Developing word knowledge

Description of the innovation

A bespoke word knowledge intervention was taught to pupils in Years 3 and 5. This intervention focused on five aspects of word knowledge: breadth of vocabulary, depth of vocabulary, fluency, word memorisation and recall automaticity. Two word knowledge lessons were taught each week, one introducing the weeks’ spellings and the other focusing on semantics and morphology. These lessons were reinforced by short word level activities throughout the week and a spelling test at the end of the week. The intervention lasted for one academic year.

Summary of the evaluation

Two schools participated in the evaluation. One Year 3 class and one Year 5 class from each school formed the intervention group while the parallel class from each school formed the control group. All participating pupils took NFER standardised reading and spelling tests at the beginning and end of the academic year. The Gray Oral Reading Test (GORT-5) was also administered to eight pupils, with a range of NFER spelling test scores, in each class at the beginning and end of the academic year.

Summary of findings

Results were variable across measures, year groups and schools. The NFER spelling outcomes showed positive impacts on progress in Year 3 but only minor impact in Year 5. The NFER reading comprehension outcomes differed according to school rather than group. Outcomes from the GORT-5 show variability in the impact (both negative and positive) of the intervention: children in the intervention groups made substantial progress in relation to reading accuracy and fluency subtests of the GORT-5 in Year 3, but the control group pupils made more progress in reading rate in all year groups, and in reading fluency and comprehension in Year 5.

These results are somewhat perplexing and not expected in light of the results from the pilot study and the research evidence on which the innovation was based. The intervention was high intensity (an extra two word knowledge sessions per week, plus word knowledge activities and homework) and meant that the intervention group pupils received potentially an extra two hours of word knowledge instruction/practice per week than control group pupils, yet there was no clear benefit compared to the relatively light touch ‘business-as-usual’ control group outcomes.

The small sample size combined with variable outcomes between classes and schools, limits the conclusions that can be drawn from the current study. The evaluation does highlight a number of possible avenues for further study.

This project was led by Michael Ogle. This report was written by Michael Ogle, and subsequently edited by Dr Alicia Shaw and Jonathan Haslam. Unfortunately we were not able to liaise with Michael on these edits, so any consequent errors or omissions are ours.

Lead school

  • Bottesford Junior School, Scunthorpe

Schools involved

  • Bowmandale Primary School
  • Bottesford Junior School

Main findings

  • The outcomes were variable across measures, year groups and schools.

Download the protocol document