A Step Up for Struggling Students

A Step Up for Struggling Students

Professor Connie S H Ho
Awardee of the Faculty KE Award 2011
(Faculty of Social Sciences)

About one in 10 students in Hong Kong's primary and secondary schools has specific learning difficulties in reading and writing, or dyslexia. But until recently, they lacked proper support in the classroom.

The situation was a concern to Professor Connie Ho of the Department of Psychology and the Education Bureau. Five years ago they joined forces, with funding from the Hong Kong Jockey Club, to set up a new network that provides assessment, training and a curriculum for struggling students.

The READ & WRITE project was launched in 2006 in around 40 kindergartens, 37 primary schools and 20 secondary schools, with the involvement of around 10 NGOs and 10 government units. It focuses on reading and writing because these are the areas where affected students have the greatest difficulty.

The project departs from the norm in language learning in Hong Kong schools to target students with the greatest needs.

"In Hong Kong the approach to reading is mainly through learning a large number of passages or texts – they don't have a systematic way to teach basic language skills. Our curriculum emphasizes that learning basic skills systematically is important for all children but especially helpful for low achievers and dyslexic children," Professor Ho says.

An evidence-based approach called "tiered intervention" has been adopted so schools can provide intervention according to students' needs.

Tier 1 aims to improve the language learning of all students through systematic language skills teaching. Those who struggle receive Tier 2 support in the form of additional small group teaching. Students who still lag behind after this or are diagnosed as dyslexic move to Tier 3, where they get individualized and intensive intervention.

The results of this approach have been impressive. Most students in Tiers 2 and 3 improved their performance on the Hong Kong benchmark tests. These tests are vital to a child's education future because they are standardized across the city, meaning they apply not only in an individual school but also in the whole educational system.

The greatest improvement was seen among primary school students, where about 25 per cent more of Tiers 2 and 3 students were able to meet the benchmark after one year's intervention.

"Students at all levels improved after school-based intervention, but the result was most encouraging for primary schools. I think this is the right time to give early intervention, when students start to formally learn to read," Professor Ho says.

The project has also helped parents to support their children through help and advice on after-school care, emotional issues and daily management of their children. District-based support networks have been established in Sham Shui Po, Tin Shui Wai and Tung Chung, and public awareness measures have helped to make the general community more aware of the needs of these children.

Professor Ho, who has steered the project, says the experience has also enriched her own teaching, making it a true example of knowledge exchange.

"In the past I didn't have many opportunities to visit schools and learn about school practice in the field. Through this project, I have gone to many schools and had meetings with many teachers, and this has helped me in teaching my educational psychology students about the real needs of students in schools. It's not good enough to just pass on book knowledge," she says.

Professor Connie S H Ho received the Faculty Knowledge Exchange Award 2011 of the Faculty of Social Sciences for the "READ & WRITE: A Jockey Club Learning Support Network" project.