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Designing and developing evidence-based interventions for reading, maths and resilience

Posted on 19 September 2016

Members of PERC presented a symposium at the BERA Annual Conference 13-15 September 2016, held at the University of Leeds

Dr Kathryn Absury (convenor). Educational commentary in recent years has been characterised by calls for teaching to become an evidence-based profession.  This commentary has been underpinned and rendered substantial by the work of organisations such as the Education Endowment Foundation.  Commentators such as Ben Goldacre have spoken out about the need for an ‘information architecture’ similar to that in medicine, which can allow teachers to readily access the evidence-base for all educational interventions.  It can be argued that that the cultural shift required to build this ‘information architecture’, and to make evidence-based education a reality, is the responsibility of policy-makers and practitioners as well as researchers.  However, there is a clear onus on researchers to take the lead in developing interventions that are rooted in theoretical and empirical literature, and testing them to provide evidence of whether they work and, if so, for whom and in what conditions? 

In this Symposium we explored four psychological interventions designed to support pupils experiencing difficulties with reading, mathematics and resilience. 

We opened with Dr Elpida Pavlidou who introduced an iPad game developed on the basis of recent behavioural and neuroimaging research.  The game, I-L3.A.R.N, is designed to enhance implicit learning skills and, indirectly, reading ability in struggling readers.  Evidence suggests that reading problems may stem partly from a specific difficulty in recognising regular patterns in text that are not usually explicitly taught.  I-L3.A.R.N is currently being tested in an RCT with 50 children aged 7-9 (n=40 with reading problems) who have been randomly assigned to intervention and control groups.  Findings regarding the game’s effectiveness (not yet available) will be presented, and the educational value of this innovative touchscreen, language-free, intervention will be discussed.

Still on the topic of reading, Dr Claudine Bowyer Crane presented Get Ready for Learning (GR4L).  GR4L is an 18 week early oral language intervention for Reception children who speak English as an Additional Language (EAL), and for monolingual children with language weaknesses.  An RCT with 80 children found that the GR4L intervention group showed a significant advantage over the waiting control group on measures of taught vocabulary, but not on other language measures.  Implications for schools working with children with EAL will be explored. 

Dr Hugues Lortie-Forgues’ research has found that many pupils struggle to multiply and divide fractions.  In a recent study, when asked: 

“True or False:   x   > ?”

only 31% of 13 year olds answered correctly.  This is problematic because fraction (and decimal) arithmetic have been found crucial for achievement in many professions.  Dr Lortie-Forgues will present preliminary results showing that altering the format of fraction multiplication and division problems can improve students’ understanding of the direction of effects.  He will discuss an intervention aimed at improving conceptual understanding of fraction and decimal arithmetic.

Finally, Dr Poppy Nash presented research on resilience in transitions in and out of VI Form.  Dr Nash has identified high levels of anxiety among V1 Form students in the face of academic stress, and significant gender differences in self-reported anxiety.  An intervention designed to support young people in developing resilience skills at this transitional time will be presented, along with an evidence-based Continuing Professional Development (CPD) initiative designed to support teachers in addressing high levels of anxiety in Year 12. 

The studies presented, and the role of intervention research at the interface between education and psychology, was discussed by Professor Chris Kyriacou.  How research such as this can be made to contribute to an ‘information architecture’ that is truly accessible to teachers was explored.