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Power of Reading, Research and Implementation at Kingsworth

March 25, 2024

What is Power of Reading

The Power of Reading is a curriculum that puts a high-quality storybook at the center of a unit of learning across subjects. The Center for Literacy in Primary Education has developed this curriculum over the last fifty years as a non-profit organization seeking to find the most effective ways to teach children to read and write.

Each unit of the curriculum begins with a story. The stories are handpicked to draw students into the world of the characters. The children get wrapped up in the questions that the story inevitably leads the reader to ask, as well as topical questions about the key elements of the story, such as ‘where does rain come from?’, ‘what kind of animals live in Kenya?’,  and the most common question of all, ‘what is going to happen next?’.

Then, instead of moving on to another activity, the teacher uses this story as a springboard to discuss these questions in depth. A science activity might involve recreating the rain in the story through a demonstration of condensation and the water cycle. Discussions about the geography of Kenya and its landscape can take the form of art projects, a make-believe trip to Kenya, and incorporation of Swahili songs into the student’s daily routine.

Therefore a storybook becomes not only a short term activity, but a portal into a colorful exploration of the world. Important touch points for each age group are discovered collectively. When children engage in this type of deep comprehension, they develop a much richer understanding of course material.

Why does this matter

The Power of Reading by CLPE has reported that this method increases children’s desire and interest in reading, both inside and outside of school. Participating schools report higher reading and writing scores and better subject area knowledge outside of reading time.

External evaluation has shown that the programme boosts the confidence of children in reading, promotes a willingness to pick up new and challenging books, and leads to an average of 6 months progress in reading compared to peers who were not exposed to the Power of Reading.

Teachers report feeling more confident, having more support, and being encouraged to find dynamic ways to incorporate the unit book into their lessons. Increased training in literacy and reinforcement of key skills, sharing of ideas, and promoting creativity creates a positive and supportive environment for teachers as they are given development opportunities.

“ It is moving as a teacher to see children discussing books between themselves and at home with their parents. They cannot wait to hear the end of the story.” Mariale, Deputy Head of School

Why are we writing about this now

A three year study analyzing the impact of the CLPE curriculum in 30 schools in and around London was completed at the end of 2023 (Closing the Vocabulary Gap | Institute for Employment Studies (IES), n.d.).1 The Power of Pictures in Early Years showed improvement among students compared to the control group.

Among the findings, teachers reported discussing reading and books with students more often, teachers were more confident in discussing books and poetry, and they reported that their class was showing more excitement and engagement about reading.

Initial findings suggest that there is improvement in a child’s reading ability compared to the control group, despite setbacks to the implementation of the program, such as COVID 19 disruptions and the selection of schools included only disadvantaged schools.

Additional Findings

In 2019, the Education Endowment Foundation and the Institute for Education led a one year study to determine the efficacy of the Power of Reading and CLPE curriculum in 100 schools.2 Over the course of one year, the researchers engaged in observations and interviews with teachers, students, and senior leadership team. For each test group, the researchers surveyed students, observed a reading session with their teacher, and analyzed test scores at the end of the year. The following are a few of their findings, which were published in 2021 :

  • Students had on average higher writing and creative thinking skills than those from within the control group.
  • Visual elements engaged students who would traditionally have the most difficulty.
  • Teachers reported higher levels of engagement among students, their fellow teachers, and the senior leadership team.

What we know works

High quality books are key to the curriculum’s success and the ultimate engagement of students. Quality literature can be defined in a variety of ways, but there are several key elements that CLPE uses to identify and select texts.

