Early Grade Reading Study
Improving English First Additional Language Literacy in the Foundation Phase
Why Focus on English Literacy?
The majority of learners in South Africa cannot read for meaning by the end of Grade 4. By improving English literacy in the early grades the likelihood of positive long-term educational outcomes is increased.
- Most learners in South Africa learn in an African language in the early grades but need to learn English from Grade 4.
- For most teachers, English is an additional language. Many teachers might not feel comfortable teaching English First Additional Literacy (EFAL) in the Foundation Phase.
To address these systemic challenges, the Second Early Grade Ready Study (EGRS II) aims to support and strengthen the teaching of early grade reading in English.
Resources and interventions
- The provision of structured lesson plans to teachers
- Providing learning and teaching support material
- Facilitation of training sessions
- Reading coaches
The Second Early Grade Reading Study (EGRS II) provides support to Foundation Phase educators teaching English First Additional Language. Improving the learning of English is important since the majority of learners will need to learn in English from Grade 4. Currently, 180 schools in Mpumalanga are participating in the project, but should the project be successful, the support will be rolled out to more schools in the country. EGRS II has been focussed on providing Grade 1 teachers with support.
Funding & Support
- The project is funded by USAID and is run by the Department of Basic Education in collaboration with the Wits School of Education.
- The research team also works closely with and gets support from the Mpumalanga Department of Education including subject advisors and district officials.
The Department of Basic Education is investigating ways to strengthen the teaching and learning in the Foundation Phase through the Early Grade Reading Studies. Building on previous successes in the North West province that focused on the teaching of reading in home language Setswana, the second study focuses on supporting teachers with English as First Additional Language (EFAL).
Increased support on EFAL teaching will help prepare learners for the transition to English as the language of learning and teaching which occurs in Grade 4. The findings from the project can also benefit more learners in South Africa given that the majority of learners will learn in English from Grade 4. The research team also acknowledges that teachers do not always receive the required support. The EGRS II project, therefore, experiments with two alternative ways to support teachers:
• providing a face-to-face reading coach, or a virtual coach
Implementation and Evaluation
The EGRS II project works with 180 schools in Mpumalanga in the Gert Sibande and Ehlanzeni districts. In selecting Mpumalanga as the province in which to implement and evaluate the second Early Grade Reading Study, the following requirements were considered:
- The proximity to the National Department of Basic Education in Pretoria to enable officials to monitor the implementation and evaluation at a relatively low cost
- Political stability
- The capability of the Provincial Office to provide the necessary support to the implementation of the intervention
- School environment (a functional school environment with limited teacher absenteeism was sought)
- The ability to have an adequate sample of schools, given the restrictions imposed
- The home languages spoken in each district
The interventions target English as First Additional Language, but the learner assessments contain sections assessing the learners’ home language skill level. In the Mpumalanga districts, there is a large variety of home languages, but in the district of Ehlanzeni and Gert Sibande the majority of schools either have isiZulu or siSwati as the Language of Learning and Teaching (LoLT).
The district of Bohlabela was excluded because the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT) has already implemented scripted lesson plans in the district. The 180 selected schools have been split into three different groups using random selection. The control group consists of 80 schools. This group provides a baseline of the effectiveness of learning that occurs under normal circumstances in Mpumalanga schools.
The other two groups are part of the intervention where the research team are trying to find out whether there are any learning gains in learner performance if teachers are supported and guided in EFAL teaching. Both intervention programmes, through the Class Act/Molteno Consortium, provide teachers with additional reading resources and a structured learning programme aligned to CAPS. The two groups differ with respect to how training and support are provided:
(i) One group receives the traditional face-to-face format through central training and school-based coaching
(ii) The other group receives a combination of face-to-face training and an ICT component that includes electronic tablets and cell phone-messaging to the teacher
The cost-effectiveness of these two programmes will be measured relative to each other and relative to the control group of schools. To work out whether the interventions are successful or not, there are a number of data collection points (Table 1). This data collection has been and will be carried out by different providers, which the DBE will notify the schools about. It is important to note that the data from the evaluation will only be used by the research team to work out the success of the program. The data will not be used to evaluate individual learners, teachers, principals or how the schools function. All data are reported as averages so no individuals can be identified. Schools are informed at least one month in advance of the visit and every effort is made to keep any disruption to the normal school day as low as possible.
Aims and Project Timeline
Working alongside teachers and principals
One of the aims of the study is to work alongside teachers in giving them the support they want and need when it comes to their EFAL instructional practice. In 2017, the project supported Grade 1 teachers; in 2018 the project will support Grade 2 teachers. The research team believe that through helping teachers improve their own instructional abilities and confidence, the learners will see an increase in achievement. For this reason the face to face and virtual reading coaches check in with teachers regularly and provide them with as-needed workshops which improve their instructional understanding as well as confidence in their abilities. Some teachers also gather together in cluster meetings where they help each other in EFAL lesson preparation.
The school principals and Foundation Phase Heads of Department have also been instrumental in making sure the project runs well. Principals and HoDs are also invited to attend the teacher training where they can learn more about what the teachers are learning. Principals also attended a principal meeting where they had an opportunity to provide suggestions and feedback and ask questions. Generally there is a sense that principals are committed to the project and helping their teachers follow the lesson plans in their classes.
In 2018, the project will continue in the same 180 schools in Mpumalanga. In intervention 1 and 2 schools, the reading coaches will work with the Grade 2 teachers, while the Grade 1 teachers continue to use the resources they were given in 2017. The control schools will continue with teaching as normal. Principals and HoDs will also be invited to attend the training so that they can also be more involved in the project should they want to.
It is important to remember that the EGRS plans are completely CAPS aligned and even make use of the DBE workbook. Grade 1 teachers should continue with the program in the following years. Furthermore, after 2018, the Grade 2 teachers should also continue with the program in the following years. By the completion of the project, should it be successful, the intervention on improving teachers’ instructional practice for EFAL will be rolled out to more schools in South Africa, given the funding. In this regard, control schools will be given first priority.
Publications & Reports
- How to improve teaching practice? Experimental comparison of centralized training and in-classroom coaching
- Identifying mechanisms in the Early Grade Reading Study in South Africa
- The patterns and prevalence of monosyllabic three-letter-word spelling errors made by South African English First Additional Language learners
- Failing to catch up in reading in the middle years: The findings of the impact evaluation of the Reading Catch-Up Programme in South Africa
- The value of large-scale randomised control trials in system-wide improvement: The case of the Reading Catch-Up Programme
- System-wide improvement at the instructional core: Changing reading teaching in South Africa
- System-wide improvement of early-grade mathematics: New evidence from the Gauteng Primary Language and Mathematics Strategy
- Large-scale instructional reform in the Global South: insights from the mid-point evaluation of the Gauteng Primary Language and Mathematics Strategy
Professor Brahm Fleisch
Co-Principal Investigator on the Early Grade Reading Study
Wits Education Campus