Language and Math Read-Alouds in Practice: Evidence from Northern Nigeria

This post is a review of Effectiveness of Read-Aloud Instruction on Reading and Math Outcomes: Evidence from Northern Nigeria’, EPDC Research Paper No. 18-01. The authors of the report are: Wael Moussa, Emily Koester, and Olusola Alonge (April 2018). You can download the report as a PDF on EPDC’s website.

The main objective of this paper is to identify the effects of RAs…Specifically, we estimate the causal impact of RA lessons on the probability of being a non-reader, oral reading fluency, listening comprehension, missing number identification, and math word problem solving…
…the focus of this paper is on grade 2…the findings of this research are primarily applicable to grade 2. To test whether different RA types produce different results, we randomly assign 25 percent of all schools to deliver language RAs, another 25 percent to deliver math RAs, and the remaining half are assigned to the control group where no RA stories were provided. We further supplement the multi-treatment experimental design, by stratifying the impact estimate by student gender, socioeconomic status, and school type to test for heterogeneous treatment effects.
To complete the analysis…each student in the analytic dataset is tracked longitudinally and observed twice, once at the beginning of the year (at the end of term 1) and again at the end of the academic year (end of term 3). This restriction yields a final analytic sample of 2,244 grade 2 student-term observations (1,122 unique students) across 50 schools providing language RAs, 49 providing math RAs, and 92 control schools. Specifically, 1,099 students are randomly assigned to the control group, 581 to the language RA treatment group, and 564 to the math RA treatment group. (p.7-8)

In a research on the use of Read Aloud (RA) as an intervention program in language and math lessons in two Northern states in Nigeria – Zamfara and Katsina – among 2, 244 students from 199 schools: 120 public schools (60%) and 79 Integrated Qur’anic schools (IQS) (40%). According to the report (p.5), “IQS are traditional Islamic learning centers that have recently expanded to include elements of the core national curriculum (Solomon, 2015).”, it was discovered that by engaging pry 2 pupils in these settings on a weekly 35 minutes RA lessons their language and math comprehension skills were able to improve.

Overall, we find that language RA lessons are successful in lowering the percentage of non-readers by 7 percentage points…this is equivalent to increasing the percentage of students who can read at least one word by almost 11 percent. We also find that the language RA lessons have the largest effects on girls, low SES students, and public school students. (p.12)

The participants in the research were grouped according to gender, socioeconomic status (SES) and school type. These grouping was done in order to be able to measure the impacts these attributes play in the educational outcomes of the students during the RA lessons. With the language RA, it showed that girls and students in public schools and those with low SES gained most from the intervention, while with the math RA it was established that boys gained most, with the students with high SES gaining more, significantly, compared to those with low SES. Likewise, it was shown that students from public schools gained more – significantly – from the overall interventions compared to students from the Integrated Qur’anic Schools (IQS).

…RA stories are developed with special attention to the local and cultural contexts of the teaching curriculum among RANA schools…the project developed 55 different math RA stories for Primary 1, 2 and 3. Each grade features 24 stories (with some overlap in stories across grades), or 8 stories per term, each written in Hausa. (p.5)

The research was the first time that the impact of math RA would be studied among a large cohort of students in any international research on the use of math RA. Prior to the commencement of the research, a group of local writers were trained on how to write children’s books that are contextualised within the northern context and culture, as well as in line with the Nigeria’s national curriculum. The participating teachers in the research were also trained on how to make use of RA during language and math lessons to engage the learners in the learning process. The RA lessons were delivered in Hausa language, a common language to the students. This is in line with the provision of Nigeria’s National Policy on Education (p.8, 2013) that states that

the medium of instruction in the Primary School shall be the language of immediate environment for the first three years in monolingual communities. During this period English shall be taught as a subject;

Some of the challenges faced by the researchers are:

  • Inability to observe teachers’ delivery of the RA lessons
  • Inability to measure the impact of the RA beyond a year (grade 2)
  • The lack of triangulation in order to increase the reliability of the research and make its findings more applicable in other settings
…our data lack student numeracy performance prior to the treatment period…
RA lesson observation data were not collected and it is possible that language RAs and math RAs were not delivered with full fidelity…
The experiment is conducted in only one school year… (p.17-18)

