We often talk about how critical the first few years of school can be on a child’s future education. Two published studies highlight the long-term impact of effective versus ineffective teaching in the first year of school
Peter Tymms et al. (2017) measured the reading and maths development of 40,000 children in England at the start of their first year of school at age 4 years, at the end of their first year of school and again at ages 7, 11 and 16 years.
The researchers compared each child’s results at the beginning and the end of the first year of school and used this data to identify children that had been taught effectively. Effective teaching was defined as classes where children, as a cohort, made significantly greater than average gains after controlling for pre-test results and poverty levels.
Children who were taught well in their first year of school went on to achieve better GCSE results (GCSEs are high-stakes exams in the UK) in English and math at age 16 years. Long-term benefits in achievement were also reported for those children who were in effective classes in Key Stages 1 (equivalent of pre-primary/foundation to Year 1) and Key Stage 2 (equivalent of Years 2-5). However, these were not as large as those seen in the first year of school.
The obvious next question is: What constitutes effective teaching in the early years? To answer that question we need to look at another research paper.
In their study, Hjetland et al. (2017) systematically reviewed 64 longitudinal studies conducted between 1986 and 2016 in the USA, Europe and Australia. These researchers found that literacy code-related skills (rhyme awareness, phoneme awareness, letter knowledge) were the most important skills required for reading comprehension in beginning readers, but linguistic comprehension (grammar and vocabulary) gradually took over being more important as children become older, presumably because they had mastered the decoding skills.
These results suggest:
- We need to be providing effective teachers implementing effective programs in the early years of our children’s education.
- The focus in the early years of learning to read and spell needs to be on developing an understanding of the written language as a code for the spoken language.
- Once children can competently decode the written text, the focus needs to change to developing their vocabulary and knowledge of grammar.
Hjetland, H., Brinchmann, E., Solveig-Alma, H., Hagtvet, B. and Melby-Lervåg, M. (2017). Preschool predictors of later reading comprehension ability: A systematic review. Campbell Collaboration. Retrieved from https://www.campbellcollaboration.org/library/preschool-predictors-of-later-reading-comprehension-ability.html
Tymms, P., Merrell, C., & Bailey, K. (2017). The long-term impact of effective teaching, School Effectiveness and School Improvement: An International Journal of Research, Policy and Practice, 1-20. https://doi.org/10.1080/09243453.2017.1404478