A metacognitive approach to the learning and teaching of spelling (MALTS)

Description of the innovation
MALTS – the metacognitive approach to the learning and teaching of spelling – aims to improve attainment for all learners through the implementation of a thorough and rigorous spelling programme (Support for Spelling, 2009) synthesised with a range of metacognitive strategies that will develop children’s spelling consciousness. Class teachers delivered two 45-minute sessions per week over 24 weeks.

Summary of evaluation
The sample for our randomised control trial (RCT) consisted of 189 Year 3 and 4 pupils from two Lewisham primary schools. Half of these children were assigned to the intervention group, the other half to a control group. Both groups used Support for Spelling as the basis of their teaching, but teachers in the intervention group were sent adapted versions on a weekly basis, which incorporated a metacognitive structure (as proposed by Harris et al., 2009) and metacognitive strategies for teaching and learning the content. Both schools are inner-city London primary schools with around 40% disadvantaged pupils (pupils receiving the pupil premium grant) and 60% of children speaking English as an additional language. The intervention was delivered to whole classes by the class teacher. We conducted a baseline assessment and, using mean age-related scores, matched similar Year 3 and Year 4 classes. Once we had paired similar classes, one class from each pair was assigned to the intervention and the other to the control group, using a random number generator. For the baseline assessment and the post-test, we used the Helen Arkell HAST-2 standardised test, which provided us with a ‘spelling age’ for each child.

Based on the data from our pre- and post-test using the Helen Arkell HAST-2 standardised scores (giving each child a ‘spelling age’), our innovation showed a positive effect size of +0.08, showing a small positive impact. In Year 3, the effect size was +0.25, whereas in Year 4 it was -0.07. The overall effect size for disadvantaged children (receiving the pupil premium grant) was +0.11. For children identified as having a special educational need or disability, the effect size was +0.05. Based on these findings, we suggest that this spelling programme needs to begin earlier in children’s time at school, ensuring there are no gaps in the rigorous teaching of spelling. In both schools, Year 3 were taught a robust phonics programme through Early Years and Key Stage 1, then went straight into the MALTS programme; whereas Year 4 had one year without any spelling programme before beginning the MALTS programme in Year 4. In addition, in Year 4 we noticed a greater impact of the project at our own school, where metacognition is already embedded in teachers’ standard practice. This has led us to believe that greater training in metacognitive practices is required at the beginning of the project when we run it in future.

Lead school

  • Rathfern Primary School, Lewisham

Main findings

  • Effect size for pupil progress in spelling age = +0.08

Download the protocol document