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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Parenting training and home support
  4. SPOKES – Supporting Parents on Kids Education in Schools
  5. Methods
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

Background. Low levels of literacy and high levels of behaviour problems in middle childhood often co-occur. These persistent difficulties pose a risk to academic and social development, leading to social exclusion in adulthood. Although parent-training programmes have been shown to be effective in enabling parents to support their children's development, very few parent interventions offer a combination of behavioural and literacy training.

Aims. This paper (1) reports on a prevention programme which aimed to tackle behaviour and literacy problems in children at the beginning of school, and (2) presents the effects of the intervention on children's literacy.

Sample. One hundred and four 5- and 6-year-old children selected from eight schools in an inner city disadvantaged community in London participated in the intervention.

Methods. This is a randomized control trial with pre- and post-measurements designed to evaluate the effectiveness of an intervention. The behavioural intervention consisted of the ‘Incredible Years’ group parenting programme combined with a new programme designed to train parents to support their children's reading at home.

Results. Analyses demonstrated a significant effect of the intervention on children's word reading and writing skills, as well as parents' use of reading strategies with their children.

Conclusion. A structured multicomponent preventive package delivered with attention to fidelity can enable parents to support their children's reading at home and increase their literacy skills. Together with the improvement in child behaviour, these changes could improve the life chances of children in disadvantaged communities.

There is a well-established connection between behaviour problems and reading difficulties from middle childhood onwards (Maughan, Pickles, Hagell, Rutter, & Yule, 1996; Rutter & Yule, 1970). The exact nature of the relationship between these two conditions is complex. While it has been proposed that behaviour problems can lead directly to poor school attainment (Patterson, DeBaryshe, & Ramsey, 1989), it has also been suggested that reading difficulties may give rise to conduct problems (Bennett, Brown, Boyle, Racine, & Offord, 2003). Independent of the direction of causality, it has been shown that behaviour problems and reading difficulties share common risk factors which tend to co-occur (Hinshaw, 1992a). Recent studies on the comorbidity of hyperactivity and literacy difficulties suggest that both conditions are under the influence of common genetic factor(s) (Chadwick, Taylor, Taylor, Heptinstall, & Danckaerts, 1999; Stevenson, Pennington, Gilger, DeFries, & Gillis, 1993).

The overlap between underachievement and behaviour problems varies between 6% and 50% (Hinshaw, 1992a) depending on the choice of sample (clinical or normative populations) and on the definition and measurement of underachievement. Based on a sample of 364 school-age children in the UK, Adams and his colleagues (Adams, Snowling, Henessy, & Kind, 1999) report that the comorbidity rate of reading difficulties is as high as 16% with hyperactivity and 13% with conduct disorders. In a British survey of more than 10,000 5- to 15-year-old children it was found that among those with specific learning difficulties, 13% also had conduct disorders and 5% a hyperkinetic disorder (Meltzer, Gatward, Goodman, & Ford, 2000).

Results of longitudinal studies suggest that the relationship between behaviour problems and reading difficulties starts before school: children who go on to develop reading difficulties often have behaviour problems at the beginning of school, and these lead on to poor reading performance (Jorm, Share, Matthews, & McLean, 1986; McMichael, 1979). These findings, and the fact that behaviour problems and reading difficulties do not respond well to treatment once they are established in middle to late childhood, highlight the need for addressing this double disadvantage through interventions starting early in life (Reid, 1993).

The interventions need to target major modifiable risk factors (Scott, 1998) and one way of doing that is through parent programmes that address the issue of ineffective parenting practices. Importantly, it has been found that the relationship between antisocial behaviour and academic achievement is indirect, mediated by parental discipline practices (DeBaryshe, Patterson, & Capaldi, 1993). A very large percentage (30–40%) of the variation in children's antisocial behaviour has been attributed to parenting and family interaction patterns (Patterson et al., 1989). Inadequate parenting may lead to both behavioural and school problems through harsh discipline, poor supervision, parental conflicts, rejection of child, and low involvement in the child's activities (Farrington, 1995). Good parenting practices at home, such as the provision of a secure environment or intellectual stimulation, have a strong positive effect on children's achievement and adjustment (Desforges & Abouchaar, 2003). The EPPE study (Sylva, Melhuish, Sammons, Siraj-Blatchford, & Taggart, 2004) in England measured children's home learning environment, a measure which focuses on activities that parents provide for their young children (e.g., learning songs and poems, reading to their children, learning the alphabet). It was found that the home learning environment had significant positive effects on children's pre-reading, early number concepts, language development, and social behavioural development, even after controlling for a number of family and child characteristics.

