Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Barnardos' Wizards of Words Reading Programme

Fives, A., Kearns, N., Devaney, C., Canavan, J., Lyons, R., Eaton, P., O'Brien, A., Russell, D.W. (2013). Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Barnardos' Wizards of Words Reading Programme. https://knowledge.barnardos.ie/handle/20.500.13085/347
The positive findings from this independent evaluation confirm our conviction that a Barnardos programme, the design of which was informed by evidence, and delivered in partnership with committed schools and volunteers, could make a real and lasting difference to children’s reading skills. The journey of the design, development, implementation and evaluation of WoW started in 2005 with a site visit by Barnardos staff to the Experience Corps programme in the USA. Inspired by this inter-generational reading intervention, and with the knowledge that a significant number of children attending Barnardos services had poor reading skills, we decided to develop an out-of-class, inter-generational reading programme for children aged between six and eight years of age. The programme was first piloted in 2007 with a small number of schools in Dublin. Between 2007 and 2012 Barnardos partnered with 10 schools in Dublin and Limerick and more than 100 trained volunteers over the age of 55 to deliver the programme to more than 300 children. The evaluation, conducted by the Child and Family Research Centre at NUIG on behalf of Barnardos, was undertaken between 2008 and 2012. The process of programme design and development involved extensive research on a range of issues including how children’s reading skills develop, the factors which influence reading achievement and the policy context in which reading and literacy skills are developed. Enormous effort was required, from a range of people, to operationalise the programme, including the design and development of programme materials, recruitment of project staff and volunteers, the identification of schools and the assessment and recruitment of children for whom the programme would be suitable. It is heartening to see that the attention paid to these issues has been affirmed by positive reports from the school principals and teachers, and the volunteers who participated in WoW. The tight focus of the programme, the structured nature of the sessions, the regular assessment and review of children’s progress, the training of and support for the volunteers, the commitment to achieving outcomes and the professionalism of the Barnardos staff were all identified as important features of the programme’s success from the school staff and volunteer perspectives. The programme pairs first and second class students, aged between six and eight years, nominated by their teacher for extra reading support, with an appropriately trained older volunteer. The purpose of the programme is to improve children’s reading, their enjoyment of reading and their self-belief in their reading competence. We are delighted therefore, that the evaluation shows that WoW does indeed improve children’s phonemic awareness and phonic knowledge; improve their word recognition skills; improve their enjoyment of reading; and improve the children’s perceived competence in their reading ability. Early on in the design and development of the programme, Barnardos made a commitment to the inter-generational element of the programme. We had seen for ourselves, with our visit to Experience Corps in the USA, the warmth, commitment and experience that the older volunteers brought to the programme; and we wanted to replicate this with WoW. The findings from this evaluation confirm our commitment to this feature of the programme. The evaluation shows that the one-to-one reading sessions with highly trained volunteers helped to build a very strong bond and relationship with the participating children and that the inter-generational dimension is key to the programme’s success.