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NEWS SHEET 6. July, 1976. Part 4.
REPORT OF THE RESEARCH CONTROLLER FOR THE MEETING OF JUNE 26th, 1976.The two questions to which this report is addressed are (1) what should be the scope and size of a trial of the alphabets to be investigated and (2) what kind of finance is needed to see the trial through,
Basic Plan and Scope.
The basic plan of the trial can be seen in the accompanying table entitled "allocation of media". The reasons behind this particular plan derive from the literature following experiments with the initial teaching alphabet. Alternative plans with fewer groups taught with the medium of traditional orthography are conceivable. But they would call for a very complicated experimental design, and seem impracticable.
The design indicated allows for "absolute" differences to show if individual alphabets are superior to t.o., and then comparing the size of such differences (a relative comparison) would be the basis for deciding the relative merits of the different alphabets, although suitable statistical techniques are now widespread and would allow direct comparisons with statistical control.
For the sake of brevity, the reasons behind this plan ought not to be discussed at length in this report, since they would involve a review of the literature of criticism of previous trials with i.t.a. However, where it differs from what might be anticipated when thinking of the number of alphabets concerns the scope of the trial.
The scope of the trial must not only cover issues that might be discussed inside the society, but must allow for results that will jolt those who may be antipathetic. This is why the design must allow an initial establishment of the superiority of individual alphabets (if the superiority exists) over t.o., before the questions about the relative merits of the alphabets are addressed. There is a bonus here. There would be enough children taught with t.o. in the trial to enable any testing to establish a t.o. achievement norm that would be specific to the purpose of comparing alphabets. However standard tests need to be used as well, and the literature on i.t.a. trials facilitates choices there.
Making the school class the experimental unit, and having two alphabets (t.o. and a rival) in each school is a widely praised method of matching on incidental variables like social class and school facilities. The alphabet which showed greater superiority over t.o. than novel rivals would be "the winner".
It is very difficult to describe a trial plan without slipping into jargon, but hopefully the general idea is clear enough, and maybe the basis, which is to avoid equivocal results and stay in the realm of what is practicable.
Size of the trial. It is fairly clear from the table that the enterprise is likely to involve some eighteen or so schools. The number of alphabets is not as important as it may seem at first sight. The fewer the alphabets, the more schools would be needed to get a convincing result. With this number of alphabets three schools per alphabet should give enough data to compare alphabets as well as decide what the effect of medium of instruction is in general. The real size problem is the amount of material needed in a trial of this kind.
Problems with Drawing up a Budget.
As far as the budget goes, scope again is important.
The trial needs to be such that people outside the Society will take it very seriously. But since it must involve the cooperation of practising teachers, it must also be taken very seriously by experienced classroom teachers. Getting teachers to do some of the testing saves on personnel, and so does the use of teachers who would be teaching children to read anyway. But then to ensure their genuine involvement, the materials used must be comparable to what is generally in use, especially when the crucial variable is a change in alphabet. The big items are where materials are concerned, but I shall go through the items of a notional budget in my customary order.
Personnel. I think the Society is wise to have a University lecturer as research controller in that the project then becomes part of his "personal" research which gives access to facilities for research which Universities customarily provide. For instance, there is no need to buy computer time, and some bodies will provide finance only to institutions like universities.
However, besides taking advantage of the lecturer's obligation to engage in research, there is the consideration of the overlap of university terms with school terms.
A research assistant would cost up to £3000 a year and employee benefits are 20% of salary. The trial would have to be followed for three years, and doing without an assistant for the middle year might be possible, but there would be a loss of continuity.
Report typing and drafting report forms would require secretarial assistance at, say, £600 over three years.
Travel. According to where participants in the trial are recruited, travel could be very expensive. The figure of £600 comes to mind, with most of it being spent in the first and last years.
Equipment. There is not likely to be heavy expenditure here. Maybe a tape-recorder for recordings of children reading would be justified, but that would be uneconomical.
Materials and reproduction. The main change in the school situation since the more famous i.t.a. trials has been the enormous increase in the number of t.o. reading schemes that have become popular. There is talk of "individualised reading", which means that instead of schools having one scheme, they buy in a range, and gauge children's progress by the number of books of different levels they have read. I think this poses a great problem. Instead of transliterating popular schemes, it is necessary to consider transliterating a range of books at different levels. At the moment, I am going into the question of how widespread "individualised" approaches are on my own. Their existence means that if special materials are written for the trial, they must be in such a quantity that a school would not hesitate to use them exclusively, even though they have been used to a wide selection of t.o. books before the trial.
