Word rich readers
Description of the innovation
The amount of time that Key Stage 3 (KS3) pupils spend reading for pleasure drops dramatically from and during the transition between primary and secondary school. Yet reading for pleasure between the ages of 10 and 16 is reported to be more strongly linked than influences before the age of 5 and socio-economic factors combined with academic attainment overall (Sullivan & Brown, 2015: 971). Our innovation was designed to increase the amount of reading undertaken by participating pupils.
KS3 pupils (in Year 8) read a new novel during their English lessons for the first two weeks of the spring and summer half-terms during the academic year 2018–2019. This was in addition to two novels in the first term that formed part of existing schemes of work, ensuring that pupils in the intervention group read a total of six novels. Control group pupils read only the two novels in the autumn term. Pupils in the intervention group therefore more than tripled their novel consumption by reading six novels in a year as whole-class texts. Intervention pupils became ‘word-rich’ in the sense that they ‘consumed’ approximately 200,000 more words than their control counterparts during English lessons. The reading did not incorporate additional study of the texts; pupils were simply encouraged to enjoy and engage with narratives. Novels were carefully chosen for the structural, linguistic, genre-based or content challenge that they offered, and for their contemporary appeal. The innovation aimed to create conditions for widespread reading for enjoyment while increasing reading outcomes for pupils, based on findings from Sutherland (2017) in relation to ‘Faster Reads’; a project involving two novels read back-to-back, after which quantitative analyses showed pupils’ mean comprehension increased by 8.5 months overall and 16 months for poor readers.
Summary of the evaluation
The project was conducted via whole classes. There are eleven Year 8 classes in the school: four of these classes are made up of high prior-attaining pupils, and the remaining pupils are taught in seven mixed prior-attaining classes. The four classes that participated in the project were selected from the mixed prior-attaining classes and matched for similar ability using average Cognitive Abilities Test scores and Key Stage 2 (KS2) writing levels for comparison. Prior experience of the teachers of those classes was also matched as evenly as possible, and intervention and control groups were randomly assigned.
A total of 90 pupils were involved in the trial and analysis. In the intervention group there were 44 pupils and in the control group 46 pupils. Full data was collected for 81. Reading scores pre- and post-intervention were collected using Literacy Assessment Online Reading Tests. The results from internal writing exams were also compared in order to check for any differences in writing outcomes given the increased bias towards reading for the intervention group. In addition to the quantitative data generated in terms of reading, individual interviews were also conducted with participating teachers at the end of the process to explore other factors around the delivery of the innovation.
Summary of findings
- Reading a greater number of books as a whole class did not, on its own, improve reading outcomes for pupils. It may be that pupils need to be ‘taught’ the books in order for the additional reading to lead to progress.
- The experience and reading pedagogy of the individual teachers seemed to be a greater factor in progress.
The results of the study showed an effect size of -0.49, suggesting that the intervention had a medium negative impact overall. Contrary to expectations the lowest attaining pupils (those who had a reading age lower than their actual age) actually made greater progress in the control group than in the intervention group, with 10 pupils in the control group moving to their expected reading age while only one in the intervention group did. Two classes in the study did seem to make greater progress. One was an intervention class and one was a control class. Both were taught by more experienced reading teachers, and, if measured in this way (against the less experienced reading teachers) had a positive effect size of +0.69.
There were a number of limitations to the study. Given the complexity of reading as a process, it is possible that there may be a delayed effect on the pupils who were ‘word rich’. A twenty-minute multiple choice test involving only single sentences is a blunt tool for the measurement of complex reading and comprehension skills and may provide at best only a snapshot. The cognitive benefits of extended narrative reading may not be so easily measured.