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FINNUT-Forskning og innovasjon i utdanningssektoren

Early intervention for children at risk of reading disorders in Northern Norway: A cluster randomised trial

Alternative title: Tidlig intervensjon for barn i Nord-Norge med risiko for lesevansker: En randomisert kontrollert studie

Awarded: NOK 14.2 mill.

The main aim of the present study is to develop a research-based intervention that can improve decoding skills and reading comprehension in pupils who are at risk of developing reading and writing difficulties. The study is a randomized control study among students who achieved results below the concern level in national reading tests at 1st and 2nd grade. The students are randomly divided into two groups. One group receives a program to improve decoding skills and language comprehension, where the overall goal is to improve reading comprehension. The other group gets what is usually offered at the school in question ("business as usual"). The intervention, the "ReadWell programme", has been digitized. The pupils in the intervention group are presented with the text of the day and tasks via voice-over, and a countdown timer ensures that everyone gets the same amount of time on each task. The standardized scheme ensures that all students get through a session at the same time. The program records the number of attempts and mistakes the student makes before arriving at the correct solution to the tasks. The text of the day is divided into three difficulty levels. Everyone starts at the easiest level. To get to the next level, the student must have more than 80% correct answers to all tasks in three consecutive sessions. If the student has more than 40% mistakes in a session, they automatically get an easier level in the next session. The start of the Readwell study was postponed for one school year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Approximately 175 pupils in two municipalities in northern Norway are participating in the study in the 2022/23 school year. For the 2023/24 school year, more than 250 students from the two municipalities are expected to participate. All pupils are tested immediately before the start of the intervention period and immediately after the intervention period is over. Follow-up tests will also be carried out six months after the intervention period has ended to investigate whether any difference between the intervention group and the control group is persistent. In September 2022, our paper – a registered report – was offered “In principle acceptance (IPA)”. This means that our manuscript has passed peer review. Our paper "Improving Reading Comprehension through Language Comprehension and Early Word Reading: A Multi-Site Randomized Trial" will thus be published in Journal of Educational Psychology pending successful completion of the study. We were asked to progress to Stage 2 and complete the study as approved. Following study completion, we will submit our finalized manuscript for re-review, now including Results and Discussion sections. We have further registered our approved protocol on the Open Science Framework (OSF) until submission of the Stage 2 manuscript.

The proposed study is a two-arm cluster randomized trial with group as the unit of randomisation. The two arms are (1) a programme to improve decoding skills and language comprehension and (2) "business as usual". The intervention is an intensive support programme delivered by trained teachers (or teaching assistants), and is designed to improve oral language ability and decoding skills in young students in Year 2 and Year 3 who are identified to be at risk for reading failure. The sessions focus on improving letter knowledge, phonological awareness, and vocabulary, reception of grammar and narrative skills. Both the intervention group and the control group includes children in Northern Norway, where the share of poor readers is higher than the national average. The most critical R&D challenges to be faced is implementation fidelity. The training will however enable teachers to understand the importance of the intervention and their role for successful implementation. Another critical challenge is absence. Both students and teachers may miss sessions due to illness or other reasons. To avoid problems related to sick leave among teachers, all schools will be requested to have a backup plan (e.g. trained teaching assistants who can act as stand-ins). Teachers involved in the project will learn about the continuities between reading and language disorders. Given a successful outcome of the RCT study, however, the schools will continue to use the resources to ameliorate reading failure in future students. The project findings and experiences will furthermore be widely disseminated and thus contribute to a national knowledge base for the teaching profession.

Funding scheme:

FINNUT-Forskning og innovasjon i utdanningssektoren