Nurturing a lexical legacy: understanding the transition from novice-to-expert in children's reading development

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Experimental Psychology

Abstract

The written word is arguably the greatest cultural invention. Orthography (the conventional writing system of a language) provides a set of tools that allows us to write words so that others who share our tools can also share our thoughts, ideas, and dreams. The written word allows us to create narratives that play to our imaginations or teach us about the world; the written word transcends space and time and it is almost impossible to imagine the world without it. For skilled readers, the connection between the letters on the page and the image they construe in our minds is so fast, so rich in content and so automatic, we rarely stop to think of the underlying complexities of what we do as we read. Yet, learning to read is hard. It takes time and requires instruction. Reading is a skill and like other skills, practice is critical to making the transition from novice-to-expert.

The scientific study of reading has taught us a good deal about the early stages of reading development. We know that children need to acquire the "alphabetic principle" - the fundamental insight that in a language like English, letters code for meaning via sound. This allows children to decode - to "sound-out" words and thus discover the spelling-sound correspondences that characterize their language. Evidence from a large research base has translated to the classroom with a phonics-based reading curriculum characterising the teaching of reading in the early years in the UK.

Critically however, we know relatively little about how children develop from novice-to-expert: how do children move from the laborious process of decoding individual words to the sense of effortlessness we, as skilled readers, experience as we read? This is important for a full theoretical understanding of how the reading system works. A better understanding of this will help to devise curriculum materials and instructional approaches that promote learning. This is vital: despite a phonics-rich curriculum, too many children are failing to make the transition from novice-to-expert, as evidenced by the large number of children who enter secondary school with unacceptably low levels of literacy skill. This has serious consequences, given that literacy is crucial to educational, cultural and economic advancement as well as social well-being.

The research described in this proposal aims to fill this gap in our knowledge. Carefully controlled experiments that nevertheless mimic the natural reading process will test out a number of hypotheses about how to promote children's learning about words via their reading experiences. A range of questions is asked: How do children deal with new words that they encounter for the first time when reading a story? How do we best structure and organise reading practice so as to optimize word learning and reading development? Do new words need to be encountered many times in order to be learned properly and if so, how many times and should the context in which they occur vary or stay the same? Is it better to learn little and often, or massed into one go? Does testing children's fragile knowledge while they are still in the process of learning ultimately lead to better retention in the longer term? And why is it that some children fail to make progress with learning to read?

Answers to these questions will inform critical aspects of reading theory that are currently underspecified, namely how children move from being an effortful decoder to an effortless skilled reader. Our experiments will provide insights on how to best optimize reading practice for long-term learning in the classroom, with the ultimate aim of supporting more children to make a successful transition from novice-to-expert.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit?

The proposed research has implications that have the potential to influence a number of groups in wider society. These include teachers and education practitioners, policy makers, third sector organisations (e.g. charities that support children with reading difficulties) and children and their families. Many children do not make the transition from novice to expert, as evidenced by the high number of children entering secondary school with low levels of literacy skill (Department of Education; in Higgins et al., 2014). The social, educational and economic consequences of this could be lessened by appropriate teaching and intervention, informed by theoretical advances in understanding what children need to learn.

How will they benefit?

To develop effective and evidence-based teaching of literacy, we need to determine the key factors that contribute to successful reading development. The proposed research will do this. Findings will be shared with the wider community and relevant stakeholders so as to provide opportunities for dissemination and interactive discussion between research and practice (see Pathways to Impact for discussion of how we propose to optimize this). The involvement of Co-I Castles will allow findings to be translated to the Australian setting, where appropriate, thus enhancing the international reach of our work.

