Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


46th Annual Convention; Online; 2020

Event Details

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Symposium #119
Enhancement of Reading Competence With Headsprout: A Computer-Based Behavioral Intervention
Saturday, May 23, 2020
5:00 PM–5:50 PM
Area: EDC/DEV; Domain: Translational
Chair: Julian C. Leslie (Ulster University)
Discussant: Janet S. Twyman (blast)
CE Instructor: Julian C. Leslie, Ph.D.

The failure of a large proportion of children in early education to reaching desired standards of reading competence is a concern in many countries. Many small scale studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of Headsprout (R) in enhancing reading skills in young children but computer-based behavioral interventions have rarely been implemented on a wide scale. There are many obstacles to this, mostly cultural rather than scientific, but it is important to overcome these if behavior analysis is to make a major contribution in this essential area of basic education. As Headsprout is currently available inexpensively there is an opportunity to make rapid progress with this agenda and we have been working on this in Northern ireland for a number of years. The first paper in this symposium reports a large-scale study recruiting participants from a number of primary schools in the region, and the second paper reviews the series of studies conducted to date, identfying successes and also the scientific and a cultural issues that remain to be addressed.

Target Audience:

Professionals and researchers working in mainstream and special education settings.

Learning Objectives: Following this session, those attending: 1. will be aware of the widespread deficits in reading attainment in schools internationally; 2. will have some knowledge of the the Headsprout Early reading program; 3. will have reviewed evidence of the effectiveness of the Headsprout Early reading program in closing the gap between age-typical readers and disadvantaged children.

Better Reading for Better Outcomes: Impact of Headsprout Early Reading on Literacy of Disadvantaged Primary School Children in Northern Ireland

GERRY MCWILLIAMS (Ulster University), Claire E. McDowell (Ulster University, Coleraine), Una O'Connor Bones (Ulster University), Julian C. Leslie (Ulster University)

A quarter of UK primary school children leave school below the expected literacy level. In Northern Ireland, although the literacy of primary school children is improving, the gap between disadvantaged and other children is not closing. This study is providing an HER intervention for children across 8 schools in Northern Ireland with high levels of disadvantage, using a pre-test, post-test study design to test the impact of HER on literacy performance. Additionally, this research analysed the correlation between the time spent on HER and subsequent improvements in literacy performance. Distinctive features are the relatively large scale, and the use of school staff and resources to deliver HER, thus increasing ecological validity and sustainability. Measures include a standardised reading assessment in combination with a bespoke fluency and accuracy test, administered before, during and after HER training. Baseline, midpoint and post intervention data will be reported. Findings suggest HER contrubted towards closing the gap in reading attainment between disdadvantaged primary school children and their age-matched peers, and that this type and scale of study can contribute to school-wide adoption of computer-aided behavioural interventions to support children’s reading progress.


What Have We LearnedAbout Reading? A Review of a Research Programme to Enhance Reading Competence in Disadavantaged Children in Northern Ireland

JULIAN C. LESLIE (Ulster University), Catherine Storey (Queen's University Belfast), Claire E. McDowell (Ulster University, Coleraine)

Many countries face continuing problems in developing literacy and reading skills in primary education with substantial numbers of children missing national literacy targets. Behaviour analysis focusses on the need to specify key skills that comprise any higher-order activity and then train them explicitly in a program that is individualised. For reading, key skills are phonemic awareness, use of phonics, fluency, guided oral reading, and acquisition of new vocabulary words. The Headsprout Early Reading© program, developed by behaviour analysts, is an online package which targets each of the skills through intensive systematic phonics training. It makes use of computer-based instruction and promotes higher levels of student engagement and enjoyment. We have carried out several studies within mainstream schools in Northern Ireland using Headsprout© to improve the reading skills of disadvantaged children and have obtained encouraging results. The most recent stage has been to carry out a study involving a number of schools, and have the classroom teachers implement the Headsprout© program. This is closer to our overall goal of district-wide implementation. There are further challenges in sustaining behaviour-based interventions in schools, and it will be suggested that we can usefully draw on the huge literature on autism interventions to address these.




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