in global reading outcomes, in decoding skills, comprehension, reading fluency, and writing. However, students receiving mathematics tutoring did not show statistically significant gains. Program structure influenced global reading outcomes, with highly structured programs resulting in larger gains. The type of tutor assigned to a student made no significant difference in student achievement. Policy makers and educators could consider implementing structured, reading-focused volunteer tutoring programs as an effective, inexpensive way to improve learning outcomes.
Subject HeadingsEducation policy
United States of America (USA)
Effects of state tests on classroom test items in mathematics
Volume 108 Number 6, 2008; Pages 251–261
The introduction of state tests can encourage teachers to narrow their content focus and reduce time spent on in-depth instruction, so that they focus instead on improving students’ test-taking skills. To determine the effects of the Ohio Achievement Test (OAT) on Grade 8 mathematics teachers’ test writing, the authors examined nine teachers’ test materials in the year preceding and the year following the OAT’s implementation. The authors analysed all test materials set by the teachers for these two years. Individual test items were coded in terms of year-level appropriateness, and a three-tiered system assessed the depth of students’ knowledge required by each test item. Level 1 items involved rote responses; level 2 items required more in-depth application; and level 3 items required students to engage strategically with more complex problems. The depth of knowledge assessed by teachers’ tests changed little over the two years, as the vast majority (87%) of assessment consisted of level 1 items, with very few items requiring students to take higher level conceptual approaches. In both years, most teachers included a greater percentage of level 1 items than were included on the OAT test, which itself focused largely on lower level items. The high proportion of level 1 items on the OAT (65%) is consistent with research indicating that state tests often focus excessively on basic skills and knowledge. In both years, level 2 and 3 items remained underrepresented on the majority of teachers’ assessments, and some teachers increased their proportion of level 1 questions after the implementation of the OAT. District-standard test materials aimed at improving OAT results were provided to one teacher: these materials contained more level 1 items than his pre-OAT tests. The teachers had not received training in designing assessment materials, and in preparing tests, all but two had relied on textbook materials or assessment materials designed by textbook publishers. The prevalence of low level items in teachers’ tests indicated that these materials were a poor means of assessing students’ depth of knowledge. To be able to properly assess students’ mathematics knowledge, teachers should receive training aimed at developing sophisticated assessment items with emphasis on skills beyond rote procedures.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
United States of America (USA)
An investigation of the impacts of teacher-driven professional development on pedagogy and student learning
Volume 35 Number 2, Spring 2008; Pages 139–154
Teachers professional development frequently takes the form of top-down, one-size-fits-all programs that may not be relevant to classroom practice. This is despite research indicating that the most effective teacher learning programs focus on collaboration, content knowledge, and active learning relevant to individual school contexts. In the USA, a relatively new program, the Francis P. Collea Teacher Achievement Award Program (CTAAP), provides funding over two years to enable teacher teams to undertake professional development of their own choosing in selected subject areas. In 2004–06, 12 teams participated, undertaking professional development that included attending writing workshops and working with journalists to teach non-fiction; developing methods for incorporating the arts into the language arts curriculum; and attending courses and meeting with researchers to improve science content knowledge. The authors conducted in-depth interviews and surveys with 11 of the teams to assess the impact of the CTAAP on their teaching and self-perceptions. The teachers were all experienced educators who had sought out alternative professional development to supplement standard training activities. A majority reported that targeted professional development they had received through the CTAAP had led them to make either major or moderate changes to their lessons and teaching styles. They felt that they had improved their content knowledge, and that they were providing greater breadth of subject matter, as well as improved instruction. All felt that they had benefited from the program, with 92% indicating a major benefit. Teacher collaboration and teamwork improved, resulting in some schools implementing school-wide improved instructional approaches, such as a new writing curriculum. School professional development days were conducted in a more instructional and meaningful manner. Teachers reported that students’ motivation had improved. For example, students of the teacher group who had studied recent scientific developments were enthusiastic about being able to engage with cutting-edge science such as DNA fingerprinting. Allowing teachers to develop their own professional development programs helped them develop leadership skills and improve teaching and learning in identified areas. Programs such as CTAAP have policy implications regarding the allocation of professional development resources.
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