Ereaders the saviour of weak readers Pt2

A recap – an intervention with new technologies that improves students a minimum of 18 months in reading age. Original post here

Having retested our first wave of students we noticed that the improvements that had initially been made through the intervention programme had been sustained.

For instance student A started with a reading age 3 years 4 months below their chronological age. When they had finished the 10 week programme their reading age was only 1 year 5 months below their reading age. The student had improved 2years 1 month through the intervention – a massive success in itself. But 3 years later when we tested her we noticed that she was 1 year below her chronological age. So not only had she continued to make the progress expected – 1 reading year per chronological year – she had done better than this and closed the gap beyond this expectation.

To say we were impressed was an understatement. Not only was the intervention capable of producing fantastic short term gains but these gains were then becoming sustainable over a period of time. Just with student A all our first wave students closed the gap over time.

It’s a really simple reason why this was happening too and one that we had discovered when we delved into our original gains to find out why they were so high in the first place from just a small intervention.

Having undertaken a large number of research projects into interventions and reading I’m a firm believer in only running an intervention for a short time period. This is for many reasons. 1. A student learns a massive amount from being in a classroom, bring with their peers, questioned and challenged, pushed via group work, knowledge extended through conversation etc etc 2. The longer an intervention lasts the less a student values it, they stop working that extra bit harder because it’s different a start to coast. 3. With short sharp bursts covering a small amount of skills or knowledge is much more focused than a long drawn out drip effect. In my experience between 6-12 weeks is optimum.

So to be making these gains from just 10 extra hours of reading seemed too good to be true. In honesty we expected there to be some gain, it was an intervention and the rule of intervention will tell us that just by spending more time doing something  you should make a difference. The difficulty in analysing the success of an intervention is discerning between an effective intervention and one that is only giving you an expected gain from having just done more of it. In other words the intervention needs to add value to the extended frequency of a task.

To understand why we were able to add so much value you need to look at the reasons why we were doing it. 1. The students we were choosing were significantly minus reading to chronological age. 2. They had made little or no progress from a years worth of secondary intervention (extra phonics). 3. They had general weak literacy skills. Clearly these students weren’t making the minimal gains expected and they were also receiving the same intervention they had done for the 6 years previously in primary school.

My view was simply that it wasn’t working and that they required another way to help them read. I strongly believe that when a student reaches secondary school age phonics is the wrong way to go. Yes it is vital in beginning reading alongside all the other facets that produce a young person able to read for gain but in a secondary school if phonics does work then the student still needs to learn comprehension and so still requires intervention. What if we put together an intervention that works both for decoding and comprehension at the same time? Plus, let’s be honest, if it hadn’t worked after 6 years is it really going to suddenly start working now? Most likely not, and know hormones are starting to kick in the student is going to have the belief that they can’t do, they don’t want to do it, they hate reading, why are you making me do it!

What we need to do is reignite their desire, their want to read. We need to show them that they can do it and that they can achieve at it. We need a completely different approach. The approach we chose was through using technology and a mixture of edevices. I strongly believe that when you put an intervention together it should be adaptable to the needs of the person undertaking the intervention. Each student will be completely individual and will come with a different set of problems and needs. You therefore need to be aware of this and make sure that the intervention is personalised to them. We therefore had a range of edevices that all did slightly different things. We had ipads, nintendo ds’, ipods with talking books etc etc. We needed to fit the device to the student and not the students to the device.

Having then put all this together we spoke to the students taking part about how we were going to chose together a really good book that they were going to enjoy and then we were going to simply read. As simple as that. Obviously it wasn’t quite that simple but from the eyes of the student it was, and that was important. We told them beforehand that we weren’t going to stop every time they came across a hard word, that if I figured they were struggling I was going to tell them the word and then we would carry on reading. If they got a word wrong and didn’t know they had done I was going to repeat the last word the got right and that would be their cue to go back and try again. I wanted to work on their confidence and fluency, for me, is the key behind this, and so many other things to do with improving reading. I explicitly said to them too that they didn’t need to worry about phonics. They didn’t have to try and break down and words and sounds and blend them together again, all they needed to do was read and enjoy the book. Enjoy the book, because that was the whole idea behind the intervention. Get them to enjoy the process of reading by removing any barriers that they had.

