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Why are language and literacy interventions effective? An investigation of the mechanisms behind successful educational interventions.

  • School: School of Social Sciences
  • Study mode(s): Full-time / Part-time
  • Starting: 2023
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Fully-funded


NTU's Fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme 2023

Project ID: S3 23

There is a plethora of successful educational interventions for school teachers to choose from to improve outcomes for their pupils. Traditionally, research only shows whether the interventions work or not, not why. This inter-disciplinary project (Psychology/Education) will investigate the mechanisms behind effective language and literacy programmes for school-age children. Is it the result of gains in the specific skills trained during the intervention, which in turn lead to improved test results? For example, research from the supervisors shows that a small-group reading programme improves Key Stage 1 literacy results due to gains in comprehension and decoding skills (Vousden et al., 2021). But what is it about these intermediary skills that translates to an educational outcome? Research suggests it might be due to ‘near-transfer’ effects – this is the ability to learn specific items trained during an intervention and apply this knowledge to other contexts in a similar domain. For example, Melby-Lervag et al., (2020) show that the effect of a preschool language intervention on a school-entry language test can be explained by children’s ability to define the specific words trained in the intervention. However, it may be that near-transfer effects are more likely to drive an improvement in outcome where the intervention focuses on less generalisable content such as the acquisition of vocabulary. Other interventions such as those that teach how to read and write may drive improvements in educational outcomes via intermediary abilities such as decoding, which can be applied more widely in other contexts. We propose a project whereby the student conducts a small-scale language and literacy intervention in a school setting and measures near-transfer effects and intermediary skills to determine whether both/ one play a role in mediating the link between intervention and educational outcome (such as Key Stage 1 or 2 literacy results). The resulting mediation models will allow a better understanding of the relative strength of near transfer effects and intermediary skills and will inform how interventions can be designed for optimal effectiveness in future. Students will be able to design their own intervention and corresponding measures. It would therefore suit someone with experience of working with children in a school-based context.

Supervisory Team:

Anna Cunningham

Janet Vousden

Caroline Ford

Entry qualifications

For the eligibility criteria, visit our studentship application page.

How to apply

To make an application, please visit our studentship application page.

Fees and funding

This is part of NTU's 2023 fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme.

Guidance and support

Application guidance can be found on our studentship application page.

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