The five NRDC Effective Practice Studies explore teaching and learning in reading, writing, numeracy, ESOL and ICT, and they set out to answer two questions: 1. How can teaching, learning and assessing literacy, numeracy, ESOL and ICT be improved? 2. Which factors contribute to successful learning?
Even before NRDC was set up it was apparent from reviews of the field (Brooks et al., 2001; Kruidenier, 2002) that there was little reliable research-based evidence to answer these questions. Various NRDC reviews showed that progress in amassing such evidence, though welcome where it was occurring, was slow (Coben et al., 2003; Barton and Pitt, 2003; Torgerson et al., 2003, 2004, 2005). Four preliminary studies on reading, writing, ESOL and ICT, were undertaken between 2002 and 2004 (Besser et al., 2004; Kelly et al., 2004; Roberts et al., 2004; Mellar et al., 2004). However, we recognised the urgent need to build on these in order greatly to increase the research base for the practice of teaching these subjects.
The inspiration for the design of the five projects was a study in the US of the teaching of literacy and English language to adult learners for whom English is an additional language (Condelli et al., 2003). This study was the first of its kind, and the lead author, Larry Condelli of the American Institutes for Research, has acted as an expert adviser on all five NRDC projects. The research began in July 2003 and was completed in March 2006. It set out to recruit and gather information on 500 learners in each study, assess their attainment and attitudes at two points during the year in which they were participating in the study, interview both learners and teachers, observe the strategies the teachers used, and correlate those strategies with changes in the learners’ attainment and attitudes.
The ICT study differed from the others in that its first phase was developmental, its sample size was smaller, and it had a shorter timescale, completing in March 2005.
The principal aim was to develop and test the effectiveness of ICT-based teaching strategies. We used ICT designs targeted at literacy, numeracy and ESOL learning objectives, and this was followed by an evaluation of the effectiveness of the designs. We worked with nine tutors to develop teaching interventions based on recommendations arising from our earlier research.
We held monthly meetings with tutors and in addition development officers visited the tutors, working with them individually to develop and extend their practice. Weekly online reflective diaries were completed and each term an intervention plan was drawn up.