This page covers the first (efficacy) trial of Abracadabra (ABRA), which tested whether it could work in schools under best possible conditions. To read about the second (effectiveness) trial – which tested a scalable model under everyday conditions in a large number of schools – click here.
Abracadabra (ABRA) is an online toolkit composed of phonics, fluency and comprehension activities based around a series of age-appropriate texts. The trial assesses a 20 week programme of lesson plans using the ABRA activities (referred to here as the ICT programme). The trial also assesses the impact of an offline, paper version of the same programme (referred to here at the non-ICT programme).
The study was funded by the Education Endowment Foundation and Nominet Trust as part of a funding round focusing on the use of digital technology to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children.
The EEF tested the ABRA online activites in a programme of 20 weeks of lesson plans, a small group literacy programme that is administered by specially trained teaching assistants and takes a balanced approach to teaching literacy involving both phonics and reading comprehension. We funded the project because it takes an evidence-based approach to literacy, and because the ABRA software is free, meaning that ongoing costs to schools would be low after the initial training for Teaching Assistants.
Our evaluation tested the online, ICT programme, alongside the paper-based, Non-ICT alternative using the same activities and texts. Positive effects were found for both, equivalent to two to three months of additional progress, with a larger impact for students eligible for free school meals. The findings are consistent with the evidence from the Teaching and Learning Toolkit, which indicates that technology is most effective when used to facilitate new approaches to teaching and learning, rather than as an end in itself, and with our Key Stage 1 Literacy Guidance, which recommends a balanced approach to teaching reading.
An impact on attainment was still observable a year after the intervention, as measured by nationally prescribed teacher assessments at the end of Key Stage 1.
The EEF is likely to fund a further trial of ABRA to test its impact when delivered at scale. Many schools already purchase commercial reading programmes and may wish to consider the ABRA training and free software as an alternative with promising evidence.
- The children who received ABRA, or its offline alternative were found to make two and three months’ progress in literacy respectively compared to the children who received standard provision. This positive result would be unlikely to occur by chance.
- For both ABRA and the offline alternative, the impact for children eligible for free school meals and children with below average pre-test outcomes was larger than for all pu
- Successful implementation contributed to a well-designed and delivered training programme which emphasised fidelity and consistency, enforced by ongoing support from the project team.
- The process evaluation found that both the ICT and non-ICT interventions may be best delivered in groups of similar rather than mixed ability. The process evaluation also suggested minor changes to the intervention to make it more culturally relevant to British pupils, and to remove some repetition in the non-ICT programme.
- Future research will examine whether ABRA or the non-ICT intervention can be successfully delivered at scale, and will look at longer-term impacts through assessing Key Stage 1 data from this trial.