‘Intense’ intervention key to childhood reading struggles: U of A study

Following two years of pandemic-related learning disruptions, young children struggling to learn how to read are able to catch up quickly with intense reading intervention, according to new research.

The study conducted by the University of Alberta’s Reading Research Laboratory identified 362 students with reading difficulties in four Alberta school divisions.

Student participants in either Grade 2 or 3 were given 30-minute phonics lessons four times per week for a period of five months between October 2021 and February 2022.

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Researchers wanted to measure the impact a sustained and concentrated reading intervention program could have on child literacy, presumably impacted by COVID-19 public health measures that saw kids jump between in-class and online learning.

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“If the kids struggle in reading, there is no magic bullet than can fix the reading problems in a week or a month,” said Dr. George Georgiou, an educational psychologist at the U of A who led the study. ”

“Unless you act quickly, the reading difficulties accumulate.”

The data found 82 per cent of participants improved their reading abilities, on average, by 1.5 years. It also showed 72 per cent of students no longer required any reading intervention and had “caught up.”

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“We have been able to help the children — not only those who were struggling because of COVID-19, but also the children who generally struggle in learning to read,” said Dr. Georgiou, who planned to publish the findings in ‘Scientific Studies of Reading’, an international academic reading journal.

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He said the study methodology took natural maturation into account and he was able to conclude the improvements were a direct result of the intervention.

“In Canada, we are the only ones that have this kind of data to demonstrate the effect of intervention,” he said.

Approximately 57 of the students in the study were from Lakeland Catholic School Division, which has also established its own reading intervention program separate from Georgiou’s study.

Superintendent Pamela Guilbeault said the division recruited eight reading interventionists to administer the program and said, anecdotally, they are seeing encouraging results.

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“What they’re also seeing is a change in their students’ confidence and their joyfulness when they’re coming to the intervention groups,” said Guilbeault. “I’ve heard from my interventionists that students are clamoring to go, asking, ‘Is it my turn?’”

In May 2021, the Alberta Government announced $45 million in funding was available in intervention supports to help young students struggling in reading and mathematics due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Upon request, Edmonton Public Schools and Edmonton Catholic Schools told Global News Edmonton that each division had received money as part of the learning loss grant and that the funding was being used to provide reading and/or math interventions to Grade 2 and 3 students throughout the current school year.

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A spokesperson for Edmonton Public said as the intervention was ongoing, there was no formal data to share in terms of its impact on student learning.

Edmonton Catholic Schools spokesperson Christine Meadows said the division had recently begun working with Grade 1 students and that, anecdotally, teachers are sharing their students are demonstrating ‘increased achievement and confidence’.

In addition to Lakeland, the schools which participated in the study were Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools, Black Gold School Division and Fort Vermilion School Division.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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