Headline findings: The learners in this study made good progress overall in reading, writing and spelling. Their confidence in themselves as users of English increased, as did the frequency with which they reported engaging in certain literacy activities in English. Read Report Here.
A total of 32 women attending classes in literacy in English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) at the Baytree Centre in Brixton took part in an evaluation in academic year 2009/10. The scheme in use for these classes was the Spalding Method, in which writing is tackled first and leads on to spelling and then reading.
The learners came from 14 countries, and between them spoke 16 languages other than English. All but a few could already read and write at least one other language, but most had limited command of spoken English; all had limited literacy in English.
Most had had little formal education before coming to the UK, and even less since arriving, and most had very basic or no formal qualifications. On average they were older than ESOL learners nationally, and they had specifically chosen Baytree’s women-only literacy courses. There appears to be very little provision for learners of this exact demographic.
The learners took reading, writing and spelling tests, and completed an attitudes questionnaire, at both the beginning and the end of their courses, and the researchers each observed two teaching sessions.
Greater attendance was (unsurprisingly) associated with greater progress in reading, writing and spelling and with positive changes in attitudes. Also, greater progress in reading was associated with greater self-reported frequency and enjoyment of literacy activities. Our observations showed that the learners accepted and enjoyed the Spalding Method, including its firm structure and didactic approach.
The numbers of learners on whom full data were available were small (24 for background variables, the literacy tests, and attendance; 20 for attitudes); while these numbers were just sufficient for whole-group analyses, they would not have supported sub-group analyses. Also, this was a one-group, and therefore not a comparative, study. On both counts it would be desirable to gather more data in order to confirm the validity of the findings reported here. In particular, the use of tests which yield results which can be compared with national norms should be considered.
However, it is clear that these courses largely achieved their stated aims, and Baytree should continue to use the Spalding Method for as long as it has a teacher trained to do so, and should have others trained to deliver it. Moreover, these courses reach a demographic group which is under-served and under-researched; for both reasons, the courses should continue, and be extended to more adult ESOL learners.