Parenting training and home support

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Parenting training and home support
  4. SPOKES – Supporting Parents on Kids Education in Schools
  5. Methods
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

Systematic reviews of parent-training programmes have concluded that parental group programmes (particularly behaviour-based programmes) are successful in reducing behaviour problems in children aged 3–10, with effect sizes typically ranging from 0.3 to 1.8 (e.g. see Barlow, 1998). There have also been a number of interventions in the UK addressing the parent's tutorial role as a way to improve children's literacy (Paired Reading; Topping, 1995; REAL project; Hannon, 1995; The Haringey Reading Project; Tizard, Schofield, & Hewison, 1982). While findings suggest a positive effect of parental tutorial practices on children's reading skills, the evidence available is not conclusive. Although a number of reviews have summarized the findings from literacy-training programmes (e.g. Brooks, 2002; National Literacy Trust, 2001), the effectiveness of parent training on children's literacy has not been established through more systematic reviewing, largely because of methodological discrepancies among the studies.

Recent research in the USA has tended to focus on classroom-based intervention or classroom-based interventions combined with parent training and home support (e.g. Head Start, see Zevenbergen, Whitehurst, & Zevenbergen, 2003 for a recent evaluation study). Results of an evaluation of Head Start children enrolled in 32 different Head Start centres (Bryant, Burchinal, Lau, & Sparling, 1994) demonstrated that the children's home environment was a stronger predictor of language development than the quality of the Head Start centre they were enrolled in. These findings concur with other results which showed that – in terms of children's language and literacy development – home-based programmes can be more effective than classroom interventions (Lonigan & Whitehurst, 1998). Lonigan and Whitehurst suggest that the home environment can be the most powerful platform because dialogic (shared) reading ‘targets expressive language skills through the use of probing, practice, teaching, feedback, and repetition’, and in the one-on-one context rather than small group settings, parents' use of questions and feedback can be tailored more suitably to each child and situation.

It has been suggested that effective early interventions for children with ‘comorbid’ behaviour problems and reading difficulties need to combine behavioural programmes and educational instruction (Hinshaw, 1992b). The combination of high-quality preschool education with family support services has proved to be the most effective way to improve school achievement and prevent antisocial behaviour in the long run, and to achieve progress in parenting skills and children's cognitive development (for a review of early childhood programmes to prevent delinquency and antisocial behaviour, see Melhuish, 2004; Yoshikawa, 1995). In the early years, the High/Scope Perry Preschool programme (Schweinhart, Barnes, & Weikart, 1993) is the most well-known example of a high-quality preschool programme that combines behaviour and cognitive approaches in centre-based education; long-term gains in cognitive ability and delinquency levels were found. For older children, such as those participating in the present study, interventions are usually single-component, either targeting behavioural problems or cognitive development. As a result, few parent-training programmes during primary school have offered a combination of behavioural and literacy training. An example can be found in Australia, where such combined intervention was offered in Melbourne in the context of the Crime Prevention Victoria Project (Elliot, Prior, Merrigan, & Ballinger, 2002). Another example of a combined approach is the one we are reporting in this study, called SPOKES (Supporting Parents on Kids Education in Schools).

SPOKES – Supporting Parents on Kids Education in Schools

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Parenting training and home support
  4. SPOKES – Supporting Parents on Kids Education in Schools
  5. Methods
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

The SPOKES intervention was designed to address both the behavioural and literacy problems of children at the start of primary school, using behaviourally based techniques combined with a more cognitive literacy programme. Emotional understanding and support of the parents were also important. The intervention was delivered between 2001 and 2002, and extended over the course of three terms. In the first term, parents were offered 12 sessions on behaviour management; in the second term, 10 sessions of the literacy programme; and in the third term, 6 sessions combining elements from both. Each session lasted approximately 2.5 hours. The structure of both elements of the programme was similar, combining centre training with home visits. Detailed manuals and videotapes of both programmes were created to facilitate replicability and a number of professionals have already been trained to deliver the programme around the UK (Scott & Sylva, 2002).

The intervention's behaviour programme was based on Webster-Stratton's ‘Incredible Years’ parent-training programme (Webster-Stratton & Hancock, 1998). This uses short videotaped clips of children and parents together to model and encourage changes in the relationship with the child, as well as offering parents specific guidance on behaviour and more general support (see http:www.incredibleyears.com for a full list of references). The programme has been independently replicated in the UK by Scott and his colleagues in a clinical context, where 3- to 8-year-old children were referred for problems of antisocial behaviour (Scott, Spender, Doolan, Jacobs, & Aspland, 2001). It was found that after an average attendance of nine group sessions, parents reported significantly fewer behaviour problems compared with the waiting-list group, with a large effect size (d = 1.06). In the SPOKES programme reported here, the group sessions followed a structure similar to the Webster-Stratton programme, including work with videos, role play, homework, and structured activities.

