As educators around the world assess how school disruptions and online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic have affected students, a project led by a University of Alberta researcher shows that targeted interventions can help offset learning loss in students with reading difficulties and set them up for later academic success.
George Georgiou, a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, and his team implemented a reading intervention program in the school divisions of Fort Vermilion, Black Gold, St. Albert Catholic and Lakeland Catholic in Alberta. 2nd and 3rd year students with reading difficulties. Classes ran from October 2021 to February 2022 and were overseen by the research team and literacy counselors from each school division.
The study included 83 classes from the four school divisions, for a total of 362 students receiving interventions in groups of three or four from 66 facilitators. The 30-minute lessons focused on phonics, teaching irregular words, and shared reading of books which reinforced recognition of the letter combinations taught in the lessons.
“We found that 82% of children improved over time and, on average, their improvement was equal to 1.5 years. Of all the children who received an intervention, 72% no longer have reading problems,” said Georgiou, whose team assessed students’ reading skills before and after the intervention period.
“A few kids started off really low, so even though they got better over time, they still have reading issues,” Georgiou noted. “We need to keep providing them with interventions, but it’s a positive sign that they’ve gotten better over time.”
He added that students will be reassessed later in the school year to ensure they have maintained the gains they have made.
Georgiou said a research partnership grant from Alberta Education and the work of doctoral student Kristy Dunn in creating the training materials and educational resources to prepare teachers for interventions, as well as contributions from Renowned literacy experts, including Rauno Parrila from Macquarie University and Robert Savage from York University, have all been instrumental in getting the results so quickly.
“As far as I know, these are the only data available on addressing learning loss through an intervention in Canada that was carried out with a methodologically rigorous approach,” he said.
Another important aspect of the project was that, rather than sending his graduate students to lead the interventions as he had done in the past, Georgiou built internal capacity by training literacy teachers and consultants, involving superintendents in planning and ensuring consistency in the way interventions were carried out.
“We’ve created a community of people thinking about reading intervention and how they can support their students in schools,” Georgiou said. “School divisions that have the interventions have them forever — they can use them however they want.”