1. Teachers and education practitioners
The proposed research will benefit teachers, special educational needs co-ordinators, teaching assistants and other education professionals. It will articulate how children move from novice-to-expert. Our novel methodology will distinguish between immediate learning that might be fragile and partial, and longer term learning. Our data should highlight how to optimize reading practice for learning. For example, if our experiments demonstrate that long-term learning is enhanced if material is presented spaced over time rather than massed, or if retrieval practice via repeated testing is seen to promote long-term learning, implications for classroom teaching are clear: space out learning episodes across days or weeks, and create regular opportunities for pupils to retrieve their knowledge. Evidence-based teaching practice regarding phonics instruction in the early years is well-established in policy and teacher training; by developing and testing the lexical legacy framework we hope to establish, in the longer term, a similar evidence-based practice approach for supporting children as they move from novice-to-expert in the later primary years.

2. Policy makers and charities supporting children's education
Much attention has rightly been given to the development of a phonics-based curriculum to support word reading development both in the UK (Department for Education and Skills, 2006) and in Australia (Rowe, 2005). Importantly though, the reading curriculum needed to foster the later stages of word reading development has received less research attention. Our research has the potential to influence policy decisions by highlighting the importance of reading experience, and specifying how successful long-term learning can be promoted by modifying the nature and structure of children's reading experience. This is especially important for those children from less-advantaged backgrounds where access to resources that encourage reading practice in a full and varied manner (e.g., books in the home, access to libraries and the internet) are more limited.

3. Children
Finally our research will benefit children themselves. First, the children who take part in our experiments will benefit from one-to-one reading practice and exposure to new words, and an opportunity to focus on tasks which they find interesting and fun. Second, children will benefit in the longer term through potential improvements to educational practice and policy which will be informed by a stronger evidence base, as a consequence of our research.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description This project has generated new knowledge by developing and testing a theoretical perspective on how children develop expertise in word reading. The lexical legacy hypothesis proposes that each encounter with a word provides children with evidence about that word - its sound, spelling and meaning. As this knowledge accrues with time, it provides a rich and detailed database reflecting that word's lexical history: words emerge from the contexts they are experienced in. On subsequent encounters, this legacy influences how easy a word is processed, in interaction with the demands of the task.

We tested a number of parameters predicted to influence learning with most of our attention focussing on semantic diversity (the extent to which the content of contexts a word appears in over time are related in meaning) and frequency. The patterns of findings are quite complex but both parameters exert an influence with semantic diversity becoming more important 'as words grow-up'. We are beginning to identify and unpick the multi-faceted nature of semantic diversity. We also examined whether spaced learning resulted in better learning, and the influence of retrieval practice. Our findings were mixed and more research is needed.

We developed our methodological expertise in measuring eye movements as children read to capture learning. This worked well and the experiments are informative. Other measures (the prime lexicality effect) turned out to be less reliable indices of learning than predicted. The effects are small (and fragile) and so not optimal for measuring the differential effects of different learning environments.

We used children's books to develop contexts for our experiments. This experience highlighted the marked differences between spoken and written language. This sparked an interest in 'book language' which has generated new research questions and funded projects to investigate them. These findings build directly on the work accomplished via the ESRC project. Our project has also fostered our expertise with new methods of enquiry (corpus analysis) which we look forward to developing further, both as researchers and in collaboration with Oxford University Press. Our findings also demonstrated links between the sort of contextual experience children have with words and the morphosyntactic role that words play in different contexts. Our work in this area remains in progress and is being developed further through collaborations with other scientists who have expertise in morphosyntax.

The project has also fostered further development of meaningful links between our basic research and the expertise of those working in education. These are continuing beyond the lifetime of the project and are already influencing future research directions.
Exploitation Route Our findings for researchers interested in word recognition and word learning, reading development, models of word reading and eye movement while reading data. We have developed semantic diversity from large developmental language corpora. Together, these finding will inform future work on how children learn and remember words, and how they process them in text.