The literacy strand of this intervention was based on the Pause Prompt Praise (PPP; McNaughton, Glynn, & Robinson, 1987) approach to reading. The PPP was initially developed in New Zealand during the 1970s as a way to train parents as tutors, and was then extended to a range of other contexts and settings. Parents or peers are trained to help school-age children below expected progress levels via one-to-one tuition (Merrett, 1998). The goal is to increase the child's ability to independently read texts of an appropriate level of difficulty. The programme has been replicated in many countries, including the UK, demonstrating significant gains in reading age for every month of training (for reviews of a number of studies, see Glynn, 1987; Wheldall & Glynn, 1989). It has been suggested that parent-training programmes such as the PPP and Paired Reading (Topping, 1995), can improve the reading abilities of poor readers in a more effective way than parent listening programmes (Pickstone, Hannon, & Fox, 2002; Toomey, 1993).

The PPP programme requires the adult to pause the reading after an error, prompt the child, and praise the reading behaviour. One of the main principles is that, when a child encounters an unknown word, the parent pauses for five seconds, thus giving the child the opportunity to work it out on his/her own. If the child does not succeed the parent then gives specific prompts which are designed to help the child ‘find’ the correct word (meaning prompts, e.g. ‘Try again and think what might come next’, ‘Can you read on and see if you can figure out the word?’) or decoding prompts (e.g. ‘What sound does the first letter say?’). Also during the literacy sessions, parents were encouraged to praise the child by acknowledging his or her efforts and being specific in the praise that they give (e.g. ‘Well done, I could hear that you were sounding the word out!’). To learn and practice these PPP techniques, parents were shown videotaped reading sessions, and took part in role play and discussions. In addition, parents got feedback on their use of the PPP techniques when reading with their child. This was done on the basis of audio records they made of their reading sessions with their child at home along with observation visits to the home by the tutor (Sylva & Crook, 2000; see Table 1 for session layout).

Table 1.  Session structure and content for the literacy intervention programmeThumbnail image of

In SPOKES, the PPP strategy was combined with a ‘whole-language’ strategy. The whole-language movement emphasizes the importance of meaning and meaning-making in teaching and learning literacy. The theory underlying the whole-language approach is a constructivist one where learners are seen as problem-solving ‘creators of meaning’. There is a strong focus on learning activities which are situated in social contexts and are relevant to learners' everyday lives; needs, interests, and aspirations are emphasized (Rigg, 1991). There is also a focus on exposing children to a print-rich environment (Clay, 1991) with discussion about it.

The instructional characteristics of whole-language approaches vary widely; in this intervention they were based on Clay's Reading Recovery Programme which has a strong orientation towards the reading process as a problem-solving one (Clay, 1991). Meaning is not only derived from print alone (bottom-up) but also from the knowledge of the world that readers bring to the task (top-down). Therefore, novice readers learn how to use each of the sources for information in texts, how to link these to stored knowledge, and which strategies make reading successful. Clay argues that children make use of a variety of strategies to assist problem solving during reading. These include understanding of concepts of print, understanding of meaning in the text, and knowledge of syntax. This intervention aimed to help parents teach and practice ways to support their children in using these multiple strategies. Through group discussions, role play, and video-demonstrations, parents were guided in the following activities: (1) observing and understanding the processes children use to make sense of a text; (2) offering activities for sharing oral language with the child, encouraging writing activities in the home, and using environmental print to foster talking and discussion of letter sounds; (3) prompting to encourage the child to look for visual clues or familiar sounds and letters to predict unknown words, or to help the child self-correct; (4) introducing a book by a skim through before the child reads; and (5) ‘setting the scene’ for reading with behaviours such as turning off the TV and arranging comfortable seating and lighting (Sylva & Crook, 2000; see Table 1 for session layout).

To summarize, the SPOKES intervention offered parents an innovative programme, which combined behaviour management and literacy training. The literacy intervention included two elements, the first strand supporting parents in the PPP approach, and the second focusing on the whole-language approach (story structure, responding to ideas in pictures, links between children's own experiences and the text). Thus, the programme recognized the importance of both decoding and meaning for beginning readers (Beard, 1993; National Literacy Strategy, 1998; Pressley, 1998; Pressley, Graham, & Harris, 2006).

