Big gains in reading scores

7th September 2007 at 01:00
An Active Literacy pilot is helping to counteract the effect of deprivation in North Lanarkshire

NORTH LANARKSHIRE Council has launched a new literacy strategy for its primary schools, after pilot studies showed gains of five months in the reading age of P1 pupils who were taught under the new methodology.

The strategy, developed over the last three years, puts an emphasis on active, multi-sensory tasks which encourage pupils to work together co-operatively, teaching each other and thus reinforcing their own learning, alongside whole class instruction by the teacher.

Worksheets and low-level tasks are virtually cast to one side, and traditional reading schemes become just one of a number of tools available to the teacher.

Reading, writing, talking and listening are taught through a combination of explicit, systematic phonics instructions and various activities. These include magnetic letters on a whiteboard, sentence starts, sequencing a story, a bank of words on the wall, literacy work around Traditional Tales, and puppets.

Above all, the idea is for literacy to be completely cross-curricular, so that reading, writing, listening and talking are emphasised in other classes beyond the language lesson.

The Active Literacy programme was piloted last year in 38 schools. It will be used in the P1 classes of 78 schools this year, and by next year should be in all 130 primaries in the authority. Over the next five years it will be developed to cover all stages from P1-7, with a focus on quality novels from P4-7.

Educational psychologists carried out tests on 200 P1 children at two separate intervals. In both instances, the reading age of the experimental group was five months higher than that of the control group, after being exposed to the new literacy strategy for nine months.

Nancy Ferguson, senior educational psychologist with the Primary Literacy Base, said: "These results indicate that the Active Literacy pilot has had a significant effect on reading acquisition and is helping to counteract the effect of deprivation in North Lanarkshire schools."

The tests, using the assessment tool "Reading Now", developed by the National Foundation for Educational Research, measured word reading, knowledge of sentence construction, and reading comprehension.

They also showed that Active Literacy reduced the percentage of P1 children scoring at four years 11 months by 26 per cent, and increased the number of children scoring at average or above average by 16 per cent.

Observation of children showed that those in the experimental schools worked more with manipulative equipment, such as magnetic letters and whiteboards, worked more within a "whole class" setting and carried out more tasks during a literacy lesson. In the control classes, children often had to wait for the teacher during a lesson, were more distracted, and did more painting and drawing.

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