Becoming a skilled reader: gains in word reading efficiency through secondary school

This interdisciplinary (education, psychology) project will investigate reading efficiency in adolescence, and the extent to which failure to attain high levels of reading fluency may be a barrier to reading comprehension and learning at this crucial stage in education.

Department: The Learning Hub

Supervised by: Dr Daisy Powell

The Placement Project

While the last few decades have seen great gains in knowledge of how young children acquire foundation literacy skills, much less is known about how reading reaches adult levels of efficiency during adolescence. Progress across the curriculum at secondary school comes to depend heavily on independent reading, and there is an assumption that prior to starting secondary school, students will have acquired efficient, automatic word reading skills, leaving sufficient resources to understand, and learn from, written material. However, this assumption is not always met, and many children start secondary school without reaching government attainment targets (All Party Parliamentary Group for Education, 2011). It is thus surprising that word reading at secondary school is an under-researched area, and key questions remain about when sufficient reading efficiency is attained, and the extent to which low efficiency may impact on comprehension. Given the paucity of relevant research, the aim of the current project is to collect preliminary data from 12 and 15 year-olds students and adults, on a number of tasks (e.g naming, lexical decision, masked priming) that have previously been used to investigate individual differences in skilled, adult reading. We will investigate the extent to which children show classic adult patterns of performance, such as length, regularity and consistency effects, and how these effects are associated with reading comprehension ability, assessed using standardized tests.


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 closely with another placement student working on an aligned project (PI: Holly Joseph), if funded, at the IOE. The start and end dates given below are also indicative only, depending on availability of the school 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 15 secondary school students and scoring standardized tests (aged 12 and 15; 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

Essential skills/knowledge/experience. Before collecting data the successful candidate must have obtained a DBS check. The data will be collected a secondary school geographically local to the University. The successful student will have: Good written and spoken communication skills; Confidence in speaking to secondary school students; Sense of responsibility in presenting self in a professional manner in a secondary school (including punctuality); Good organisational skills; Confidence in the use of computer for record keeping. Desirable skills/knowledge/experience: Experience of interacting with young people 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 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. This will give the candidate 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.)

Place of Work

Institute of Education and a local secondary school

Hours of Work

7 per day

Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Monday 13 June 2016 - Friday 30 September 2016

How to Apply

The post will be advertised centrally on the UROP website between 8th February and 18th March 2016. In addition, the post will be advertised within the Institute of Education the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences (through email and noticeboards) as well as through the Centre for Literacy and Multilingualism (CeLM) through its existing mailing list. 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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