The SPOKES programme was innovative because (1) the approach was preventive (previously in the UK the behavioural programme had only been tested in clinical settings with referred populations; Scott et al., 2001); (2) it took place in an urban community of children with multiple high-risk factors (as identified by screening); (3) randomization was done at the individual level; (4) intervention staff were supervised weekly to ensure high fidelity to the programme; and (5) the intervention was delivered to parents by trained group leaders with backgrounds in clinical or educational interventions.

The purpose of this study was to carry out a preliminary evaluation of the SPOKES programme. The present paper presents the effect of this dual-strand intervention on children's literacy skills. Assessments were selected to pick up a range of possible improvements in children's literacy outcomes. It was expected that both the PPP and also the meaning-making elements would promote children's word reading. In addition, it was expected that the PPP approach would specifically facilitate children's phonological awareness because of its focus on children sounding out words (in the prompt procedure). Finally, it was thought that the whole-language approach of the intervention might increase children's vocabulary and concepts about print, because of its emphasis on discussing books, sharing oral language, and the use of environmental print to foster talking about words.

Methods

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Parenting training and home support
  4. SPOKES – Supporting Parents on Kids Education in Schools
  5. Methods
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

Sample and procedures

Between 1999 and 2001, eight primary schools in a disadvantaged inner city community were contacted; teachers and parents of 936 reception class children were asked to complete the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ; Goodman, 1997). Both the parent and teacher version of the SDQ were supplemented by an extra 10 questions about antisocial behaviour derived from Conners' revised rating scales, based on the ICD 10 and DSM IV diagnostic criteria for oppositional defiant disorder, and shown to be the items that discriminate antisocial children best from these without difficulties (Conners, 1997; Lahey et al., 1994). The aim of the behavioural screening was to identify children at risk of social exclusion through antisocial behaviour.

The return rate for the questionnaires was 98.1% (919 questionnaires) for the teachers and 75% (684 questionnaires) for the parents. Information from both sources was summed, and a cut-off point was applied of either 5 on the SDQ conduct scale or 10 on the Conners. This cut-off represents about 17% of the UK population (www.sdqinfo.com), but identified 41% of this disadvantaged inner city sample (279 children) as at risk of social exclusion through antisocial behaviour. One hundred and twelve parents of children at risk agreed to participate and fulfilled the eligibility criteria (ability to understand English, ability to attend at specified group times, acceptance of the randomized control trial (RCT) study, index child free of clinically apparent generalized developmental delay); they were randomly allocated to either the intervention (N = 60) or comparison group (N = 52). In each instance, groups were drawn from the same classroom to minimize possible school effects (e.g. variations in teaching across time or between classrooms) (Figure 1).

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Figure 1. Participant flow in the SPOKES project.

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Table 2 presents the characteristics of the sample in relation to the national statistics on disadvantage for that year. No significant differences were found between the intervention and the comparison group on demographic characteristics.

Table 2.  Personal characteristics of familiesThumbnail image of
Intervention programme

The intervention was delivered between 2001 and 2002 and extended over the course of three terms. During the first term, parents participated in the personal development programme (approx. twelve 2.5-hour-long weekly sessions) which was based on the ‘Incredible Years’ Webster-Stratton videotape package and was backed up by home visits to maximize effectiveness. In the second term, the literacy programme took place with approximately 10 weekly parent group meetings, and in the third term parents received a top-up of both programmes over a 6-week period. Weekly team meetings took place throughout the intervention to ensure continuity in the quality of the programme delivery.

Comparison group

Parents randomized to the comparison group were offered access to a telephone helpline. All phone calls were returned within 24 hours (weekdays only) by a member of the team who listened to parents' concerns and offered information on how they could contact routine services in the Local Authority. In some instances, telephone calls to services were made on behalf of the parents. Thus, comparison parents were not offered direct help on how to handle the problems of their child; instead they were offered information on where to turn for help in local services. Seven parents from the comparison group used the helpline to get information on how to access services available in their community. Telephone conversations lasted 5–10 minutes. The ‘alternative treatment’ group received a non-intensive service. A more intensive parent group using a different intervention method was considered as a comparison group at the outset, but this idea was rejected as it would add greatly to the cost. A decision was then made to concentrate resources on maintaining quality in the main intervention and comparing children whose parents had either an intensive three-term intervention or a less intensive telephone helpline.

Measures

The evaluation was carried out using a RCT with data collected on children's developmental outcomes both before the intervention (pre) and after the end of the whole programme (post).

