ABRACADABRA (ABRA) is a web-based interactive software developed by a team from Concordia and a faculty member from McGill University to develop pupils’ literacy skills through decoding, fluency and comprehension activities built around a series of age-appropriate texts. Based on the ABRA software and support materials, researchers at Nottingham Trent and Coventry Universities have developed Reading and Understanding in Key Stage 1 (RUKS) – a 20-week reading support programme which can be delivered either through an online, ICT-based model that uses the ABRA software or through an offline, paper-based model. Both versions of the programme begin with 1.5 days of training for teachers and teaching assistants, who then deliver four 15-minute sessions per week to all Year 1 children (age 5 – 6) in small groups of 4 – 5 pupils.
The EEF previously funded an efficacy study in 60 schools of both the ICT-based RUKS programme, which uses the ABRA software, and the paper-based version of the RUKS programme, which covers equivalent content through offline activities. Both versions of the programme were found to positively impact on pupils’ reading attainment. Pupils receiving the ICT-based programme made an average of 2 additional months’ progress in reading, while pupils receiving the paper-based programme made an average of 3 additional months’ progress in reading. This subsequent effectiveness trial set out to test whether a scalable version of the training and resources could produce similar results.
This effectiveness trial evaluation found that children in schools receiving the paper-based version of the ABRA programme made an average of 2 additional months’ progress in reading compared to children in schools that did not receive the programme. Children in schools receiving the ICT version of the programme made no additional progress in reading, on average, compared to children in schools that did not receive the programme. These results have a high security rating. Children in both schools receiving the paper-based programme and in schools receiving the ICT programme made additional progress in decoding and letter-sound knowledge compared to children in other schools, suggesting that both versions of the programme benefit pupils. A small positive impact on pupils’ attitudes to reading was also identified for pupils in schools receiving the paper-based programme.
79% of schools receiving the ICT version of the programme reported experiencing technology issues, which may explain why the ICT version of the programme was less impactful than the paper-based version. These issues were mainly linked to internet connectivity. In the EEF’s previous efficacy trial, schools delivering the ICT-based programme were provided with a laptop with an offline version of the ABRA software installed, meaning schools were not reliant on internet connectivity. Online access to the programme was provided for this effectiveness trial, as a more feasible and scalable way for schools to use the programme.
The EEF intends to explore the potential for bringing this programme to more schools.