Introduction

Psycholinguistic studies have demonstrated the complex nature of minority language learning, and the Irish language is no exception (Hickey and Stenson, 2016). The Irish Primary School Curriculum (Government of Ireland, 1999) places a large focus on Irish reading, stating that children should be fully engaged in reading of Irish by nine years of age. However, teachers of Irish admit that Irish reading often occurs infrequently in their classrooms due to poor ability to learn a second language and student resistance (Cummins, 1982; Hickey, 2006). There is a pressing need, therefore, to develop evidence-based strategies for Irish literacy instruction which targets common deficiencies and promotes reading fluency (Cummins, 1982). One such method is Precision Teaching (PT), which is a renowned method of instruction used to track the learning and performance of students.

There are five steps involved in a classic PT session (Griffin and Murtagh, 2015). The first of these steps involves pinpointing a learning objective for a student or learner; for example, pupils’ levels of sight vocabulary (Nitti, 1990). Secondly, the materials that will be used during the intervention must be developed. These typically involve time probes (see Figure 1) which act as an effective measure of fluency in a rate per-minute count on a specific skill or target (Chiesa and Robertson, 2000). Following this, the student then engages in practice utilising a time probe (as outlined in Figure 1) and the frequency of correct/incorrect responses is recorded, as well as the time taken. The data are then recorded on a Standard Celeration Chart (SCC) (see Figure 2), which provides a ‘picture’ of learning. Ideally, the frequency of correct responses should increase on the SCC while the frequency of incorrect responses should decrease. This picture of learning provides invaluable information for practitioners for the final step of the session, which involves making data-based instructional decisions with regard to the materials used for the student and the student’s progression (Chiesa and Robertson, 2000). PT has been utilised effectively across a myriad of educational contexts to promote reading fluency (Daly and Cooper, 1993; Griffin and Murtagh, 2015; Roberts and Norwich, 2010). However, following a thorough literature review, it was noted that a dearth of Irish research in the area of PT is apparent, with no research previously conducted into assessing the potential of frequency-building and PT in promoting Irish reading fluency.

Aims

The current study aimed to evaluate the impact of a three-week computer-based PT intervention through the Irish language on the Irish reading fluency of a group of primary school pupils.

Method

The study employed a mixed factorial experimental design. Thirty-six Irish primary school pupils who were learning Irish as a second language were recruited for this study. Participants were divided into two groups: experimental (N = 18) and (wait) control (N = 18). Participants completed tests of isolated sight word reading fluency and contextualised reading fluency before and after the PT intervention. The experimental group was exposed to the PT programme, which focused on practice of Irish sight words presented on PT time probes on Microsoft Excel. Children worked in pairs throughout the PT programme. The frequency of correct and incorrect responses by participants to isolated Irish words on the time probes were recorded, monitored and charted daily using child-friendly SCCs. The control group experienced typical teaching of Irish during this period.

Results

Table 1 presents the mean scores for isolated sight word reading fluency (reading from a list of Irish words) and contextualised reading fluency (reading from a piece of Irish text) for the experimental and control conditions from pre-intervention to post-intervention. A one-way multivariate analysis of variance and a series of dependent-samples t-tests were conducted using SPSS software. The results of these tests revealed that the experimental group, who had engaged with the PT programme, exhibited a significant increase in both isolated sight word reading fluency and contextualised reading fluency following engagement with the intervention. Thus, engagement with the PT intervention led to an improvement in the Irish reading fluency of the participants. In contrast, scores for the control group, who experienced typical teaching of Irish during the intervention period, remained relatively stagnant.

 

 

Condition

Mean

SD

N

Pre-intervention isolated sight word reading fluency

Experimental

Control

45.11

42.16

14.21

10.67

18

18

Post-intervention isolated sight word reading fluency

Experimental

Control

60.11

42.94

14.36

10.57

18

18

Pre-intervention contextualised reading fluency

Experimental

Control

94.33

70.16

20.95

12.97

18

18

Post-intervention contextualised reading fluency

Experimental

Control

111.38

70.55

25.05

14.26

18

18

Table 1.    Mean scores for isolated sight word reading fluency and contextualised reading fluency for the experimental and control conditions from pre-intervention to post-intervention.

Conclusions

The results of this study emphasises the potential value of utilising a computer-based frequency-building and PT programme to aid learning of Irish, not only for increasing isolated sight word reading fluency, but also for enhancing contextualised reading fluency. It also emphasises the potential value of utilising digital intervention strategies to support the educational attainment of pupils in the primary classroom. However, due care must be taken when interpreting the results of this study, due to its small sample size and PT’s behaviourist view of learning. Therefore, a more holistic approach to reading should be employed across primary classrooms, encompassing meaningful strategies from both behaviourist and constructivist viewpoints. Future research should examine the impact of a digital PT intervention through Irish on participants’ reading with various age categories and levels of education.

A full-length version of this paper has been published as: Mannion, L. and Griffin, C.P. (2018). Precision Teaching through Irish: effects on isolated sight word reading fluency and contextualised reading fluency. Irish Educational Studies, 37(3), 391-410.