Child literacy outcomes

The main literacy outcome was the BAS word reading (British Ability Scales II; Elliot, Smith, & McCulloch, 1996). This is one of the achievement subscales of the latest version of the BAS and is a standardized measure of the child's ability to read single words. In depth diagnostic measures of reading were not employed because of limitations on researcher costs and the amount of time children were permitted outside class. Other literacy measures included: the British Picture Vocabulary Scale (BPVS; Dunn, Dunn, Whetton, & Burley, 1997), which is designed to establish a child's level of receptive vocabulary and to provide some indication of general ability; rhyme and alliteration, two subscales of the phonological awareness assessment (Bryant & Bradley, 1985); concepts about print; and writing/dictation (this last only at post-test, as many children were not able to write at pre-test). The assessments concepts about print and writing/dictation are part of Marie Clay's battery (Clay, 1993). Rhyme and alliteration were combined and are referred to as phonological awareness hereafter. Experienced researchers received extensive training until they reached a satisfactory level of reliability prior to the actual testing of the children. In addition, they were blind to the parents' group allocation.

Child behaviour outcomes

Information on children's behavioural development involved direct assessments and interviews with the parents (Parent Account of Child Symptoms – PACS; Taylor, Schacher, Thorley, & Wieselberg, 1986). Parental interviews took place at three different time points: at pre-test (Time 1), at the end of the behavioural intervention programme (Time 2), and at post-test (Time 3). The programme effects on children's behaviour are reported elsewhere (Scott et al., 2008).

Parent reading with child

During the parental interviews at pre-test and at the end of the whole programme (Time 3), information was obtained on the amount of time parents spent reading with their children. Mothers were asked two questions: (i) ‘How often did you read with your child in the previous week?’ and (ii) ‘What is the usual amount of time you spend reading with your child on any day?’ (in minutes). Answers on the two questions were multiplied to provide a variable which represented the number of minutes a mother reads with her child in a week. During the parental interviews, information was also obtained on the type and extent of reading strategies that parents use to facilitate and encourage their children's reading. Parents were asked three questions about the most important strategies focused on during the training programme: (1) ‘Do you take special care to set up a comfortable scene/situation for reading with your child?’ (e.g. making sure there is good light, that the child is sitting comfortably, that child and parent have a clear view of the text, that the TV is switched off); (2) ‘Do you praise your child when s/he is reading?’; and (3) ‘Do you prompt your child when s/he has problems in reading a word?’ (give hints to child, e.g. letter-sound cues). Parents' answers on these questions were rated on a three-point scale through the use of specific follow-up questions. To create one overall variable of parents' use of different reading strategies, information on the three variables was summed to a total of different strategies used. All questions were added to the Parent Account of Child Symptoms Questionnaire (PACS; Taylor et al., 1986) which had good inter-rater reliability on all scales (Cohen's kappa of .64 and above).

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Parenting training and home support
  4. SPOKES – Supporting Parents on Kids Education in Schools
  5. Methods
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

All analyses were done on an intention-to-treat basis, including scores from children whose parents were randomized to the intervention group but did not attend any of the sessions. One hundred and four children took part in the literacy assessments at pre-test (age 5) and post-test (age 6) (N = 58 for the intervention group; N = 46 for the comparison group). There were no significant differences between the intervention and control group in terms of children's mean age (tpre=0.87, p = .39, tpost=0.66, p = .51) or gender (χ2=0.24, p = .39). Note that in both groups, a significantly higher proportion of participants were boys (39 boys vs. 19 girls for the intervention group, χ2=6.90, p = .009; 33 boys vs. 13 girls for the control group, χ2=8.70, p<.003). To test for differences between the two groups in terms of literacy and parenting assessments at baseline, pairwise comparisons were carried out for all measures at pre-test, including only those subjects who also took part in the assessments at post-test. Results indicated that there were no significant differences in children's literacy scores at pre-test in their word reading (U = 1,088.5, p = .20), concepts about print (U = 1,159, p = .33), BPVS scores (t = 0.32, df (102), p = .93), or their phonological awareness (U = 1,246, p = .57). Furthermore, there were no significant differences between parent's use of reading strategies (U = 768, p = .93) and their reading time at pre-test (U = 608.5, p = .07) (see group means on Table 3).

Table 3.  Children's and parents' mean scores before and after the interventionThumbnail image of

Language and literacy outcomes

In order to explore the effect of the intervention, regression models were run for children's literacy outcomes. Controlling for the performance of children at pre-test, the intervention had a significant positive effect on children's word reading scores (Table 4). In addition to the model using the raw BAS scores, two more models were also tested: one adjusting for the age of children, and one adjusting for the time elapsed between pre- and post-testing. The last model was deemed necessary due to a significant difference between the two groups in the number of months between the pre- and post-assessments (9.6 months for the comparison group and 10.9 months for the intervention). The standardized β for ‘group’ varied from 0.17 to 0.14, but the intervention made a significant unique contribution to the outcome in every model, explaining 3% of the variance in the raw BAS, 2.5% after adjusting for age, and 2% after adjusting for the months between the two assessment points. The difference in the post-test means of the two groups was divided by the pooled standard deviation and yielded an effect size (d) of 0.30. There were no significant differences between the groups on pre–post changes in the BPVS scores, phonological awareness, and concepts about print. Note that gender was not included in the models because it was unrelated to the outcome: the correlation coefficients between gender and the post-test measures were very low (r range: −.07 to .024).

