British Journal of Educational Psychology

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Volume 74 Issue 3 (September 2004), Pages 323-496

Improving reading and writing learning in underprivileged pluri‐ethnic settings (pages 437-459)

Background: Many studies carried out in first language contexts tend to demonstrate the positive effects of activity programmes aimed at (1) developing metaphonological abilities and (2) developing language skills through active story listening on learning to read and to spell by first‐grade students.

Aims: This study seeks to extend previous findings by (a) including children, the majority of whom have French as a second language, who attend plurilingual schools and have not been included in previous studies, and (b) providing training based on three essential principles shared by the two kinds of programmes: integrating activities into realistic literacy practice contexts; encouraging active student participation through tasks which very often require problem solving; and tackling, one after the other, different kinds of operations or strategies.

Sample: Three groups of students were created out a pool of 202 children enrolled in nine first‐grade classes in three underprivileged pluri‐ethnic schools. The control group was composed of 46 students who received typical, first‐grade methods for teaching reading and spelling. Experimental group 1 (DMPA), 91 students, received a training programme aimed at metaphonological abilities development. Experimental group 2 (DLS), 65 students, received a training intended to develop language skills through active story listening and production.

Method: The students from the three groups were evaluated at the beginning (metaphonological task I, pre‐reading task) and at the end (metaphonological task II, word recognition task, text comprehension task, word spelling task) of their first year in elementary school.

Results: The programme for the development of metaphonological abilities enabled DMPA group students to obtain significantly higher scores than the control group on metaphonological task II and word recognition task. The DMPA group children also did significantly better than the control and the DLS groups on the word spelling task. However, the DLS group, who benefited from language skills development activities, also progressed in that they obtained significantly better results than the control group in the word recognition task. Moreover, at the end of grade one, there was no difference in the scores obtained by the groups on a comprehension questionnaire administered after the reading of the narrative text.

Conclusion: The word reading skills of first‐grade children in underprivileged pluriethnic settings can be improved through activities aimed at metaphonological abilities development or language skills development by means of active story listening and production. On the other hand, in order to develop word spelling abilities, the development of metaphonological abilities was more effective. Lastly, further research should seek to improve understanding of the absence of effects of either learning programme on narrative text comprehension.

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