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Nuffield Early Language Intervention

Blueprints Program Rating: Promising

An oral language program to improve children’s vocabulary, narrative skills, active listening, and confidence in independent speaking. Staff and teaching assistants work with children having language problems for 10 weeks in nursery school (ages 3-4) and 20 weeks in primary school (age 5).

  • Maggie Snowling
  • Professor
  • Department of Experimental Psychology and President
  • St. John's College
  • University of Oxford
  • United Kingdom
  • Preschool Communication/Language Development
  • School Readiness

    Program Type

    • Academic Services
    • School - Individual Strategies
    • Skills Training

    Program Setting

    • School

    Continuum of Intervention

    • Selective Prevention (Elevated Risk)

    An oral language program to improve children’s vocabulary, narrative skills, active listening, and confidence in independent speaking. Staff and teaching assistants work with children having language problems for 10 weeks in nursery school (ages 3-4) and 20 weeks in primary school (age 5).

      Population Demographics

      Preschool children with poor language and literacy skills.

      Age

      • Early Childhood (3-4) - Preschool

      Gender

      • Male and Female

      Race/Ethnicity

      • All Race/Ethnicity

      Race/Ethnicity/Gender Details

      No tests for program differences by race, ethnicity, or gender.

      Poor language and literacy skills

      • Individual
      Protective Factors
      • School: Instructional Practice

      Nuffield Early Language Intervention is a 30-week language intervention program delivered in the final term in Nursery school (ages 3-4) and the first two terms in Reception class (age 5). The program comprises activities targeting spoken language skills for the first 20 weeks, supplemented for the final 10 weeks with training in two critical components of the alphabetic principle, letter-sound knowledge and phoneme awareness. A second 20-week version begins upon entry into primary school, rather than beginning in preschool.

      Nuffield Early Language Intervention is a 30-week language intervention program delivered in the final term in Nursery school (ages 3-4) and the first two terms in Reception class (age 5). The first 10 weeks involves three 15-min group sessions (2–4 children per group) per week delivered in preschool. This increases to three 30-min sessions plus two 15-min individual sessions in Reception class. A separate 20-week version skips the initial 10-week preschool portion and begins with the 30-minute sessions in primary school.

      Children are taught using multi-sensory techniques within a standard framework. The oral language program aims to improve children’s vocabulary, develop narrative skills, encourage active listening and build confidence in independent speaking. New vocabulary is selected with reference to themes common in Early Years’ settings and includes nouns, verbs, adjectives, prepositions, pronouns and question words. Narrative work encourages expressive language and grammatical competence. Activities revolve around creating and acting out stories, sequencing and story elements. Listening skills are specifically targeted in the first 20 weeks during the Sound/Listening Game incorporating ideas from Letters and Sounds: Phase 1 (DfES, 2007). This section is extended in the last 10 weeks by activities to promote phoneme awareness (blending and segmenting) and letter-sound knowledge.

      The program is based on research that learning to read builds on oral language skills, and that children must learn to decode print fluently and develop skills to understand what they read to become literate. In addition to phoneme awareness and letter knowledge, reading comprehension requires broader language skills.

      • Skill Oriented

      A randomized controlled trial was conducted with 180 children from 15 nursery schools in Yorkshire (Fricke et al., 2013). From each school, 12 children with the lowest mean verbal composite scores were selected as participants in the trial. The waitlist control group received no additional service during the duration of the study. Children were assessed at baseline, posttest, and 6 months after the intervention.

      A second evaluation was conducted with 394 children from 34 nursery schools in Yorkshire (Sibieta et al., 2016). From each school, approximately 12 children with the lowest mean verbal composite scores were selected as participants in the trial. Children were assigned to a 30-week treatment group, 20-week treatment group, or waitlisted control group. The study conducted assessments at baseline, posttest, and 6 months after completion of the intervention.

      Fricke et al., 2013

      There was a significant impact at posttest and 6 months after the intervention on language, and narrative and phonological awareness, and there was a significant impact on reading comprehension at 6 months. There was no impact on literacy (early word reading and spelling) at either assessment.

      Sibieta et al., 2016

      At posttest for the composite language score, the study found a significant treatment effect for the 30-week intervention, driven mainly by the grammar measure and the expressive vocabulary measure. It found a marginal effect for the 20-week intervention.

      Fricke et al., 2013
      The program significantly improved scores on:

      • Language (vocabulary, grammar and listening comprehension)
      • Narrative awareness
      • Phonological awareness
      • Reading comprehension

      Sibieta et al., 2016
      At posttest:

      • Composite language score (vocabulary, grammar, and listening comprehension) significantly favored the intervention group for the 30-week intervention
      • Composite language score for the 20-week intervention was marginally significant

      Language scores immediately after the intervention fully mediated reading 6 months after the intervention (Fricke et al., 2013).

