This study evaluates two different interventions, both aimed at improving early grade reading in English as First Additional Language (EFAL) to prepare learners better for the transition from home language to English as the language of instruction, which occurs in Grade 4. Both interventions focus on training and supporting teachers in the foundation phase to better teach English in the early grades. The interventions will be evaluated by testing learners entering Grade 1 at the start of 2017 and following the same learners through to the end of Grade 3 in 2019, testing the learners yearly at the end of each year. To evaluate the sustainability of the benefits of the interventions, the same learners will be assessed in Grade 4, a year after the interventions have been concluded.
Intervention 1: Teacher training, paper-based scripted lessons, learning and teaching support material and coaching.
Both interventions aim to apply the same set of instructional practices in the teaching of EFAL in the grade 1, 2 and 3 classrooms. Both interventions therefore provide teachers with clear, scripted lesson plans, which are aligned to the South African curriculum as specified in the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) for EFAL in the Foundation Phase. The lesson plans incorporate the use of learning support materials, including the government provided workbooks as well as certain additional materials (graded reading booklets, flash cards, big books, posters, etc.), which are provided through the EGRS II. The graded reading booklets will be introduced in the second year of the study (as per the recommendation of the CAPS) as a key resource for the teacher to use in group-guided reading and individual work, so as to facilitate reading practice at an appropriate pace and sequence of progression. Intervention 1 initially introduces the teachers on how to use the lesson plans and accompanying materials through a two-day central training session at the start of the year. During the year, cluster training sessions are held for one-day prior to the start of each academic term to additionally train the teachers on the use of certain core methodologies in the lesson plans. In addition to the training sessions, ongoing support is provided to teachers through ‘specialist’ reading coaches. The on-going support takes on the form of on-site visits by the reading coach on a monthly basis to assist teachers with the implementation of the lesson plans.
Intervention 2: Teacher training, electronic scripted lessons, learning and teaching support material and virtual coaching.
Exactly the same set of instructional materials (graded reading booklets, flash cards, big books, posters, etc.) is provided to Intervention 2 schools. However, instead of providing the scripted lesson plans in a paper-based format, the scripted lesson plans are provided in an electronic format on tablets to teachers. In addition to the scripted lesson plans, the tablets also contain short video tutorials for the teachers on teaching practice, audio clips on the pronunciation of the phonics sounds, audio clips of the songs and rhymes and examples of learners’ work. Furthermore, instead of a reading coach visiting the schools on a regular basis, the intervention has a virtual coach who provides on-going support to teachers through phone calls, whatsapp and sms messaging. The teachers in intervention 2 are initially introduced to the lesson plans and materials through a three-day central training session at the start of the year, and also receive one-day cluster training sessions at the start of each academic term.