October 4, 2022

MCPER researchers and experts in speech-language pathology from Utah State University recently published their investigation of a storytelling program for at-risk children in grades 1–4, finding that it improved the students’ oral language, written language, and reading skills.

Utah State’s Sandi Gillam and Ron Gillam, and MCPER’s Sharon Vaughn, Greg Roberts, Phil Capin, and Anna-Mari Fall, conducted the multiyear, randomized controlled trial to evaluate the Supporting Knowledge of Language and Literacy (SKILL) intervention. Sandi and Ron Gillam developed SKILL. The study, funded by a $3 million grant from the National Institute on Educational Research, was recently published in the Journal of Educational Psychology.

After screening 3,380 children from 138 classrooms in 14 schools in Northern Utah and Central Texas, the researchers randomly assigned 357 students who were at risk for language and literacy difficulties to receive the SKILL treatment or to a control group. SKILL was provided to small groups of two to four students in 36 lessons of 30 minutes each across a 3-month period.

Statistical analyses revealed that students who received the SKILL treatment significantly outperformed students in the control group on multiple tests of oral narrative comprehension and production immediately after treatment. Oral narrative production for the SKILL group remained significantly more advanced at follow-up testing 5 months later.

The study also found that improvements in oral storytelling for children who received the SKILL intervention generalized to a measure of writing immediately after intervention ended, and the treatment advantage was maintained at follow-up testing 5 months later. Further, the third- and fourth-graders who received the SKILL intervention significantly outperformed children in the control group on a standardized measure of reading comprehension.

The positive effects of the SKILL intervention for oral and written language were observed for monolingual and bilingual children, as well as for children who were and were not identified as needing special education services. The severity of children’s language, writing, and reading difficulties did not prohibit them from profiting from the relatively short intervention. The researchers found that children who received the intervention, regardless of severity, demonstrated measurable improvements in their oral and written language and reading skills.

Parents also noticed the positive effects of the SKILL curriculum. The mother of Clara, a child who participated in SKILL, said, “I watched my daughter’s reading and test scores improve, both within the program and in her regular classwork. Perhaps most importantly, as her skills grew, she grew to love reading more and more. Clara’s test scores have continued to improve in school, and my family and I attribute participation in the SKILL program as a crucial turning point for her. She is now in seventh grade and says that her favorite subjects are writing and science. As a mom, there is nothing more rewarding than watching your child gain the confidence you always knew they had inside. We just needed the right thing to bring it out.”

Clara added, “My favorite thing about [SKILL was] finally feeling like I got a chance. It helped me to know I could do hard things.”

To learn more about SKILL, visit the program’s website or contact Sandi Gillam.