Research Digest: September 2014

Published on: 15 September 2014 Author: The BookTrust Research Team

BookTrust Research Digest

Welcome to the first research-digest blog!

These posts are designed to share research findings around literacy and education that are relevant to BookTrust programmes, and our mission.

Sharing personalised stories encourages children to talk

A personalised story in this context refers to print books which are based on a fictional story, and enriched with pictures and personal references about the participating child. Personalised learning environments are known to motivate and engage children in educational activities and resources, and to influence language and cognitive development.

This research compared the quantity and quality of children's spontaneous (unprompted) responses to personalised stories with similar non-personalised stories during shared reading. Spontaneous speech is a good indicator of active participation and engagement in the book sharing activity, and a good predictor of gains in reading skills.

The research found that children who were read a personalised story produced more spontaneous speech, which lasted for a longer time than the children who were read a non-personalised one. The majority of the speech tended to be self-referential (e.g. containing child's name, me, my, mine etc) which highlights the importance of the adult to support and extend this speech during shared book reading.

Personalised stories could be used in pre-school settings when the aim of the story sharing session is to develop classroom community and engage children in social talk. However, in this context, digital formats may be more feasible as they are far quicker and easier to produce. They could also be useful in home-settings in which personalised books facilitate parent-child communication which supports bonding.

Full report: Kucirkova et al, 2014. The effects of personalisation on young children's spontaneous speech during shared book reading. Journal of Pragmatics 71, 45-55.

Good story-tellers make good readers, and brief but intensive interventions work to improve story-telling skills

Story-telling skills are an important foundation of reading comprehension, and educational success. They have social benefits too as telling a good story attracts positive attention from peers. It also enables children to communicate more effectively with their parents and other adults.

This impact evaluation assessed an individualised language intervention on narrative skills, for pre-schoolers with developmental disabilities. Narrative skills include retelling stories, telling personal stories and answering questions about stories. These three skills were tested before, during and after the intervention and meaningful improvements were made for each measure. Parents and teachers reported that the storytelling activities were engaging, enjoyable, and produced improvements in the children's language skills.

The intervention, called Story Champs was brief but intensive: one-to-one, for 10-15 minutes, twice a week and focussed on story grammar using picture prompts. This was designed to match what could be realistically achieved in a pre-school setting, particularly with children with disabilities who tend to have difficulties sustaining motivation for longer periods of time.

Full report: Spencer et al, 2004. Effects of an Individualized Narrative Intervention on Children's Storytelling and Comprehension Skills, Journal of Early Intervention, 35:3, 243-269

Education in a dual language environment improves reading scores for English speakers and learners

This case study tracked the emergence of Italian and English literacy skills among 60 children who were either an English speaker or English language learner, on a dual language programme in the US. The children were taught using the 90:10 model, 90% Italian and 10% English in kindergarten and first grade, with the amount of English increased by 10% each year to become a 50:50 split by fifth grade.

The research found that although there was an initial lag, by the end of elementary school, the children who had been educated bilingually (both English speakers and learners) scored at or above grade level in reading as well as in maths and other subjects - and had performed better than comparable children who were educated exclusively in English. These results were the same across student's ethnic, socio-economic and linguistic backgrounds.

The children were able to develop English literacy skills whilst being taught primarily in Italian. Although the study sample was relatively small and so findings are largely descriptive, they do suggest that reading skills (decoding words and reading strategies etc) transfer across languages, particularly those with similar writing systems.

Full report: Montanari, 2014. A case study of bi-literacy development among children enrolled in an ItalianEnglish dual language program in Southern California, International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism,17:5, 509-525

'Read on. Get on.' How reading can help children escape poverty

This report was published alongside the launch of the national campaign 'Read On. Get On.' BookTrust is a core Coalition partner in this campaign and contributed to the report. In the UK, 40% of the poorest children leave primary school without being able to read well. The campaign aims to ensure that by 2025 all children are confident readers at the age of 11. It calls for: parents to read with young children for ten minutes a day, volunteers to help poorer children improve their reading, and political parties to support the 2025 target and two interim 2020 goals. The full report is available on the Save the children website.

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Topics: Research, Features

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