Our findings have implications for those working in education and allied professions (e.g. speech and language therapy). While phonological decoding provides the necessary foundation to word reading development, other factors are important to bring about expertise. Our findings emphasise how experience shapes lexical development and point to the need to see words in a range of contexts. Future work might build on our findings by designing reading books and curriculum materials for children that optimise learning, based on the principles of how learning happens, and by working with younger children before the cycle of disadvantage (of not being able to read) takes hold. Our findings are also relevant for initial teacher training and continuing professional development by adding to the evidence base about how children learn to read.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education

URL https://readoxford.org
 
Description 1. Knowledge exchange A major impact of our work so far has been in terms of knowledge exchange. This has been realised by a major review paper co-authored by the PI and Co-I, along with Professor Kathy Rastle (please note, this is a major review that extends beyond the focus of the current grant, although that work does feature): Castles, Rastle & Nation (2018) Ending the reading wars: reading acquisition from novice to expert. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 19(1), 5-51. In the 12 months since publication this has been downloaded over 80,000 times and has an altmetric score great than 1750 (in top 50 of 260k papers of its age, and the top 1000 of 13+ million papers ever tracked). It has been widely shared by professional colleagues and featured in blogs, newspaper articles and podcasts. It is referenced heavily in a recent Deans for Impact report in the US on the 'Science of Learning' report and in the All Parliamentary Group report on 'Unlocking Language for Reading'. It is starting to feature in CPD workshop training and required reading lists for those working (or training) in Education. It has resulted in a number of keynote invitations for the authors to speak at international conferences spanning academic and non-academic audiences. More contributions to CPD workshops and webinars are already planned for 2019 and 2020 in the UK and overseas. These will provide opportunities to discuss the findings from this ESRC project and consider their implication for impact. 2. The ReadOxford Profile As outlined in our 'Pathways to Impact' document, a major objective for this project was to build our research-practice links by developing an online presence. This has been achieved via the establishment of the ReadOxford domain. This comprises a website with active blog (www.readoxford.org). The blog is multi-functional and we use it to post summaries of papers, details on conference presentations, links to materials and guest blogs by other scholars. Each post regularly receives more than 1000 hits, some as many as 10,000. In collaboration with Oxford University Press we have made videos that showcase some of our research and methodology; these are on our website, and associated YouTube channel. Alongside this, @ReadOxford is Nation's twitter handle. Since the beginning of the project this has gained over 3,400 followers. These include academics and practitioners working in education and related professions and third sector organisations. It has led to an integrated and active professional network that has reaches into policy at a national and international level. This provides a set of experts who support research and its translation in an advisory capacity; it also provides a ready communications channel that will be invaluable as impact builds. This ESRC project provided the content and person-power to allow us to launch the ReadOxford Partnership. This is a professional network of over 75 local teachers and educational practitioners. We have held four twilight sessions where we present our findings and lead a discussion on research-practice links (they also feature as blogs for those unable to attend). We also run a mailing list where we can share materials and links to resources. The partnership provides a much needed two-way bridge between research and practice. We have learned a lot from our professional colleagues and this has led to new research questions being established. 3. Outreach and public engagement with children and families Our project has featured in a range of public engagement events. Notable activity includes our online experiment, Word Detective. This featured in Brain Diaries, a year-long celebration of Oxford's neuroscience-in-action research designed to raise awareness of brain development and psychological science. Tens of thousands of children and their families visited the this 12-month exhibition in Oxford's Natural History Museum, complemented by an online exhibition (http://www.oum.ox.ac.uk/braindiaries/) which included a demonstration version of Word Detective. Brain Diaries won two awards in 2017: for public engagement, and for use of digital technologies. Kate Nation delivered a public lecture as part of the exhibition 'Learning to Read: From Biology to Culture'. Kate Nation wrote a blog for the BBC about the research, designed to be read by children themselves. She was interviewed about the work by Chris Evans on his BBC Radio 2 Breakfast show. We have participated in the Oxford Science Festival, Brain Awareness Week, Science Week and led sessions in local libraries, schools and museums. 4. The development of children's reading books and curriculum materials This translational work is at an early stage, but we are in discussions with Oxford University Press about how to design materials for the classroom, based on the principles of learning developed and tested in our project.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Education
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Contribution and citation in Deans for Impact 'Science of Learning' report, US
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
URL https://deansforimpact.org/resources/the-science-of-learning/
 
Description Contribution to APPG 'language unlocks reading'
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
URL https://literacytrust.org.uk/policy-and-campaigns/all-party-parliamentary-group-literacy/language-un...
 
