Online Reading Support

This project will evaluate the impact of technology-based reading activities in Key Stage 1. Computer programs are widely used both in schools and at home with a view to helping children learn to spell and increase other literacy outcomes. Particular claims are made for their benefit in supporting struggling readers, and for encouraging independent learning. This project will test a free, internet-based reading programme with a promising evidence base from international trials. The programme uses animated characters and stories on a computer programme to engage pupils aged 4–6. With the support of a Teaching Assistant (TA), small groups of pupils will work together in order to improve fluency and comprehension. This project will investigate whether the programme has an impact on pupils’ reading ability as compared to small group tuition from TAs without technology support, and a no-treatment control group.

Why are we funding it?

Compared with other educational software, this is a relatively well-evidenced programme. It has been developed by a multi-university team based on evidence from systematic reviews on effective reading interventions, and several international studies suggest that it has particular promise for pupils struggling with literacy. It is a free resource so would be easily scalable for use both at school and in homes. At present, many schools pay to subscribe to commercial reading programmes so there is a case for testing an alternative that is free and has a promising evidence base. It also fits with a wider set of projects that the EEF is funding about identifying effective uses of teaching assistants.

How are we evaluating it?

The EEF partnered with Nominet Trust to co-fund projects focusing on the use of digital technology in raising the attainment of disadvantaged children. This was one of the seven projects we co-funded. You can read the announcement of this partnership here.

When will the evaluation report be due?

The project will be evaluated by a team from LSE and NIESR. The evaluation is set up as an effectiveness trial. Effectiveness trials aim to test whether an intervention can work at scale in a large number of schools.

60 schools will be recruited to the trial: 30 will be randomly allocated to treatment starting in September 2014, and 30 to a waitlist control group who will receive the treatment in September 2015. Within the treatment group of schools, pupils will be randomised to receive either the computer-based reading programme, an alternative set of paper resources based on best practice in reading, also delivered via small group tuition, or a within-class control. This will enable us to look at whether the technology-based reading programme is more effective than an alternative form of small group tutoring and whether there is any spill over to untreated pupils in the same class. TAs will be randomly allocated to receive one or other type of training.

To view the project's evaluation protocol click here.