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New study shows technology improves grammar teaching

Posted on 27 September 2012

Hand-held technology can help to improve primary pupils’ learning of grammar, according to a new study by the Institute for Effective Education (IEE) at the University of York.

Researchers at the IEE conducted a large randomised evaluation in more than 40 primary schools of the use of Questions for Learning (QfL), a technology-enhanced, self-paced learning tool. It was found to enhance grammar achievement and was particularly effective for average- and low-achieving pupils. If these results held over a school year, these pupils would make between three and four months of additional progress.

We found that pupils in classes who used QfL showed significant gains in grammar compared with pupils in the control group

Dr Mary Sheard

In QfL each pupil responds to progressively more difficult questions that are presented on Promethean ActivExpression wireless hand-held devices at the rate that the pupil answers them. This allows both more advanced and weaker pupils to answer in a private way at a pace appropriate to them.

Pupils receive immediate feedback on their hand-sets on whether or not their answers are correct while the teacher sees a developing chart on his or her computer screen, showing how each pupil is performing. The teacher can then intervene immediately to support struggling pupils and identify which aspects of the curriculum require revisiting or re-teaching.

Researchers evaluated the effectiveness of short exposure to QfL on learning of grammatical concepts. The evaluation took place over 12 weeks from January to May 2012. One Year 5 class from each of 42 primary schools in nine local authorities in the north of England and North Wales participated in the study. Schools were randomly assigned to either use QfL or to continue with their regular grammar teaching.

Principal researcher Dr Mary Sheard, from the IEE, said: “We found that pupils in classes who used QfL showed significant gains in grammar compared with pupils in the control group. This improvement was greater in schools that used QfL at least three days each week, as prescribed, and for low- and average-achieving students.”

At the conclusion of the study, 100 per cent of teachers said they would recommend the strategy to peers and 96 per cent would like to use the resources in other curriculum areas. Overall student engagement increased according to 93 per cent of the QfL teachers. One teacher commented: “It’s a great way of teaching grammar – fun and child friendly. It allows me to see the areas of grammar children are finding tricky so I can revisit them.”

QfL was well-received by pupils too. “It helps with giving you a boost, with things that you just can’t quite understand. They give you chances to get your answer right. It is the best grammar gadget ever,” said one pupil.

The findings of this study correspond with the Sutton Trust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit’s high rating of feedback as an effective teaching strategy. It also builds on a previous IEE study of QfL in primary mathematics, which also found significant improvements in pupils’ mathematics achievement.

Dr Sheard added: “This study provides important insights into how to enable this pioneering area of technology-enhanced teaching and learning to become increasingly effective in supporting pupils’ achievement in grammar.”

The complete report of the study can be found online

Notes to editors:

  • The QfL evaluation was conducted by researchers at the Institute for Effective Education, at the University of York. For more information contact Dr. Mary Sheard at
  • The local authorities were Blackburn, Blackpool, Bolton, Bradford, Lancashire, Bury, Flintshire, Liverpool, and Wigan.
  • The Institute for Effective Education (IEE) is campaigning for better evidence of what works in education.  It conducts rigorous evaluations of education programmes and practice. Its work is mainly focused on literacy, numeracy, and science in the UK and overseas, but also includes Early Childhood Education, parenting, widening participation, and the effective use of technology. It works closely with schools, policy makers, and other researchers to share knowledge and build support for evidence-based education in policy and practice. Find out more about the IEE at or by emailing

Contact details

Jonathan Haslam

Tel: +44 (0) 1904 328162

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