So when we broke down the reasons why it worked so well we concluded that it was really down to 6 key points.

1. In secondary school students read differently than in primary school. They use word recognition to read instead of breaking down words. It’s why we/they can see a word with first and last letters in the right place but everything else jumbled up and still understand it. What we are doing is recognising the rhythm of the word rather than using synthetic phonics. Once a student has been told a word they will remember this. At the same time they will also be learning comprehension as they are seeing it used correctly in the right circumstances. The more they come across the word the more it is embedded in their mind as with anything as they are creating and embedding neural pathways.

2. Although books like Barrington Stoke are really good, students with lower abilities need to still come up against hard words and have a high frequency of these interactions. We know this when it comes to learning, students need to be stretched and challenged so why should we expect a student to improve in their reading if they are only ever coming up against words that they already find easy. Research shows that word recognition plays a vitally important part in reading. If students come across harder words they will recognise them and how they are pronounced and they can then transfer this over to other words of similar ilk. Therefore to compound these neural pathways they need to have this higher frequency of interaction with such words and therefore with harder books that will challenge them.

3. Very often a student will tell you that they don’t like reading. What they are really telling you is that they don’t like the process of reading they have been through for the past six years. Not many people would enjoy reading if it happened to be reading a list of words on a sheet being told to break them into phonemes and graphemes and then blend them together again. After 6/7 years of not getting this we are compounding their problems by continuing to try and teach this in secondary schools. Students know that they need to break down words into their composite sounds then build them back up with blends etc but they don’t get it entirely. They get the initial sound and then maybe the second one but just guess at the rest. The kindle with its text size changer allows you to concentrate more on the words individually and spend time getting them right which means they can be reading a story they are engrossed in but still have time to work on harder words.

4. Words on a double page spread confuse weaker readers, even those that don’t have dyslexia. If you watch a weaker reader read their eyes tend to ‘wander’ off the sentence or even paragraph. This is the same with a word they have noticed at the bottom of the page which they are worrying about. They either skip or don’t concentrate in anticipation for a word they know they will struggle with. This inhibits fluency as well as comprehension but with the Kindle being able to enlarge the text lowers the chances of this happening therefore increasing fluency and comprehension and in turn confidence.

5.If you listen to weak reader read They. Will. Read. As. If. They. Are. Reading. A. List. Of. Words. This is because this is all they know. They haven’t been given the opportunity or the skills to read with fluency but have instead been used to reading a lists of words. The knock on effects is a decreased amount of comprehension, enjoyment and ability to increase literacy and reading skills.

6. Books and their sizes can be quite daunting and a turn off for a lot of students especially if they have been told for past 6 or so years that they can’t read. A Kindle takes this away completely you don’t have to worry about how many pages there are, you can just enjoy a book for the story.

These were really the biggest factors and the way that the intervention was breaking down barriers to make sure that each students was able to enjoy the process of reading that they were now undertaking. We had allowed them access to and had scaffolded their reading. Due to this the knock on effect was that the students were starting to enjoy what they were doing. They were growing in confidence with their reading and they were more willing, because of this, to read more outside of school. After interviewing each student after the 10 weeks we asked them how their attitudes had changed. They were all extremely positive and stated how they were suddenly reading more at home. This was massive and the reason why such big gains were being made. These students who had gone from never reading were doing 1 hour a week extra with me but then also X number of hours on top of this at home. Of course they were going to be making a difference and it was this that meant that the gains were sustained over longer periods of times. The students were now readers for pleasure so they were doing more of it. It was the simple success criteria: the more you enjoy doing something the more you do it and the more you do it the better you get at it.

And for me, that is why edevices and technology has the saviour of the weak readers in our school.


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