Description Invited workshops Learning Difficulties Australia
Geographic Reach Australia 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Keynote Lecture at Language, Learning & Literacy conference, Australia
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
URL http://readoxford.org/dsf-language-literacy-learning-conference-perth-2017
 
Description Provided expert advice in APPG on early literacy
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
 
Description Training session for speech and language therapists
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Training session for speech and language therapists and educational professionals - Denmark 2018
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description training for parents, practitioners & teachers - understanding learning to read and dyslexia
Geographic Reach North America 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
URL http://dyslexiafoundation.org/understanding-spelling-orthography-and-their-links-to-reading-harvard-...
 
Description Book Language: promoting literacy and oracy in the early years via structured experience with written language
Amount £271,347 (GBP)
Funding ID EDO/43392 
Organisation Nuffield Foundation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2019 
End 09/2021
 
Description Individual Differences in Comprehension across the Lifespan
Amount £716,204 (GBP)
Funding ID ES/S009752/1 
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2020 
End 05/2023
 
Description Taking the long view: understanding the precursors and consequences of poor reading comprehension identified in mid-childhood
Amount £293,401 (GBP)
Funding ID ES/S016333/1 
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2020 
End 09/2022
 
Title Code for Pagan & Nation (2019) 
Description This is the R code describing analyses reported in Pagan & Nation 
Type Of Material Data analysis technique 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This is the R code describing analyses reported in Pagan & Nation 
URL https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/cogs.12705
 
Title Data and code from Pagan et al 2019 
Description Data and code from Pagan et al 2019 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Data and code from Pagan et al 2019 
URL https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/suppl/10.1080/10888438.2019.1670664?scroll=top
 
Title Data for Tamura et al (2017) 
Description These are the raw data for the experiments reported in Tamura, Castles & Nation (2017) and published in the journal Cognition. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact None know as yet (beyond the original science reported in the paper) 
URL https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010027717300604?via%3Dihub#s0210
 
Title Data, code and materials for Hsiao et al 2019 
Description These data are reported by Hsiao et al 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact These data are reported by Hsiao et al 
URL https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31829649
 
Title Data, materials and code for Hsiao et al 2019 
Description Data, materials and code for Hsiao et al 2019 (OSF page) 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Data, materials and code for Hsiao et al 2019 (OSF page) 
URL https://osf.io/7hz5p/
 
Title Materials and stimuli for Pagan & Nation 
Description This file shows all the stimulus items for the experiment reported by Pagan & Nation 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This file shows all the stimulus items for the experiment reported by Pagan & Nation 
URL https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/cogs.12705
 
Title Raw data for Pagan & Nation (2019) 
Description This is the data from the experiment reported by Pagan & Nation (Cognitive Science, 2019) 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This is the data from the experiment reported by Pagan & Nation (Cognitive Science, 2019) 
URL https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/cogs.12705
 
Description Dr Holly Joseph 
Organisation University of Reading
Department Institute of Education
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution This collaboration with Dr Joseph involved developing a training experiment investigating new word learning in relation to children's reading comprehension skill. The project team helped with materials and data interpretation, and with dissemination (Joseph & Nation, 2018)
Collaborator Contribution Dr Joseph designed the experiment and led the research at all stages. Her expertise in eye movement research made the work possible
Impact Joseph, H., & Nation, K. (2018). Examining incidental word learning during reading in children: The role of context. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 166, 190-211.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Oxford University Press 
Organisation Oxford University Press
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We have worked with Oxford University Press on the Oxford Children's Corpus. We have helped with some of the language analysis of the 500 Words competition, run each year by BBC Radio 2 and OUP. We are also in discussion regarding curriculum development and children's publishing.
Collaborator Contribution Oxford University Press has allowed us to access the Oxford Children's Corpus. This is commercially sensitive and not freely available.
Impact None yet beyond scientific papers which acknowledge OUP.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Article on ending the reading wars in Tes 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact This feature was written to explain how the science of reading has implications for how children should be taught in the classroom
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
URL https://www.tes.com/news/tes-magazine/tes-magazine/ceasefire-reading-wars
 