Table 4.  Summary of hierarchical regression analysis for the intervention effect on literacy outcomesThumbnail image of

Scores on writing/dictation were collected at post-test only, because very few children were writing at pre-test (see Table 3). When carrying out pairwise comparison for all children with writing assessments, results showed significant differences between the two groups (U = 1,148, p = .043) which were in favour of the intervention group (Med=35 vs. Med=32). Figure 2 presents the median and interquartile range for each group which is greater for the comparison group data.

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Figure 2. Distribution of the dictation scores (post-test only) for each group.

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To calculate an effect size for the writing/dictation outcome, the value for the Mann–Whitney U was divided by the product of the sample sizes of the two groups (U/mn) (Acion, Peterson, Temple, & Arndt, 2006; Kraemer & Kupfer, 2006; Newcombe, 2006). This effect size indicates the probability of a randomly selected score from the intervention group to be higher than a randomly selected score from the comparison group. For the present data, the value of this ES was 0.39, which indicated that a child randomly selected from the intervention group had a dictation score higher than a child randomly selected from the comparison group only 39% of the times. This is a probability lower than chance, although the small sample size makes it difficult to achieve significance using this particular method.

Parenting outcome

In order to explore the effect of the intervention on parents' reading with their children, regression models were run for the reading strategies used by parents, and the average time parents spent reading with their child per week. Controlling for the amount of time parents spend reading with their children at pre-test, the effect of the intervention on reading time at post-test was near zero (β=0.007). Controlling for the effect of the amount of reading strategies used at pre-test, the effect of the intervention on post-test measurements of reading strategies was highly significant (β=0.39, p<.001). The intervention explained 15% of the variance in parents' reading strategies at post-test (Table 5). The magnitude of the intervention effect on the use of strategies was moderate; the difference in the post-test means of the two groups was divided by the pooled standard deviation and yielded and effect size (d) of 0.62.

Table 5.  Summary of hierarchical regression analysis for the intervention effect on parent outcomesThumbnail image of

Attendance effects

BAS word reading and writing/dictation scores

Parents in the intervention group (N = 58) attended an average of 6.4 (out of 16) sessions of the personal development programme and an average of 4.7 (out of 11.5) sessions of the literacy sessions. About 19% of participants never attended a personal development session (11 parents out of 58) and 31% of them never went to the literacy programme (18 out of 58).

Possible attendance effects on children's BAS word reading were explored through regression models controlling for pre-test scores. Results suggested that, within the intervention group, the frequency of attending the literacy programme sessions, as well a dichotomous variable indicating whether a parent had attended the literacy intervention at least once or not at all, were both unrelated to children's BAS word reading (β=0.004, p>.05 and β=0.06, p>.05, respectively). The low number of nil attenders (N = 18) made it difficult to have a robust test of the effect of attendance.

Use of reading strategies

Parents in the intervention group with complete data on reading strategies at pre- and post-tests (N = 42) attended an average of 7.5 (out of 16) sessions of the personal development programme and an average of 5.5 (out of 11.5) sessions of the literacy sessions. Of those participants, 14.3% never attended a personal development session (6 parents out of 42) and 23.8% never went to the literacy programme (10 out of 42).

Possible attendance effects on parents' use of reading strategies were explored through regression models controlling for pre-test scores. Results suggested that the frequency of attending the literacy programme sessions, as well as the dichotomous variable indicating whether a parent had attended the literacy intervention at least once or not at all, were both positively related to parents' use of reading strategies at post-test (β=0.59, p<.001 and β=0.51, p = .001, respectively).

Finally, it was tested whether the frequency of attending the behaviour programme sessions, or a dichotomous variable indicating whether a parent had attended the behaviour intervention at least once or not at all, related to children's word reading or parents' use of reading strategies at post-test. For children's reading outcomes, ‘attendance of the behaviour programme’ was no significant predictor in the regression models (controlling for pre-test scores). For parents' use of reading strategies, regression models (controlling for pre-test scores) showed that the frequency of attending the behaviour programme (β=0.45, p<.001), but not the dichotomous variable (indicating whether a parent had attended the behaviour intervention at least once or not at all), related to parents' reading strategies. Thus, attending the behaviour part of the programme was modestly related to increased use of reading strategies. However, the effect of attendance at the literacy part of the programme was stronger.

