A pilot study of a literacy program featuring TVOKids materials and its website found the program helped children make “significantly greater gains” in key areas of early reading and writing as compared to a control group.

The children, who participated in the TVO Literacy Fun for Families program in the spring and summer of 2010, made greater gains in alphabet knowledge, early writing, and phonological awareness than a group of kids who did not have the benefit of the program, says study author Janette Pelletier, of the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

“I didn’t really expect to get the outcomes I did after such a short intervention,” says Pelletier. “So it was an encouraging finding to see that there were some significant differences between the (Family Literacy) group and the control group.”

The study, which was funded in part by a grant from TVO, aimed to design a family literacy curriculum using both TVOKids resources and curriculum from an ongoing family literacy program run by Pelletier.

Pelletier’s original program has been published as a book called Family Literacy in Action and several studies by Pelletier and others have demonstrated its value for children’s literacy development.

“The idea was to adapt our program for use with TVO materials/website and to pilot the implementation and assess its effectiveness,” says Pelletier.

Positive effects should be replicated in further study: Pelletier

The aim was to get a sense of whether a shortened family literacy program using TVO materials/website could be effective in helping parents support early literacy at home and, in turn, enhance their children’s literacy development, Pelletier says.

As this was a pilot study with limited funding and a study design with relatively small numbers of children in the comparison groups, Pelletier says the results should be treated as “suggestive.”

The positive effects should be replicated in further study, preferably with a randomized control design, she says.  She also notes that a larger sample might reveal additional benefits since the power to find effects is limited in small sample studies.

Nevertheless, several encouraging findings did emerge.

  • The TVO group made ‘significantly greater gains’ in alphabet knowledge, she says, compared to the control group.
  • In phonological awareness the TVO group made greater gains than the control group
  • in early writing (which captures letter-sound correspondence and knowledge of writing as a form of meaning making), the TVO group made ‘far greater gains,’ Pelletier says. 

Kids asked more questions about printed words after sessions

The study also showed that the parents involved in the literacy program increased the number of times per week they told stories to their children, and their children asked more questions about printed words and signs after participating in the study.

The study involved two six-session family literacy camps (1 ½ - hours to 2 1/2 - hours each session) where parents learned about early literacy development while their children participated in literacy-related activities and played TVOKids online educational games.

In terms of outcomes, Pelletier says while the overall early reading assessment did not show significant differences, there were changes in the right direction. The other two major child outcome indicators (early writing and phonological awareness) did show strong significance, she says.

“These two measures are recognized as critical pathways to later literacy achievement,” says Pelletier. “Therefore on the basis of the findings that we have with this sample size, the research design suggests that this is a promising program approach to improve children’s early literacy.”

Meanwhile, Pelletier says, no single study can be taken as the final word on effectiveness of a program. The study needs to be replicated and extended to other participants, she says.