Using a Proven Approach to Create a New Generation of Readers
Phonics is now firmly established as the primary method for teaching children how to read in the UK. Pearson introduced Bug Club in 2011 as a cutting-edge product to promote phonics-based reading instruction and engage primary school learners in reading. Bug Club and Phonics Bug, a phonics-focused strand of the product suite, were created in consultation with reading experts and practitioners based on a pedagogy built on the seven-year Clackmannanshire study.1 The study found that systematic synthetic phonics is an effective way to teach children to read and it subsequently provided the basis for UK government policies for teaching reading in schools.
Bug Club is used in more than 5,000 primary schools in the UK, by children aged 4 to 11. The program has been designed to engage a generation of children used to reading and playing online. It brings together more than 350 books for different reading levels, in print and online, with supplementary quizzes and games. Bug Club books are in line with the national UK curriculum and the nationally recognized Book Banding system to support progress for all learners. Bug Club also offers professional development support for teachers and support materials for parents.
1 Johnston, R. S. and Watson, J. E. (2005) A Seven Year Study of the Effects of Synthetic Phonics Teaching on Reading and Spelling Attainment, Available from http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2005/02/20688/52449
Intended outcome 1
All learners will make progress and achieve readiness for the next stage of the curriculum.
Learners using Bug Club made more progress in reading, vocabulary, and spelling compared to learners who did not use Bug Club, after 5.5 months of use.
A randomized control trial with 36 schools and 1,510 pupils determined that after almost half a year of use, Bug Club had made a highly statistically significant positive impact on pupils’ performance, as measured by an external standardized assessment. Compared to their peers who did not use the product, learners who used Bug Club were, on average, three months ahead in word decoding and spelling, and two months ahead in reading comprehension. Learners who used Bug Club were also on average one-and-a-half months ahead in picture vocabulary comprehension and one month ahead in word recognition.
The positive impact of Bug Club was similar for different groups of learners, including boys and girls, and those in schools with varying proportions of English as Additional Language learners. Furthermore, Bug Club was found to have the greatest impact on pupils’ reading progress in schools with a high proportion of disadvantaged pupils (including those receiving free school meals). The randomized control trial will span 18 months of implementation, completing in June 2016, during which two further assessments of progress will take place and more comprehensive reporting will follow.
Since its release, Bug Club has generated a wave of positive feedback from educators, many of whom consider engagement an important first step in supporting young learners’ reading attainment.
Teachers taking part in the randomized control trial were keen to stress a difference in their students’ motivation since using Bug Club.
"I think it has fired up their reading. They are enthusiastic and this will help their progress. They love doing it, it’s something entertaining, it has really fun characters."
Teacher of first year learners using Bug Club
A literacy coordinator in another school recalled the reaction when the children first saw the books.
"We could have filmed the day when we took them into the library and showed them the books. Their faces lit up, their smiles, and that’s what you want from children."
Literacy Co-ordinator at a school using Bug Club
Intended outcome 2
Learners will develop a positive attitude toward reading.
Qualitative case studies in 10 schools using Bug Club in the randomized control trial found it supported learners’ motivation to read.
Interviews with teachers, literacy coordinators, parents, and learners stressed how the quality of the program supports the engagement, persistence, and intensity needed for learners to read for enjoyment. Of 164 learners, 161 students interviewed said they like to read Bug Club books—including those who reported a dislike of reading generally. The Bug Club books were found to support motivation through use of humor, colorful illustrations, breadth of genres, and exciting content. Learners were further engaged by the online reading service, interactive quizzes, and reading games. Teachers and parents alike confirmed this was the case for reluctant readers in particular, especially boys.
Interviews with 164 children highlighted how the Bug Club stories helped grab their attention.
"I like the books because I get to guess what is happening next… makes me feel excited."
7 year-old boy, interviewed for the randomized control study
Another girl discussed with excitement a book she was reading.
"It makes me want to make my own story at home."
6 year-old girl, interviewed for the randomized control study
The online service was especially popular with the children, including the interactive quizzes.
"[It was] really, really, really exciting to see if I get it right… I know I am good at reading if I get it right… it makes me not rush and slow down so I get the questions right."
Primary school-age learner interviewed for the randomized control study
"I don’t like reading but I like the Bugs."
Another learner interviewed for the randomized control study
All 41 parents interviewed discussed how Bug Club motivated their children to read.
"He is doing it without my telling him… It’s good. I don’t have a problem to push him to do it. When he thinks he likes it, he’s doing it."
Mother of a reluctant reader
"I think he sees the book that comes home in his book bag as homework but when he can go on the iPad he wants to do it."
Mother interviewed for the randomized control study
Bug Club has ambitious plans to continue this research and further demonstrate the impact of the program on learner outcomes. For an overview of these plans, please see the Impact Evaluation Report below.
In 2013, we announced our efficacy initiative to measure the impact that our products and services have on our learners. We committed to publicly report our findings starting in 2018, and to subject those reports to external audit. We are pleased to release our preliminary reports to share the work we have done so far and what we have planned ahead. The content in these reports reflects the continued refinement of our approach; while our work continues to advance, we are proud to share transparently what we have learned. We anticipate that we will continue to further refine these reports as we approach our 2018 target.