A preschool story-based programme improves children’s reading skills in Denmark

Photo: Sharon Mollerus. Creative Commons.

In a trial of the US-developed preschool language and literacy programme Read It Again – PreK!, Danish children showed significant improvements in two crucial preliteracy skills – the ability to recognise sounds (‘phonological awareness’) and knowledge of letters. It had no effect on other targeted skills.

Called SPELL in the version adapted and tested in Denmark, the programme consisted of a 20-week story-based course focusing on developing vocabulary, narrative, knowledge of print and ability to recognise sounds.

Preschool in Denmark – which is called childcare and is less focused on formal learning – is provided universally. Thus unlike in the USA, researchers were able to test the programme with a fully socially cross-sectional sample of 6,483 children. The sample included children from lower socioeconomic groups and also children for whom Danish was a second language (mainly children whose first language was Turkish, Lebanese, Pakistani, Iraqi and Somali). The intervention’s impacts were similar for all groups.

The trial consisted of three versions of the intervention. One included additional training for the teachers, which made no significant difference to the outcomes.

Another version asked parents to conduct two additional sessions with the children at home. Parents were given 10 books and 20 lesson plans. This version had a significant (though small) impact only on children from lower socioeconomic groups, suggesting that additional home activity may be advisable for children from these homes.

The real-word setting of the trial led to considerable variation in the quality of the programme’s delivery. In particular, many children did not receive all 40 planned lessons—the average was 25. Those who received more lessons showed greater gains.

Bleses D et al (2017), The effectiveness of a large-scale language and preliteracy intervention: the SPELL randomised controlled trial in Denmark, Child Development