  1. Narratives. Stories have always had a special power in human cultures, and the Power of Reading taps into our inherent relationship with narratives. Therefore, CLPE tends to choose books that rely on narrative with strong characters.
  2. Picture books. Research shows that all ages engage with stories in a different way when there are images and illustrations to accompany a text. In many ways, it enhances our understanding and provides a richer experience of the story. Including situational meaning, new interpretations, and inferred understandings that might not be possible with a text only book.
  3. Multimodal. The Power of Reading curriculum also emphasizes books that provide multiple ways to engage with a text’s meaning. Different children, even at the same grade level, react to a text in unique ways, and we find that to promote reading comprehension, books that present information in a variety of ways throughout the story are particularly effective, and therefore often selected to be part of the curriculum.
  4. Reflected Realities. CLPE also seeks out books that reflect the diverse nature of our student bodies to allow for a wide range of voices, personal experiences, and cultures. We find this reflection of a child’s lived experience, or perhaps the experience of a classmate, can tie a child to a story in ways that make the book personal and intimate to that child.
  5. Deeper Meaning. Books should be worth re-reading in order to develop an understanding for all readers, and to clarify certain aspects of the story or to comment on the various links that can be made between the text and other areas of our curriculum.
  6. Rhythm and Pattern. The Power of Reading collection includes many texts that use beat, repetitive sounds, and alliteration which allow for a sensorial impact that resonates with children, and makes for memorable and therefore meaningful knowledge acquisition.

How this impacts non native speakers

Since implementation at Kingsworth, teachers have noticed a difference in the learning outcomes, as well as social and academic well being of a student when they are able to follow along in class. Our teachers have noticed that because we use a story to anchor learning in a variety of subjects, non-native speakers have the ability to follow the lesson more closely. Since most of our books have big and beautiful pictures to accompany the story, non-native speakers are more likely to be able to understand the content of the story and also have a context for the rest of their lessons for that unit.

We do hope to one day be able to have clear data to back up our anecdotal findings, because we are confident that the data will support what we witness everyday. But we also know that this would require a longitudinal study with a control group, and that the research should be published in peer reviewed journals. These statistics are not easy to come by. What we can do is share the stories that we see everyday. They are moving, and they inspire hope for future generations.

Implementation at Kingsworth

After two years of implementation and training, teachers report a boost in subject knowledge understanding, and an increase in learning objective attainment. We are thrilled to see children so excited that they are wiggling to hear the next part of the story.

‘I heard from a student today that they had been thinking about the book all weekend, and they were imagining various scenarios and endings the book might take. When you hear that, you can’t help but feel inspired.’ Morgan Kuhr, Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten English teacher.

The implementation of the Power of Reading at Kingsworth has been very smooth. For years, we have had an interdisciplinary curriculum that allowed children to engage with a topic across a variety of subjects.

The difference now is that the Power of Learning puts a storybook at the center of that curriculum in a way that is very engaging for early learners. We are thrilled with the progress of our students, and the engagement seen in the classroom is unparalleled. There is no doubt that there will be a long future partnership ahead for the Power of Learning and the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education at Kingsworth International School. We are happy to represent them in France, of all places, in the heart of the 16th arrondissement of Paris.

Footnotes

1 Closing the Vocabulary Gap | Institute for Employment Studies (IES). (n.d.). Closing the Vocabulary Gap | Institute for Employment Studies (IES). https://www.employment-studies.co.uk/resource/closing-vocabulary-gap

2 Anders, J. et al. (2021) Power of Pictures. rep. Institute for Education. Available at: https://d2tic4wvo1iusb.cloudfront.net/production/documents/pages/projects/Power_of_Pictures_Evaluation_Report_Final.pdf?v=1710509005 (Accessed: March 2024). 

Additional Resources

Cordingley, P., Higgins, S., Greany, T., Buckler, N., Coles-Jordan, D., Crisp, B., Saunders, L., and Coe, R. (2015) Developing Great Teaching: Lessons from the international reviews into effective professional development. Teacher Development Trust. 

Education Endowment Foundation (2023) Teaching and learning toolkit, Parental engagement. Available at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/educationevidence/teaching-learning-toolkit/parental-engagement National Early Literacy Panel (2008) 

Developing Early Literacy: A Scientific Synthesis of Early Literacy Development and Implications for Intervention Siraj-Blatchford, I., Sylva, K., Muttock, S., Gilden, R., and Bell, D. (2002) The Effective Pedagogy in Early Years study, Department for Education, Research Report RR356.