Learning to read in monolingual and bilingual children: does cognitive flexibility play a part?

This interdisciplinary (education, psychology) project will investigate word reading in monolingual and bilingual children in primary schools to investigate whether bilingualism impacts on a) word reading and b) children’s ability to learn to read novel words. We will also investigate whether group differences are moderated by differences in cognitive flexibility.

Department: Technical Support Unit

Supervised by: Daisy Powell

The Placement Project

While in global terms most people speak more than one language, much of the extensive research into children’s reading over the past few decades has focussed on literacy development in monolingual children in the USA and the UK. Moreover, given the marked increase in numbers of UK children for whom English is an additional language (EAL), there is increasing interest in the ways in which bilingualism might impact on reading development. The principle aim of this project is to carry out a detailed investigation of word-level reading skills in children of primary school age, comparing monolingual and EAL groups. The focus will be not just on the accuracy and efficiency of word reading, but also on orthographic learning, that is, the ease with which children commit the written forms of words to memory, a crucial aspect of efficient reading. Supplementing data already collected from a sample of children learning to read English as a foreign language in Malaysia, the current project will involve collecting comparative data from 7 - 11 year-old children on a number of reading tasks (e.g. word reading, lexical decision, orthographic learning). We will also gather information about children’s linguistic backgrounds (e.g. how long they have lived in the UK). Additionally, given the reported cognitive benefits of bilingualism (see Bialystok et al., 2012, for a review), we will investigate whether any difference between groups is mediated by cognitive flexibility, which has previously been linked to reading skills in monolinguals (Colé et al., 2014).


The detailing of days in the list below is indicative. The successful candidate will be self-motivated and will be expected to organise an appropriate timetable for data collection and data entry through discussions with the PI. There will the potential to work as part of a team of researchers working on this and aligned projects (PI: Holly Joseph), if funded, at the IOE. The start and end dates given below are also indicative only, depending on availability of schools for data collection. 1. Training in administration of group and individual tests, including using eprime experiment presentation software to collect and extract data, and training in scoring standardized tests (approx. 3 days). 2. Liaising with the school authorities regarding timetabling the collection of data (approx. 1 days). 3. Administration of experimental tasks and standardized reading tests to two groups of around 30 primary school students and scoring standardized tests (approx. 17 days). 4. Training in basic descriptive statistical techniques (if required) and database management (approx. 1 day) 5. Setting up database and data entry, including extracting and imputing eprime data (approx. 5 days). 6. Discussions relating to interpretation of the outcomes of inferential statistical techniques conducted on the data (approx. 1 day). 7. Preparation of poster (approx. 2 days).

Skills, knowledge and experience required

Before collecting data the successful candidate must have obtained a DBS check. The data will be collected in a primary school or schools geographically local to the University. The successful student will have: Interest in and knowledge of reading development; Good written and spoken communication skills; Confidence in speaking to primary school students; Sense of responsibility in presenting self in a professional manner in a primary school (including punctuality); Good organisational skills; Confidence in the use of computer for record keeping. Desirable skills/knowledge/experience: Experience of interacting with children e.g. working at guides or scouts, gym clubs etc.; babysitting; volunteering in schools; Experience at handling numerical datasets, ideally using software such as MS Excel or SPSS; Knowledge of/willingness to learn some statistical procedures.

Skills which will be developed during the placement

The successful candidate will gain skills in the administration of standardised assessments and experimental reading tasks in a school setting. These will be both the specific skills for administering and scoring the tests to be used in the project, and generic skills in general test administration and scoring. The successful candidate will gain skills in setting up and ensuring accuracy of a large dataset to be used as the basis of statistical analysis. If the successful candidate has no existing skills in statistical analysis, there will be individual tuition in using SPSS for exploring data and deriving descriptive statistics. If the successful candidate has basic skills in using SPSS there will be more advanced tuition in interpreting output from ANOVA and multiple regression techniques. The successful candidate will be expected to be self-motivated and to negotiate with school administrators to organise the timetable for data collection, as well as in scoring and inputting data and in basic statistical techniques. These are transferrable skills which will be marketable in many employment situations. The successful candidate will be expected to report to the PI and to engage in discussions about interpretation of the data. The contribution of the student to any conference presentation and written paper resulting from the research will be acknowledged in accordance with American Psychological Association and Harvard guidelines. The student will also be given the opportunity to present findings at a research group meeting.

Place of Work

Institute of Education, University of Reading and a primary school(s) local to the University (to be confirmed). Travel expenses to schools will be covered. Placement dates are indicative only and will be based around schools' and placement students' availability.

Hours of Work

7 hours per day (average)

Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Saturday 01 June 2019 - Monday 30 September 2019

How to Apply

The post will be advertised centrally on the UROP website between 25th February and 5th April 2019. Candidates should submit a personal statement, academic reference and CV to Daisy Powell ( The personal statement should give details about how the candidate meets the essential and desirable skills/knowledge/experience.

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