      Cohen’s d ranged from 0.30 to .83 in Fricke et al. (2013), indicating small to large effects, and from .16 to .27 in Sibieta et al. (2016).

      The studies reported no demographic information, limiting the ability to generalize the results of the study.

      Fricke et al., 2013

      • Lack of detail on baseline equivalence
      • No tests for differential attrition, though attrition only 8% and imputation used

      Sibieta et al., 2016

      • No information of reliability and validity of outcome measures, though they seem to be frequently used

      • Blueprints: Promising

      Fricke, S., Bowyer‐Crane, C., Haley, A. J., Hulme, C., & Snowling, M. J. (2013). Efficacy of language intervention in the early years. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 54(3), 280-290.

      Sibieta, L., Kotecha, M., & Skipp, A. (2016). Nuffield early language intervention: Evaluation report and executive summary. Education Endowment Foundation.

      Denise Cripps
      Executive Officer to the President
      St. John's College, Oxford
      OX1 3JP
      denise.cripps@sjc.ox.ac.uk
      Tel: 01 865 277456
      Website:

      Study 1

      Fricke, S., Bowyer‐Crane, C., Haley, A. J., Hulme, C., & Snowling, M. J. (2013). Efficacy of language intervention in the early years. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 54(3), 280-290.

      Study 2

      Sibieta, L., Kotecha, M., & Skipp, A. (2016). Nuffield early language intervention: Evaluation report and executive summary. Education Endowment Foundation.

      Fricke, S., Bowyer‐Crane, C., Haley, A. J., Hulme, C., & Snowling, M. J. (2013). Efficacy of language intervention in the early years. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 54 (3), 280-290.

      Evaluation Methodology

      Design:
      Recruitment: Nineteen nursery schools in Yorkshire (England) were involved at the outset of the study. In these Nursery schools, all children who were due to enter school (Reception) in the following academic year were screened. Following screening, one school withdrew and three schools were deemed unsuitable. In each of the remaining 15 nursery schools, 12 children with the lowest mean verbal composite scores were selected as participants in the trial.

      Assignment: The 180 children from the 15 nursery schools were randomly allocated within each school to receive the 30-week language intervention (N = 90) or to a waiting control group (N = 90).

      In addition, six children in each school matched on gender and date of birth to a random sample of three children from the intervention and the waiting control groups acted as a representative peer comparison group against which to benchmark the progress of children (N = 82).

      Assessments and Attrition: Children were assessed before the intervention, immediately following the intervention, and 6 months after the intervention. A total of 7 children from the intervention group (7.8%) and 8 children from the control group (8.9%) moved schools and were lost to follow-up.

      Sample Characteristics:
      The mean age of children at baseline was 4 years. No other demographic information was provided.

      Measures:
      All measures had high reliability (0.75 to 0.99). The structural equation models used multiple indicators for each of the following four outcomes.

      Language Skills were measured with grammar and vocabulary information from the Renfrew Action Picture Test, vocabulary knowledge from the CELF Preschool IIUK Expressive Vocabulary test, and listening comprehension from answers to questions about two short stories read to the child.

      Narrative skills were measured using a story retelling task.

      Phonological awareness was measured by indicators of alliteration matching and sound isolation.

      Literacy skills were measured by an early word reading scale and spelling responses.

      Additional measures focused on taught vocabulary using Expressive Picture Naming and Receptive Picture Selection and the Picture Naming and Definitions task. Reading comprehension, available only at the 6-month follow-up, used the YARC beginner passage.

      Analysis:
      The authors used hierarchical linear models or structural equation models, with Maximum Likelihood Missing Value estimators to allow for missing data and robust standard errors to allow for the clustering of children within schools. The structural equation models included baseline outcomes as predictors.

      Intent-to-Treat: The study did not follow children who moved schools, but structural equation models with missing values estimators used all 180 subjects.

      Outcomes

      Implementation Fidelity: There was no information, though the article says that fidelity was monitored: “teaching assistants attended regular tutorials and the research team observed each teaching assistant delivering intervention and provided feedback on five occasions. In addition, teaching assistants completed records of session plans, children’s progress and attendance for each group and individual session.”

      Baseline Equivalence: The intervention and control groups were said to be approximately equated on all measures, but the study presented no d values or significance tests.

      Differential Attrition: No tests were performed, perhaps because attrition was only about 8% and missing data were imputed.

      Posttest: The intervention had significant and beneficial effects on language skills (d = .80, p < .001), narrative skills (d = .39, p = .003), and phonological awareness (d = .49, p = .031). The effects on literacy (early word reading and spelling) were not significant.

      6-month Follow-up: The above posttest effects were maintained at follow-up: language skills (d = .83, p < .001), narrative skills (d = .30, p = .041), phonological awareness (d = .49, p = .01).