Description Article on shared reading and book language in Tes 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Feature on how the 'language of the book' influences how shared reading might foster language and literacy development
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
URL https://www.tes.com/news/what-teachers-need-know-about-shared-reading
 
Description Participation in Brain Diaries in Natural History Museum, Oxford 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact We participated in a 12-month celebration of psychology and neuroscience research at the University of Oxford. This included as 12-month installation at the Natural History Museum where people could participate in our experiment, plus associated website version. We also took over the museum for two days to do hands-on citizen science about reading and language with children and their families. Finally, Nation gave a public lecture about her ESRC funded research on children's reading development. The Brain Diaries exhibition team (including the PI) won two awards - for public engagement and for use of digital technologies
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.oum.ox.ac.uk/braindiaries/
 
Description Podcast about the reading wars I 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Hour long discussion with Prof T Hogan on her podcast series 'SeeHearSpeak', based in the US: Interesting conversations with people who care aboutreading, language, and speech in the developing child.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019
URL https://www.seehearspeakpodcast.com/episode-1
 
Description Podcast about the reading wars II 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Contribution to hour-long podcast with Professor Tiffany Hogan (Harvard) in her series 'See Hear Speak', connecting research and practice in children's language and literacy
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.seehearspeakpodcast.com/episode-6
 
Description ReadOxford Blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact As part of our Pathways to Impact, we established a research blog. Its aim is to showcase our own research, and major developments in the field, be they academic studies or policy relevant discussions about learning to read. We are writing our own blogs as well as hosting guest blogs from leading researchers from the international community. We are also including blogs by early career researchers with the aims of (a) encouraging public engagement and impact activities by ECRS (b) highlighting the excellence of our ECR colleagues' research and (c) inspiring others to disseminate their research as broadly as possible. Over the last three years blog traffic has increased significantly with new items regularly receiving 1000s hits (from the UK and international). Blogs include links to papers (academic and non-academic) and these are often followed by visitors to the blog.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017,2018,2019
URL http://readoxford.org/blog
 
Description ReadOxford Partnership 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The ReadOxford Partnership has been set-up to facilitate two-way research-practice links between us and local schools. We've had four discussion workshops with over 50 teachers and education practitioners attending each event. We also send updates on our research to the mailing list, and pointers to interesting relevant work by others. Feedback and discussion is shaping our future research questions, and our communication plans.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017,2018
 
Description ReadOxford Website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Following plans set out in our Pathways to Impact, we designed, populated and built a custom-made website to showcase our research. It is linked to our academic pages at the University of Oxford, but has a more 'outward' facing interface, designed to appeal to children, families and professionals working in education, and other stakeholders, as well as those in academia.

It was a huge effort to make the content (photographs, animations, web design, video) but our efforts were rewarded with 1000s of hits within a week or so of launching in May 2016.

Note it is hard to identify a primary audience as our aim is to appeal to as many sectors as possible who have an interest in reading and its development.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017,2018,2019
URL http://readoxford.org
 
Description ReadOxford twitter 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Our intention (as stated in Pathways to Impact) was to use Twitter to engage in discussion about our research and to highlight its wider impact, especially with respect to educational practice and policy. Nation's @ReadOxford twitter account started in 2016 and quickly gathered followers (academic and non-academic; UK and international). Without doubt, this twitter profile is serving an important role in linking our research with those working in education, educational policy and allied professions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017,2018,2019
URL https://twitter.com/ReadOxford
 
Description School visits for Science Week, Brain Awareness week and assemblies 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact As part of science week celebrations, we visited local schools to take after school science clubs on the science of learning to read. Children participated in experiments and we gave a mini child-friendly lecture. Participants were primary school children and their teachers. We have also visited schools, libraries, museums to share our research (and psychological research more generally)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017,2018
 
Description Webinar for General Teaching Council Scotland 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Webinar for the General Teaching Council of Scotland
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwn0C8WXG_g