An evidence-based approach to improving literacy skills through mentoring

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Miller, S., Connolly, P. & Maguire, L.K. (2011). A Follow-Up Randomised Controlled Trial Evaluation of the Effects of Business in the Community’s Time to Read mentoring programme, Belfast: Centre for  Effective Education, Queen’s University Belfast.

Introduction: As a society we are continually concerned about and invested in improving the well-being of youth in order to foster positive developmental paths among future generations. Business in the Community, a program involving over 800 companies across the United Kingdom and Ireland strives to increase corporate businesses’ “commitment to making a positive impact on society”, and fostering stronger connections to disadvantaged communities, particularly across Northern Ireland. In this regard, one of the Business in the Community’s initiatives, Time to Read, pairs adult employee volunteers from affiliated companies with primary school children, and focuses on improving children’s reading literacy. In the current impact evaluation, researchers explored the effectiveness of participating in Time to Read on youth’s literacy skills.

Methods: Time to Read, an initiative introduced in 1999, currently serves over 1,000 children across 96 primary schools, and includes over 500 volunteers from approximately 120 companies affiliated with Business in the Community. Mentors participate in background checks and training prior to being matched with youth, and are expected to commit one hour of company time per week working with youth in Time to Read.

The current evaluation included 512 children, age 8 and 9, across 50 primary schools in Northern Ireland who were identified as “below reading ability” by their teachers during the 2009-2010 school year. After parental consent was obtained, these children were randomly assigned to either be paired with two mentors for the academic year, or not. Children and their mentors met for two 30 minute sessions per week.

Students completed measures at the beginning and end of the school year, which included:

  • Reading Skills: decoding, rate, accuracy, fluency and comprehension
  • Reading Attitudes: enjoyment of reading, reading confidence (or student’s sense of efficacy)
  • Future aspirations

Results:

  • Across diverse demographic backgrounds and varying reading abilities, children who participated in Time to Read showed improvements in decoding, reading rate and reading fluency skills.
    • Children who met more frequently with their mentors, reported enjoying reading more, and demonstrated greater improvements in reading fluency.
  • Children who participated in Time to Read also demonstrated increased aspirations for the future.

Conclusions and Implications: In this study, participation in a year-long mentoring program focusing on literacy skills was related to improvements across these skills, attitudes towards reading, and future aspirations.

This study highlights the multiple roles that mentors can take on within mentoring relationships. More specifically, while mentors in the Time to Read program were not engaging with their mentees in a tutoring capacity, and there are distinct differences between mentoring and tutoring, the mentoring relationship focused on a structured activity with concrete and measurable goals. Through collaborative activities such as reading, matches can build strong relationships and simultaneously increase youth’s emerging skills across a broad array of developmental domains.

This article was summarized by UMB doctoral student Stella Kanchewa

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