      Also, at 6 months, there was a significant effect on reading comprehension (marginal mean group difference = 0.91, 95% CI 0.42–1.41, p < .001). This was found to be fully mediated by language comprehension abilities at posttest.

      Additional tests on the vocabulary taught by the program showed higher scores for the intervention group in reception classes but not in nursery classes.

      Long-term effects: Not evaluated.

      Limitations

      • Lack of detail on baseline equivalence
      • No tests for differential attrition, though attrition only 8% and use imputation

      Sibieta, L., Kotecha, M., & Skipp, A. (2016). Nuffield early language intervention: Evaluation report and executive summary. Education Endowment Foundation.

      Evaluation Methodology

      Design:

      Recruitment: The study recruited primary schools with attached nurseries that were located in disadvantaged areas of Yorkshire, England. A total of 34 schools were included in the study out of 302 approached. Within selected schools, children were screened using a composite measure of language skills including vocabulary and sentence structure. Children with the 12 lowest scores were invited to participate with parent consent.

      Assignment: The randomization process allocated pupils within each nursery to two treatments and one control group and minimized differences across groups in terms of age, gender, and pretest scores using an iterative optimization process. Assignment was conducted at the individual level. Of the 394 assigned students, 132 were in the 30-week treatment, 133 in the 20-week treatment, and 129 in the control group. Participating schools were offered alternate early language development programs after completion of the intervention for waitlisted control participants.

      Assessments and Attrition: Assessments were conducted at pretest, posttest, and 6-month follow-up. Of 394 students enrolled, 350 remained at the 6-month follow-up. Of the 34 schools enrolled, 3 left the program before completion. Reasons for attrition included changing schools (N = 34) and not completing one of the assessments (N = 10). In addition, some of the moderator variables gathered from a national database were available for a sample of only 239.

      Sample Characteristics:
      The sample was approximately half female (49%) and an average of 46.1 months old. Given the targeting of disadvantaged schools, about 29% of the students qualified for free school meals and 16% were learning English as an additional language.

      Measures:
      The study distinguished primary and secondary measures. The measures were gathered by research assistants blind to condition. Although the study reported no information on validity or reliability, it appears that the measures are well standardized and commonly used.

      For the primary outcome, the study used a composite language measure that consisted of four components: information scores and grammar scores from the Renfrew Action Picture Test (APT), which asks students to describe a set of pictures; expressive vocabulary from the CELF-Preschool 2 UK test; and a listening comprehension test using short stories.

      For the secondary outcome, the study used a word-level literacy composite measure consisting of three components: letter-sound knowledge, early word reading, and spelling.

      Analysis:
      The study used fully-interacted linear matching, which linearly interacts the treatment effect with all pre-treatment characteristics and outcomes. The models controlled for gender, age, English as a second language, known speech or language difficulties, and pre-treatment scores for the language composite assessment. They also adjusted for school-level clustering in the estimation of standard errors (as well as checking the results with several other estimation techniques in the Appendix C).

      Intent-to-Treat: The analysis included all cases with all data. Three schools dropped out of the intervention condition, but the students were followed and included in the analysis. Only students leaving the schools or not completing the survey were excluded.

      Outcomes

      Implementation Fidelity: Three schools dropped the program and 5 of the other 31 schools showed significant deviation related to both the structure and delivery of the program. However, the study stated that overall the delivery of the program structure and session components were generally in line with the prescribed model. On average, students attended 80% of classroom sessions and 56% of individual sessions.

      Baseline Equivalence: Tests for baseline differences across conditions (Table 9) used the analysis sample of 350 rather than the randomized sample of 394. There were no significant differences between conditions for demographic and outcome measures. Measures based on the subsample of 239 used in the moderation tests did show some differences, however.

      Differential Attrition: Tests for baseline equivalence of the analysis sample, which excluded dropouts, indicated that attrition did not compromise the balance between conditions.

      Posttest: At posttest, the 30-week intervention group showed significantly more improvement in the primary measure of the composite language score as compared to the control group. This improvement was driven by significant improvement in grammar scores and expressive vocabulary. The 20-week intervention group showed marginal improvement in the language composite score.

      For the secondary measure of composite word-level literacy, neither the 30-week nor the 20-week program had significant effects.

      The study conducted a 6-month follow-up, finding that the composite language score but not the composite literacy score was significantly improved among both the 30-week and 20-week intervention groups. However, in the intervening 6 months, some schools implemented other reading programs at varying times, which complicates results.

      Finally, tests for moderation suggest that the program was most effective for students without known speech and language difficulties or students learning English as an additional language.

      Long-Term: The study did not conduct long-term follow-up.

      Limitations:

      • No information of reliability and validity of outcome measures, though they seem to be frequently used