Reproduction must result in materials that look as attractive to teachers as what they would be using if they were not in the trial. "To teachers" means that pasting over pages in existing books is in order, since every teacher must be used to well-worn books. But results from a trial where duplicated material is used would not nowadays be taken seriously.
Some kind of printed reproduction does not rule out processes like off-set litho. Duplication could be used for some of the test materials, and for records teachers would be asked to keep, but once the trial is involved in printed materials, the order of expenditure is not increased by having more of the same.
Communication. The circulars that would recruit schools and then keep participants informed would involve considerable postage expenditure. I am sure the Society's secretary can supply a figure here.
ALLOCATION OF MEDIA IN DESIGN OF TRIAL.
(Odd numbered classes would be treatment groups; even numbered classes would serve as matched controls)
|Experimental Reception Classes
1. New Spelling 1948
|Control Reception Classes.|
2. Traditional orthography
|13. Consistent spelling
|25. Ed. Smith's script
|31. Initial teaching alphabet
1. Credentials of individual alphabets would be established, as far as the trial would go, by showing the experimental classes to be superior to the matched control classes.
2. The relative merits of successful (as above) alphabets would be assessed by comparing how much experimental classes differed from the controls. With appropriate techniques of analysis direct comparisons of alphabet groups could also be made.
3. Besides providing control of incidental variables, the number of t.o. groups allows comparisons against achievement norms calculated from people in the experiment, as well as against published norms.
Summary and Recommendations.
1. A practicable and watertight design can be conceived but it would involve some eighteen schools and assistance for the research controller to the tune of £10,000 over three years.
2. Economy of scale of expenditure on reproduction of materials is difficult to justify on research grounds. It might result in teachers who co-operate regarding what they were doing unfavourably, and much work must be done by well disposed teachers in a trial of this kind. (They would have to keep records, do testing and the like, when they would not necessarily need to outside the trial.)
3. It is difficult to gauge what preparing and reproducing materials would cost, but it must be as much as the personnel and travel costs, and other expenditures altogether.
4. Bodies outside the Society must be approached to fund the trial, but first more information on costs of materials is needed, and the likelihood of the co-operation of a sufficient number of schools.
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ELECTIONS 1976.Candidate for CHAIRMAN - George O'Halloran.
Teaching since thirties. In War-time Forces ran a voluntary school for African soldiers in Gold Coast and Sierra Leone. Experimented with literacy in phonic African languages - and gained interest in spelling reform.
Later in H.M. Colonial Service (as Education Officer i/c the Gambian Protectorate) gave to the Mandingo language its first official alphabet - is thus probably the only member of the Society who has had the real experience of developing a new alphabet through all its stages from invention, through trials, to official acceptance and use. This has been subject of a Parliamentary Report in Blue Book: Colonial Development 1947/8.
Gained business, financial and administrative experience as Managing Director in West Africa of a large American company and later with a British/Dutch company.
Joined i.t.a. Foundation as General Secretary. Responsible for top level negotiation (with UNESCO, home and overseas governments etc.). Produced English course in i.t.a. whose satisfactory working has been confirmed by the West African Examinations Council. Set up largest trial ever of teaching English as a foreign language in West Africa.
Now teaches reading in London.
Committee member of S.S.S. since 1972. Hon. Secretary since 1974 and (combined) Publications Secretary since 1975. Designed Society's new Constitution; Financial Regulations; Filing System; Letterhead. Organised and ran our first (very successful) International Conference. Responsible for Society's journals NEWS SHEET and READING & SPELLING. First put forward the idea of Prince Philip's becoming our Patron. Gained our first grant from a funding Foundation (Thomson, London, 1975). Currently engaged on production of the Proceedings of the 1975 Conference.
Has published several books, courses, articles - on topics relevant; has broadcast on radio/TV in Britain, Ireland, Germany, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Cameroons - on topics relevant to Spelling Reform.
Now wishes office where his experience may help Society to develop still unrealised potential.
ELECTIONS 1976.Candidate for CHAIRMAN - Edward Smith
(I have asked Mr Smith twice: once in my circular to all members and also in my E27 dated 14.6.76 to Mr Smith to send in an election statement in accordance with the Constitution (ELECTIONS page 7: bottom). Mr Smith has acknowledged receipt of my letter E27 but has not yet sent a statement.)
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