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Around 5% of school children in Sweden have problems learning to read and write on account of difficulties with word decoding.
"Most researchers agree that the underlying problem is a limited phonological ability, in other words limited awareness of the sounds that make up spoken words," says Ulrika Wolff, senior lecturer in education at the University of Gothenburg's Department of Education and Special Education, and the researcher behind the study, the first of its kind in Sweden.
The study saw more than 50 nine-year-olds with reading and writing problems being given 40 minutes' training every day for a total of 12 weeks by specially trained educationalists from the University of Gothenburg. They were then compared with an equivalent group that had been given the traditional remedial tuition offered by schools.
The training comprised intensive and structured exercises in understanding the alphabetical code.
Children practised linking phonemes and graphemes (sounds and letters), phonetic awareness, guided reading aloud and reading in general, which served to strengthen reading fluency and reading speed. However, the strict, research-based programme also incorporated space for creativity, play and curiosity.
The results show that the children who took part in the training programme coped significantly better than the children given traditional remedial tuition, and that they did so in all of the areas tested -- word decoding, spelling, reading speed and reading comprehension.
"Structured and individual teaching meant that these children made significant progress," says Wolff.
"Reading and writing difficulties often lead to low self-esteem and poor self-confidence, which can make learning to read even more difficult for children. It's important to take effective action as early as possible to break this vicious circle."
The RAFT study (Reading and Fluency Training Based on Phonemic Awareness) is the first of its kind in Sweden, and has produced results largely in line with those from previous research with English-speaking children, including in the USA. A three-year research project saw 2,200 nine-year-olds being screened, with just over 100 then tested individually. Half were subsequently put into a group that was given individual training, while the other half made up the control group that was given the standard teaching offered by schools, for example in the form of remedial tuition.
RAFT is funded by the Swedish Research Council and the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation.
Original article: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-10/uog-ith100411.php