By Nelly Joye and Elisabeth Herbert (UCL)

From 1-3 November 2018, a joint iRead-CIE-LLNR&P attended the first European Literacy Network Summit in Porto. The summit marked the end of the European COST action 1401 “Strengthening Europeans’ Capabilities by Establishing the European Literacy Network (ELN)” and gathered a network of European researchers, practitioners and software developers in the field of literacy. The summit was the first such gathering for this network and featured some of the collaborative work conducted as part of this 4-year European COST action. It also featured four keynotes from US literacy researchers, and several roundtables, symposiums, app stands, paper and poster sessions from participants across the globe.

The iRead project contributed an app stand presentation (Laura Benton – UCL Knowledge Lab) and a poster (Emma Sumner, Liz Herbert – UCL Centre for Inclusive Education) to this exciting programme. Nelly Joye (LLNR&P – spelling strategies across French and English) and Rosanne Esposito (UCL Centre for Inclusive Education – sematic understanding of non-phonological dyslexic learners) also presented some of their post-graduate research in spoken paper sessions.

Laura’s talk gave an overview of the iRead project and the current app features: game feedback, comprehension and vocabulary building tools on the reader. The audience was also given a chance to try out the apps on the tablet. Reaction was very positive, and questions arose on the type of support children may need to use some of the app features presented. Her talk closed a very interesting session which also featuring the work of Ambra Fastelli, at the University of Padova, on a cognitive computer training to enhance the implicit learning of deaf children.

Emma & Liz’s poster discussed some of the challenges encountered during the iRead game design process. One key challenge of the iRead project is its lack of precedence. Criticality and a cross-disciplinarily approach were thus essential to make decisions on game design (e.g. which items to present to the child and in which order, when to move from one item to another, which feedback to provide to the player). Emma and Liz described the steps taken to make these decisions, drawing from the pedagogical literature, design literature and current practice. They also identified some of the gaps still to be filled.

The keynotes drew on past and current literacy research and gave a positive and worldwide perspective on the future of literacy research. The first keynote was given by Karen Harris, who praised collaborative work for the advancement of literacy research worldwide and called for the end of all reading and literacy wars and for more researcher-practitioner bridges. Karen Harris reflected that Vygotsky was behind every theory active in the USA and said “teachers must instruct in order for students to construct what they know”. She also stressed that contrary to opinion, oral language does not develop naturally and it is in fact a highly scaffolded process. The second keynote was given by Steve Graham. He presented some of his meta-analytic work on reading and writing interventions. He highlighted the links between reading and writing and the importance of working on these two skills together. Steve Graham stressed that the challenge now is to place equal emphasis on reading and writing and that literacy must ‘saturate’ across the curriculum especially in secondary schools.

On the final day, two keynotes shared the stage. The third keynote was given by Richard Wagner (who coined the term phonological processing) via video link and his talk focused on understanding the development of literacy in context, reflecting on some of his seminal papers on typical and atypical development of literacy. The final keynote was given by Malatesha Joshi who presented his work on the ‘Componential Model of Reading’; presenting on orthographic, dialectical and environmental influences on the reading process. All four keynotes stressed the importance of the links between reading and writing and the need for future emphasis on writing research, which has been historically less well explored.

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Other relevant talks included a symposium led by Marketa Caravolas, on a cross-language assessment tool of literacy and related skills, MABEL, already available online in six different languages (English, French, Spanish, Slovak, Czeck and Welsh) and open for further developments, as well as a symposium addressing issues and ways forward for developing more cross-language research in literacy.

John Begeny gave an interesting demonstration at the ‘practice stands’ sharing a freely available structured and time efficient intervention, HELPS ( Helping Early Literacy with Practice Strategies) for improving learners’ text reading fluency. It is interesting to see new research emerging in the area of fluency, which lags behind research on decoding (along with comprehension). Small group instruction for fluency was shown to yield positive results.  Begeny stressed the importance of making links from research to practice and the importance of getting evidence based practice into schools.

This links nicely with what iRead are trying to do; by developing evidence informed tools (apps) for supporting the development of reading accuracy, fluency and comprehension.  As Begeny suggested in his talk, fluent readers are more likely to read more and by achieving fluency, working memory capacity will be freed to access higher order skills and will impact on reading comprehension. The iRead project hopes to put effective tools in the hands of teachers.

For more information on the event and for abstracts from other talks there is an ELN app available from the App store.


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