Pathways to Literacy

Darrell Cole
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Mt. A. program taking look at reading skills

SACKVILLE - Children from Amherst and Springhill may be participating in a Mount Allison University study to enhance literacy levels in young students.

SACKVILLE - Children from Amherst and Springhill may be participating in a Mount Allison University study to enhance literacy levels in young students.

Mount Allison psychology professor Dr. Gene Ouellette is the recipient of a research grant from the Canadian Council on Learning. His study is part of a larger research program called Pathways to Literacy being conducted by his Language and Literacy Learning Lab.

The grant will enable Dr. Ouellette, together with Carleton University psychology professor, Dr. Monique Senechal, to evaluate a novel approach to teaching literacy skills in kindergarten in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Ontario.

"This is especially important when you consider that individual differences in children's literacy skills are established in the early years and tend to remain stable over time, Dr. Ouellette said. That is, children who show weak literacy skills in kindergarten are more likely to become poor readers by the end of Grade 1. Moreover, poor readers read less than good readers and over time this contributes to even greater differences between skilled and less-skilled readers. Most important, research clearly identifies that literacy skills in the early years predict later academic success.

Dr. Ouellette's and Dr. Senechal's research will evaluate an experimental approach to developing and supporting beginning literacy skills in kindergarten.

Participating children will first be assessed by researchers in their school setting on a number of areas related to early literacy. Some children will then be seen in small groups and taught to use their growing knowledge of the alphabet to actually start spelling words.

This experimental program, developed by Dr. Ouellette, draws upon how many young children attempt to spell words before they can even read. These attempts are called invented spelling. While the attempts do not resemble conventional spelling they do capture the sound structure of oral language. Current research data suggest that inventive spelling can be used as a teaching tool to help children learn the "code" that is written language, while encouraging self-directed and exploratory learning. Dr. Ouellette's team plans to study participants' ability and use of invented spelling as it relates to their growing literacy skills during this important development year. This research program is slated to run in the upcoming 2007/2008 academic year.

In addition to the focus on kindergarten children, the Language and Literacy Learning Lab is currently conducting research that explores how children develop reading comprehension skills from grades 1 through 6. The lab is also involved in examining the factors that account for differences in skilled readers at the university level.

Organizations: Language and Literacy Learning Lab, Mount Allison University, Canadian Council on Learning Carleton University

Geographic location: Amherst, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia Ontario

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