Designing the study

This study is part of a broader programme of research titled ‘Promoting Language Development by Shared Reading’, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), led by the University of Liverpool from 2015 to 2018. The project as a whole sought to explore the impact of shared reading on children’s language development including the identification of language boosting behaviours used by parents in shared reading and an exploration of how these behaviours impact children’s language development. Some of these studies took the form of a reading intervention. Findings from these studies can be found in it-is-not-easy-nor-simple-nor-cheap-to-improve-children-s-early-language-skills/. While the study reported in this book benefitted from being part of this larger project, it was a discrete study in its own right, collecting qualitative data in order to answer specific questions about the motivators and barriers to shared reading activity in homes.

Twenty-nine families were recruited to take part in this study; participants were recruited from two different cities in the north of England - we have called these cities Dalton and Barnwell. While both cities experienced decline in their local industries in the 1970s and 1980s, these cities have also experienced a degree of regeneration in recent decades. That said, both cities have high levels of deprivation, with Barnwell ranking more highly than Dalton in the Index of Multiple Deprivation. It should be noted that no attempt was made to draw any comparisons between participants from the two cities; the decision to recruit from two cities was simply to secure a wider sample base.

Participants in Dalton were recruited through a variety of strategies, including the distribution of a flyer to parents of nursery children at five schools. Additionally, face-to-face recruitment took place in playgroups, health visitor drop-in sessions and children’s centres, in both low and mixed-income areas. A member of the research team attended these sessions and, with the permission of the setting, spoke to potential participants about the research. Only participants who had a child who had not yet started school were recruited. The participants’ children were all aged 3 and 4 years, with the exception of three children who were 35 months, 31 months and 21 months.

Participants in Barnwell were all attending reading sessions as part of the wider project, as discussed above. These parents had already volunteered to be involved in the broader research project, which involved questionnaire completion and an agreement to be filmed reading with their child. Parents were given information about the wider study and were asked if they would be interested in being interviewed about reading in their homes for a separate study (and the study that is the focus of this book). Potential participants provided their contact details and gave permission for a member of our research team to contact them. A week later, they were contacted by a researcher to discuss participation in the project. Although we initially made phone calls, we found text messages to be the most convenient means of doing this and were largely preferred by the participants. The participants’ children were all aged 3-4 years.

Given that the participants in Barnwell were recruited through a different path from those in Dalton, and were already involved in an intervention study, this naturally had an impact on the research. All participants were made aware that our interest was in understanding shared reading practices, however as discussed in detail above, we felt it was imperative that we design interviews that allowed parents to talk firstly about their everyday lives, and then discuss the ways in which shared reading did, or did not fit within this. In reality, we found that this was more difficult to achieve with participants from Barnwell than Dalton. Because these participants were already involved in a reading intervention, they were more focused on reading than participants in Dalton; for example, these participants were more likely to talk about reading at an early point in the interview than those from Dalton. However, this was something that we had pre-empted, so we made sure that we spoke to participants from Barnwell specifically about the aims of the research and emphasised our concern to understand their everyday routines, activities and family practices.

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