Mediation analysis

In an attempt to further explore the effect of the intervention on word reading skills, we tested whether the improvement in children's reading was mediated by the increased use of reading strategies by the parents at the end of the programme. In testing this mediation we followed the three-step approach proposed by Baron and Kenny (1986), which we extended to include an interaction term as suggested by Kraemer and her colleagues (Kraemer, Wilson, Fairburn, & Agras, 2002) for the test of mediation in randomized trials. In order to establish the mediation, the potential mediator has to be a post-treatment measure, related to the outcome and give a significant coefficient for the interaction term in the regression model (with or without a significant main effect). The main predictor was the dummy variable Group (0 = comparison, 1 = intervention). The outcome was BAS word reading as measured at post-test. In order to control for children's performance before the intervention, it was decided to insert the BAS pre-test in the regression models as a covariate. The mediator reading strategies was not centred, because a score of zero on the variable represents a meaningful score (Cohen, Cohen, West, & Aiken, 2003). Mediation was tested through hierarchical linear regression models which showed that the inclusion of the mediator as a predictor and the addition of the interaction term group × reading strategies did not make a significant difference to the model (Rchange2=.008, p>.05 for the main effect of reading strategies, and Rchange2=.001, p>.05 for the interaction). Therefore, we concluded that reading strategies is an independent outcome of the intervention and does not mediate the direct effect that the intervention has on children's word reading skills.

Discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Parenting training and home support
  4. SPOKES – Supporting Parents on Kids Education in Schools
  5. Methods
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

This paper describes a two-pronged intervention aimed at improving children's reading skills and behaviour, and presents its effects on child literacy. The programme was implemented in a community characterized by marked social disadvantage to parents whose children were at further risk of poor outcomes and social exclusion due to their tendencies to disruptive behaviour. Parents were trained to support their children's reading and language at home. The literacy intervention included two strands, the first strand supporting parents in how to help their children's word reading and the second focusing on other early reading competencies (story structure, responding to ideas in texts, physical layout of books), which are seen to be promoted by whole-language instruction. Thus, in line with the current thinking, the programme recognized the importance of both elements for beginning readers (Beard, 1993; Pressley, 1998; Pressley et al., 2006).

A first assessment of the impacts of the SPOKES programme showed that the programme was successful in increasing children's word reading and writing skills. This improvement in children's literacy skills was accompanied by a significant reduction in children's emotional and conduct problems (as measured by PACS; see Scott et al., 2008 for all behavioural measures). For children's word reading outcome, the values for the effect size and the regression coefficient were relatively small. However, small and modest effect sizes are not unusual in educational research. The advantage found in the intervention group was equivalent to 6 months of reading age, which is a substantial gain in reading given the short duration of the literacy programme. Reading gains of the intervention group were demonstrated independent of the number of sessions a parent had attended. This finding is consistent with findings from the behavioural measures (Scott et al., 2008) and suggests that the intervention package had an overall and generalized effect on children's reading skills. For children's writing scores, results showed a statistically significant difference in favour of the intervention group. Yet, effect size calculations showed that the difference was not sizable. It remains to be seen whether a future study with a larger sample will show stronger effects for children's writing outcomes. Within the intervention group, programme attendance did not relate to children's outcomes. This unexpected finding might be due to small sample numbers.

In addition to the improvement in children's reading, parents in the intervention group reported using significantly more strategies such as praise and prompt when they read at home with their children. The intervention effect was sizable (d = 0.62). The frequency of session attendance was related to the range and amount of strategies parents used with their children. Interestingly, parents' use of reading strategies increased with more frequent attendance in both arms of the programme: behaviour management and literacy. This supports the effectiveness of the intervention as an overall ‘package’ and not as individual components.

However, the mediation analysis suggested that the programme effect on children's word reading skills was direct and not mediated by parental use of strategies while reading at home with the children. This is puzzling since the programme was addressed to parents and not to children directly; one would expect parents' behaviour at home to mediate children's reading skills. One possible explanation could be that the ‘net’ effect of the programme on the word reading scores was not strong enough (β=0.17) to allow for the mediation to be demonstrated (Baron & Kenny, 1986). Another suggestion is that the use of reading strategies, as measured in the present case, is not the mechanism responsible for changes observed in children. The measure of parents' use of reading strategies was based on how much they showed some of the most important behaviours which were addressed during the intervention: praise, prompt, and scene setting. Yet, apart from teaching parents to praise and to prompt and to set up a comfortable situation for reading, the literacy intervention also addressed other important aspects of parental reading strategies. Thus, the current measure of changes in parents' use of reading strategies might not have been powerful or subtle enough to appear as the mediator through which the intervention improved children's reading and writing. Future studies should develop a robust scale of mothers' interactions when reading with their children. In the current study, parent–child interaction while reading has been videotaped and once the analysis has been completed, it might increase our understanding of the relationship between parental tutorial behaviours and children's improved reading.

