The Nuffield Language4Reading (L4R) project ran from January 2009 to December 2011. The project sought to explore the role of oral language in developing literacy skills.
Due to the knowledge that important foundations for literacy development are laid before children start school, the L4R project aimed to:
- identify children with oral language weaknesses at preschool age
- evaluate the effectiveness of the L4R programme for improving oral language skills in Nursery and Reception
- investigate if the L4R intervention will help children respond to reading instruction
The project involved 15 schools and feeder nurseries across Yorkshire. In early 2009, 12 children from each nursery were selected to take part in the project based on their language skills. These children were then randomly allocated to either an intervention group or a waiting control group. Six children were additionally selected from each nursery to act as a peer comparison group.
Children allocated to the intervention group received 30 weeks of the L4R intervention in addition to the standard Nursery and Reception curriculum (spring 2009- summer 2010). In the spring/summer term of Year 1 (2011), the waiting control group received intervention targeting language and literacy skills.
The L4R language intervention programme was designed for preschool children who showed areas of weakness in their oral language skills. It ran over 30 weeks starting with a 10 week block in nursery and continuing with 2x10 week blocks in Reception class. During the first 10 weeks of the programme in nursery, children take part in three 15-minute group sessions per week. This increases to 3x30 minute sessions per week plus 2x15-minute individual sessions for the remainder of the programme.
The L4R programme was developed especially for this project based on earlier work by researchers at the Centre for Reading and Language and with reference to the Early Years Foundation Stage. The L4R programme aimed to help children in 3 key areas: vocabulary knowledge, narrative skills and listening skills.
In each session, children were rewarded for following the listening rules, taught new vocabulary and took part in a variety of activities to improve their knowledge of story structure, grammar and speaking skills. The sessions were designed to be multi-sensory and children were encourage to join in and take an active role.
During the final 10 weeks of intervention, the L4R programme also included training in phonological awareness and letter work to supplement the reading instruction children were receiving in the mainstream Reception classroom.
The L4R programme was delivered by Teaching Assistants (TAs) selected by each school or nursery. They all attended 2-day training courses at the beginning of the Nursery and Reception part of the intervention. They also received additional training prior to the final 10 weeks of the programme to support them with the added phonological and letter sound component. Over the course of the intervention TAs were asked to attend fortnightly group tutorials and received individual tutorials in school. For each 10 week intervention block, the TAs received a detailed intervention manual that included the majority of resources. The TAs showed a huge degree of motivation and commitment to the project, and also provided important feedback about the feasibility of the programme. The initial evaluation of the feedback has been encouraging and indicates that the intervention programme can be effectively administered by trained TAs in preschool and Early Years settings.
An awards evening was held in November 2010 at CRL to celebrate and acknowledge the contribution of the TAs. Each participating nursery and school was presented with a certificate of achievement by Jean Gross, Communication Champion.
The research team regularly monitored children’s progress at key points during the project until July 2011, to see if and where the children have progressed. Immediately following 30 weeks of intervention, children allocated to the intervention group performed better than children of the waiting control group on all applied language and literacy measures. These wide-ranging improvements included expressive language skills, such as the use of vocabulary and grammar, with gains also in letter-sound knowledge and spelling.
The team published their final findings in 2013 in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.