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Pathways to literacy: an evaluation of two programmes for children with reading difficulties

Striker, Carole

Pathways to literacy: an evaluation of two programmes for children with reading difficulties Thumbnail


Carole Striker


The investigation was concerned with ways of helping children with reading difficulties. One of the main reasons for these children failing in reading seems to be a complete lack of interest in books, stemming from the fact that reading is regarded as unimportant in the children's culture. A teaching approach which attempts to evoke interest and change attitudes through relating reading to interests and culture should therefore be more suitable for these children than an approach'which concentrates on the skills involved in reading. If successful, an interest-centred approach should have marked effects, in that it should lead to continued improvement in ability for as long as the interest is sustained.
Pilot studies showed that an interest-centred approach was much enjoyed by poor readers, and improved both reading ability and attitudes to reading. It seemed worthwhile therefore to carry out a more rigorously controlled experiment, to further assess the effectiveness of such an approach.
In the main experiment, eighty primary school children, almost all working-class and all backward in reading, were given extra help with reading for five months. 'Interest sessions' were held with forty of the children, and 'skill sessions* with the other forty. The sessions were conducted by experienced teachers, who were on a university course. Each teacher worked with two groups of four children, holding interest ; sessions with one group, and skill sessions with the other group.
The expected results were not obtained. Interest sessions turned out to be a comparative failure, in that they had no effect at all upon the children's attitudes to reading. Not only that, but children of average and below average intelligence improved reading ability significantly less in interest sessions than in skill sessions. Both types of session were successful in accelerating the children's rate of progress in reading, and both types were unsuccessful in changing attitudes.
The children were followed up fourteen months after the sessions had finished. The follow-up showed that there were no differential long-term effects from the sessions. For both groups of children, reading progress had returned to its former poor rate, in contrast to the accelerated progress made during the sessions.
The above results can be best explained as follows. The interest- centred approach was intended to work by changing the children's attitudes to reading. In the event, it did not succeed in creating either temporary or permanent interest in reading. There was less direct teaching of reading in interest sessions than in skill sessions, and the children did not particularly enjoy being able to pursue their own interests. They preferred the rewards available from skill sessions, in the form of feelings of success and mastery. This reward preference may have serious implications for progressive education, which lays such stress on pupil choice and pursuit of individual interests.
As far as long-term effects were concerned, neither approach succeeded in changing attitudes, and therefore, once the sessions stopped, progress for both groups relapsed to its former inferior rate.
Thus, it seems that if children are'to leave school with, reasonable • ability to read, tuition which concentrates on the skills involved in reading rather than upon the children's interests and culture should be . given continuously for as long as is necessary. This may mean for the whole of the child's school career. Without this extra help, skill-centred in nature, the child may well leave school semi-1 iterate, with all this implies in terms of life-prospects.


Striker, C. (1976). Pathways to literacy: an evaluation of two programmes for children with reading difficulties


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