Developing better reading strategies

Ongoing research at BCU exploring the relationship between the rhythm of spoken language and better reading outcomes has been utilised in a national reading scheme, empowering an estimated 12,000 children in the UK to improve their reading ability.

Research summary – is there a right way to learn how to read?

It is estimated that one in five children leave primary school unable to read at a standard that will ensure they are well placed to succeed in secondary school (DfE, 2015).

Traditional reading curriculums focus on developing a student’s awareness of letters and sounds (phonemic awareness), but do not consider the importance of the awareness of the underlying rhythmic elements of spoken language such as stress, intonation and timing. Well established literature supports the role of such rhythmic awareness in the development of literacy skills, yet existing reading curriculums do not include formal tuition in this area.

Dr Emily Harrison’s research bridges this gap, highlighting the importance of rhythmic awareness in the development of reading skills and fostering an understanding of language.

Research background – teaching strategies with long-term gains

Across several studies, Dr Harrison addressed the absence of rhythmic reading tasks across the curriculum. Working with both beginning readers (aged 4-5 years) and older struggling readers (aged 7-8 years), Dr Harrison trialled rhythmic-based reading tuition against traditional techniques. The studies revealed that those who had been exposed to the rhythmic-based intervention showed significantly improved pre/post test results.

Further research also demonstrated that readers who received the rhythmic-based intervention continued to make the largest gains in word reading 3 months after the intervention, highlighting the longer-term benefits of this approach.

The findings demonstrated the importance of rhythmic awareness for early readers, and have been used to influence the development of literacy scheme Rising Stars Reading Planet.

Research outcomes and impacts – alternative strategies for 12,000 students

Working collaboratively with Rising Stars, publishers and providers of national education schemes such as Reading Planet, Dr Harrison provided the evidence base to develop the first literacy curriculum on the market to successfully incorporate rhythmic training for children.

Dr Harrison assisted with the development of 408 children’s books which utilised the research and provided expertise to assist the creation of teacher’s guides and classroom activities.

Over 750,000 books containing these resources have been sold, reaching an estimated 12,000 students in the UK. The programme has spread to at least 20 schools in the UK, who have provided positive feedback available on the Rising Stars website.

REF 2021

Birmingham City University's hub for everything related to the Research Excellence Framework.

REF 2021

Dr Emily Harrison

Dr Emily Harrison

Senior Lecturer in Psychology

Emily is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology with a specialism in Child Development and Education. Emily’s research expertise lies within the area of childhood literacy development, and her doctoral thesis was entitled “Evaluating the potential of a speech rhythm-based reading intervention”, which involved designing, developing, implementing and evaluating a rhythmic-based intervention for improving children’s literacy skills.