Research profile: Rita Christine Nakitende and Eria Paul Njuki
Rita Christine Nakitende and Eria Paul Njuki have conducted a joint phd-project. Their study affirms that no matter the variations in socioeconomic situations, teachers’ knowledge of teaching reading and children’s reading competencies can greatly be enhanced by employing research-based best practices.
What has been the topic of your phd project?
We have investigated the effect of training teachers in phonemic awareness and letter-sound knowledge on children’s reading competencies in urban Uganda.
How was your research conducted?
We have employed a randomised controlled trial consisting of a pre-test, mid- and delayed post-test design. An original sample of 40 Ugandan teachers and their 160 children were randomly assigned to two groups (20-week and 40-week). Both teachers and children were tested at three test times on measures related to phonemic awareness, letter-sound knowledge, word recognition and vocabulary. The groups of teachers were also given a measure based on their phonemic awareness pedagogical knowledge. The intervention was implemented through the Jolly Phonics reading programme in which teachers were trained for 4 days.
What are the main findings of your study?
Our results show that the teachers in the 40-week group who were trained first and implemented the intervention during the first 20-week period made significantly more progress on all measures of phonemic awareness and letter-sound knowledge than teachers in the 20-week group who did not receive the training then. However, those teachers who only received the training later and implemented the intervention only in the last 20 weeks, made rapid progress and appeared to catch up with teachers in the 40-week group with the more prolonged implementation of the intervention. In the same way at T2 the 40–week group of children outperformed the 20- week group who had not yet received the intervention. At T3 although the 20-week group of children made considerable progress, the 40-week group still was significantly ahead of them on all measures. Notably, there were significant variations in children’s response to the intervention in both groups predicted by poor initial literacy skills and duration of intervention.
Why this research is important?
There is sufficient evidence in the literature to substantiate the argument that teachers must be proficient in the core skills of reading in order to facilitate learners’ emergent reading needs. However, as demonstrated empirically, teachers’ good general intelligence and proficiency in reading does not necessarily translate into being highly qualified to facilitate reading to beginning and struggling readers. Indeed, studies that evaluate teachers’ and learners’ reading growth patterns concurrently are rare in the existing literature. Therefore, the focus on both teachers’ and students’ learning in this joint dissertation are a well-placed attempt to generate convergent knowledge. More specifically, the research findings in our joint dissertation reaffirm the fact that no matter the variations in socioeconomic situations, teachers’ knowledge of teaching reading and children’s reading competencies can greatly be enhanced by employing research-based best practices.
What motivated you to conduct your research?
Global, continental, regional, and local studies on reading achievements show that the rates of reading failure and illiteracy continue to be unacceptably high. On a local scene, emerging research at the onset of this study showed that most teachers in Uganda were not adequately trained to teach reading. Teachers for beginning readers enter the teaching profession without the necessary knowledge relevant to the teaching of reading. After this realization, many interventions have been put in place in Uganda to address the challenge but with little success. One of such interventions has been the implementation of a thematic approach which employs an eclectic (mixed methods) strategy to teaching reading. It however remained debatable whether such an approach gives beginning readers a strong foundation in phonemic awareness and the letter-sound knowledge. Such discrepancy between teachers’ knowledge and children’s reading competencies required timely research endeavours to break the vicious cycle of children’s academic failure.
Where did you get your ideas and approaches to problems from?
The research design and implementation of the PhD project was based on the existing body of literature relevant to the subject of inquiry. The major reviews of reading research, especially the National Reading Panel (NRP, 2000) and the National Early Literacy Panel (NELP, 2008) were of interest. This is because such reviews are based on meta-analyses of influential studies relating to reading development and reading instruction. In addition, we explored literature linking children’s reading development and teachers’ knowledge and instructional practices. Although studies based on the African perspectives in general and the Ugandan local contexts in particular are fairly scarce, deliberate effort was made to refer to such studies or reviews when appropriate. In addition, this research endeavor was from conception guided by Professors Solveig–Alma Halaas Lyster (Department of Special Needs Education, Faculty of Education, and University of Oslo) and Charles Hulme (Department of Psychology, University of York, United Kingdom).
What are the main challenges for your research field in the years to come?
Implementing cross-over/semi longitudinal designs in a context where parents remain the major funder of education (who in most cases are poor and illiterate) may remain a challenge. This unless the Government of Uganda steps up efforts to prioritise funding for the education sector, the issue of attrition i.e. loss of cases (especially among children as was the case in the present study) will remain a big threat. Despite our sample having been drawn from a wide catchment area with schools with differing demographical traits, the attrition scenario reduces the power and stability of our claims and indeed our freedom to generalize the findings on a wider population.
Cultural diversity may continue to complicate the process of development of standardized testing and teaching resources for teachers and children learning to read in languages other than their mother tongue. This in itself threatens the validity and reliability of interventions.