This preliminary trial had a number of limitations which will have to be addressed by further evaluations. First and perhaps most important, the comparison group did not receive a treatment which was comparable in its intensity to the intervention group's treatment. In only offering a telephone service and not including a comparison group with an intensive literacy treatment, this design did not allow for rigorous testing of the effectiveness of the actual content of the SPOKES intervention. However, we would like to point out that results showed changes in parents' strategies in ways that were specifically taught in the programme. These changes were too specific to the actual programme content to suggest a Hawthorne effect. Nevertheless, a future evaluation of the SPOKES programme will have to include a comparison group with a stronger alternative treatment.

Second, another weakness is that this preliminary trial could not ‘unpack’ the effects of the specific programme elements because it offered the intervention only as a package, with all elements in combination. What remains to be tested is, if it was the combination of these elements that had its impact on children's reading and writing and parent's reading strategies, or if specific programme elements facilitated changes in specific outcomes. Ideally, further evaluations of the SPOKES programme should aim to include separate intervention groups with specific programme elements as well as a combined group.

The strength of the study is that it was carried out as a rigorous control randomized trial that examined within-person change. All analysis was carried out on an intention-to-treat basis. The intervention targeted disadvantaged communities, typically found in developed counties, with high rates of ethnic minorities, and with lone parents without professional qualifications receiving low incomes. It combined cognitive and behavioural elements, and child and parent outcomes were measured across several domains. In including a measure of parents' reading strategies, the study aimed to find some evidence as to how the intervention impacted on children's reading outcomes. Even though this tackles some process elements (Pressley et al., 2006), the study was generally mostly achievement orientated and further work will have to add a stronger focus on process measures (fitted into mediation models). Important questions will include how the SPOKES intervention can be implemented best, how children's learning is facilitated through the programme, and how parents learn to understand children's reading processes in a new way and learn to change their reading strategies.

Another necessary step will be to establish the long-term effects of the programme, which would in turn allow for cost–benefit issues to be demonstrated. Finally, some limitations relate to possible sample biases. First, the intervention was only offered at one particular time in a week, limiting the number of people who could participate. Second, the intervention was part of an evaluation programme which meant that, to participate, parents had to agree to be randomized and to be studied. This integrated research element may have kept away families who would otherwise have participated. Third, the intervention was carried out in a group format, which might have a number of disadvantages; for example, shyer parents might be less willing to attend, speed and content of the intervention are less tailored to the participants' individual needs, and once some sessions are missed it is hard to catch up with the group (Scott et al., 2008).

Nevertheless, approximately 40% of families identified through the screening took part in the study which is a good result, considering that parents were not seeking help nor were they volunteers, many were in full-time work, and they were not offered any rewards for attending. The follow-up rate was high, with more than 90% of original participants being assessed. A number of strengths in the study design might have contributed to these positive results. Participants were approached on the positive basis of ‘giving their child a good start in life’, rather than ‘your child has a diagnosed difficulty’. When recruiting participants, one main focus was to build good relations with schools and parents. Furthermore, there was a strong emphasis on treatment fidelity.

An important message that arises from this study is that multicomponent programmes with a clearly defined structure can be successfully transferred to the community level. The programme reached a substantial proportion of disadvantaged families who would not normally seek help (as was demonstrated by the low use of usual services in the control group), may be because taking part in a community programme at school is less stigmatizing than attending a group of ‘referred’ families. This can have obvious financial returns for the health services (Cunningham, Bremner, & Boyle, 1995). Most importantly, prevention that is increasingly being viewed as the way forward in clinical and educational practice is also one of the most cost effective solutions (Walker & Shinn, 2002).

Acknowledgements

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Parenting training and home support
  4. SPOKES – Supporting Parents on Kids Education in Schools
  5. Methods
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References

We are grateful to Dr Brian Jacobs for his advice in the behavioural programme and to Moira Doolan, Jenny Price and Margaret Brockbank for their skill in implementing the intervention. Particular thanks go to the parents and children who participated in the SPOKES project. This study was supported by a grant from the Department of Health and the Psychiatry Research Trust (370/0448; 1998–2000).

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  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Parenting training and home support
  4. SPOKES – Supporting Parents on Kids Education in Schools
  5. Methods
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. References
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