The aim of the research project On Track has been to gain new knowledge on how to prevent reading- and writing difficulties by developing and investigating the effect of motivating and research-based early interventions. The project is the first large-scale reading intervention evaluated through a group-randomised controlled design in a Norwegian context.
The main conclusion from the published works is that an intensive early intervention like the On Track-resource may have a positive effect for pupils at risk for developing reading- and writing difficulties. The results of the project facilitate teachers' professional development in the field of early efforts and inform decision makers about effective methods.
Schools that fulfilled the criteria for participation in the project were randomly distributed into four conditions: One of two different intervention in Grade 1, interventions in Grade 2, or a control condition. At the beginning of the school year in 2014, the researchers conducted an assessment of early literacy skills that are known to be related to later reading skills, amongst the 1171 Grade 1 pupils who participated in the project.
Based on this first round of assessment the On Track researchers identified 140 Grade 1 pupils to be at risk for developing dyslexia or other reading difficulties. At-risk-pupils in the intervention schools received the On Track learning resource. The instruction was given during station rotation lessons in Norwegian L1.
The «control schools» were informed about which students were at high risk for developing reading- and writing difficulties already by the start of Grade 1. The teachers participated in courses on high-quality primary school instruction in reading and writing, and the instruction was arranged in groups according to the skill level, under a similar framework as for the intervention groups. However, control-school teachers set up the instruction themselves.
The intervention group-pupils received the adapted group instruction 45 minutes per day, 4 hours per week, for 25 weeks. Each session consisted of 4 parts: In order to practice letter-sound compounds, the pupils played a computer game for 10 minutes. This was followed by 10 minutes of guided reading, 10 minutes of invented spelling , and the group finished with 10 minutes of reading and talking about what they had read.
The main conclusion from the published works is that an early intervention such as the On Track intervention has a positive effect for pupils at risk for developing reading- and writing difficulties. The Grade 1 pupils in the action group developed better skills in sentence reading, spelling and word reading, than the pupils in the control group. The effect size for sentence reading was 0, 57; for spelling 0, 61; and for word reading 0, 75
Two doctoral dissertations have been completed within the framework of the project. One investigates relationships between dyslexia in the family, pupils? school performance, and the home environment. This work shows that pupils? low performances are closely related to having dyslexia in the family, in that dyslexia in the family is related to reader-related skills at school start-up beyond the impact of the environment, gender, vocabulary and parents' educational level. Pupils who have dyslexia in the family are also three times more likely to develop reading difficulties after two years at school. At the same time, the work shows that environmental factors such as parents? educational level and the literacy environment in the home can have a protective function against low performances.
The second doctoral dissertation paints a unique and nuanced picture of the relationships between interest in reading, self concept, and actual reading skills in the initial education. The work shows that first graders are generally very interested in reading. At the same time, we see that pupils with poor early reading skills already have significantly lower beliefs in their abilities at school, compared to their peers. We find that there is a relationship between expectations of mastery and reading skills in Grade 1. Furthermore, the reading intervention had no direct impact on the pupils? expectations of mastery. These findings may mean that a reader's self-image is largely influenced before children start school, and that it remains stable. One consequence may be interventions in which direct reinforcement of expectations of mastery is even more central.
As part of the project, we have completed what is called a whole cycle of quality for digital learning technology: We have developed technology, and we have critically examined the basis of the technology through a systematic review, we have documented the effect, we have developed guidelines for use, we have created resources for competence development, and we have commercialised the product.
In Norway significant resources are spent on special education services late in children's school career, due to lack of intervention material for the early grades. The On Track has provided tools and concepts that are made available to the public for free. These include: screening materials to identify children at risk of developing reading difficulties, research-based intervention materials, digital learning games and a program for teachers' professional development.
To obtain this, a large effort has been put on transforming the achieved high end academic knowledge into robust tools and concepts that are ready at hand for the teacher when facing the challenges of early intervention for poor readers. The results and tools have been extensively communicated to teachers, school owners and policy makers, resulting in a grand impact and interest. As a consequence, In its first year as ready-made program, it is now being implemented in several municipalities.
In primary and secondary school 50 000 students (8.6%) get special needs education and take as much as 18 % of the teaching resources (Utdanningsdirektoratet, 2013a; 2013b). Reading difficulties constitute the most frequent cause of special education need s (Grøgaard et al., 2004). Despite an increase in special needs education since 2006, no effect has been shown in terms of lower occurrence of reading difficulties in secondary and upper secondary school. In this situation The Norwegian Ministry of Educat ion and Research has stated the need for a shift from late to early intervention. This shift inevitably calls for evidence-based programs for early intervention. National and international state-of-the-art assert that children at risk of developing readin g difficulties should receive interventions in their first grades of primary school to prevent subsequent problems in learning to read and write. However, large-scale surveys show that many Norwegian teachers tend to "wait and see" when children struggle with reading acquisition.
This innovative research project aims to answer how the Norwegian school system can reduce the incidence of reading difficulties, by developing tools to identify children at-risk for reading difficulties, as well as research base d programs that teachers in primary school can utilize in their professional practice, and by measuring the impact of early remedial reading interventions. Hence, this project will develop high quality knowledge of great significance for both policy devel opers and practitioners. International state-of-the-art suggests that early remedial literacy training should focus on pre-reading activities such as letter knowledge; phonological training; decoding and spelling as well as reading comprehension. In addit ion, motivation for reading and reading self-efficacy should be promoted. These areas will be targeted in the present intervention project applying a randomized multivariate longitudinal quasi-experimental design.