A fundamental issue with the research was the inability of the researchers to observe the classroom delivery of the RA lessons by the teachers, hence, the lack of opportunity for the researchers to be able to measure the quality of the RA lessons delivered by the teachers as against the criteria to which they were trained for at the beginning of each term. Another issue that was not identified was the number of classroom teachers involved in the research and the average ratio of teacher to students. Having the two information would have served as good indicators on how to effectively and efficiently replicate the strategies used during the RA lessons in similar settings. Likewise, the teachers’ level of academic and professional qualifications and years of classroom experience were not factored in into the research. These are important factors that should be explored in a research that is heavily reliant on the teachers’ ability to deliver.

All RA stories are compiled by grade level and ordered by curriculum topic. Each story has one illustration that is large enough to be seen in a crowded classroom. Teachers are expected to teach one RA class per week (totalling 24 RA classes per year, 8 per term). Each RA class is expected to last approximately 35 minutes… (p.6)

As I read through the report I wondered if the use of audio-visual technologies like TV and DVD player in delivering the RA lessons to the students under the supervision of a trained teacher or adult could potentially yield better outcomes, bearing in mind that the books used for the RA lessons would have been recorded in animated formats and subtitled in Hausa language. Perhaps, the same videos could be produced in a second version recorded in English language and subtitled in Hausa language – I do acknowledge that this was beyond the scope of the research. Also, in the absence of the availability of audio-visual technologies due to cost or logistic issues, I wonder if the use of audio playing gadgets like MP3, CD, digital audio players or live transmission via a local radio station during the lessons would offer better returns on investment in terms of consistency and scalability for such an intervention program – once again, I acknowledge that this was beyond the scope of the project.

Furthermore, I’m of the opinion that radio might offer the opportunity to have a relayed program at other times of the day or week when the students are not in school, and with community sensitisation it might be possible to get adults involved in encouraging the children to listen to the RAs. Also, maybe spreading the RA lessons to at least two days of 17 minutes’ intervention time on each day on a weekly basis might yield better outcomes, but one would not know the efficacy of such suggestions without further trials. Also, will a direct reading intervention program like teaching reading skills or basic numeracy skills using strategies like direct instruction, reciprocal teaching or collaborative teaching lead to better outcomes, if same parameters are used and similar outcomes expected? Perhaps, if you’re a teacher and you’re reading this post, you can consider integrating RA lessons into your classroom practice and keep a diary that you’ll be willing to share with the public.

Key benefits of RAs identified in the research are:

  • boost listening comprehension
  • boost missing number identification
  • train children’s listening skills
  • help in improving math word problem solving skills
  • may influence reading skills acquisition
…these results are relevant mostly to other Sub-Saharan African countries that are mostly rural, with a high level of poverty and illiteracy among the population. (p.18)

Finally, it is important to note that the research is a landmark achievement as nothing of such magnitude has been known to have been conducted in the history of Nigeria’s educational research with respect to RAs., and also at the international level with regards to the use of math RA lessons as intervention program. Above all, most RA research findings available prior to this research have been based mainly on contexts within the west in places like US and UK. Furthermore, the outcomes from the research give hope for the use of RA as an intervention strategy in the Nigerian compulsory education sector, particularly among students from low SES, rural settings and girls in the Northern part of the country.

Although, the researchers state in many places that some of the outcomes of the research were not statistically significant, however, if one is to consider outcomes like “girls exposed to the language RAs are 13.3 percent less likely to be identified as non- readers.” (p.12) and “…the language and math RA treatment effects increase missing number identification scores by…40 percent increase among the language RA group and 34 percent among the math RA group.” (p.15) where over 10% improvements were achieved within a school year, then one is highly motivated to see the strategy as a good means of improving the language and maths skills of students, particularly those from disadvantaged background.

This post is a review of Effectiveness of Read-Aloud Instruction on Reading and Math Outcomes: Evidence from Northern Nigeria’, EPDC Research Paper No. 18-01. The authors of the report are: Wael Moussa, Emily Koester, and Olusola Alonge (April 2018). You can download the report as a PDF on EPDC’s website.

You can read more about the The Reading and Numeracy Activity project on

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