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Public Lecture - Optimizing early reading interventions for at-risk children

Professor Robert Savage

11 September 2018, Macquarie University, Sydney


2.00-3.30 pm followed by light refreshments


Australian Hearing Hub
Level 1 Lecture Theatre
Macquarie University


Our work explores the strategies that can be used to best support children who are showing difficulty with developing reading skills in early primary school. We have conducted studies evaluating the effects of specific interventions that might help poor readers to improve their reading skills. English differs from other languages because the same spelling can be pronounced in different ways across different words. The complexity in the relationship between letters and sounds is one of the challenges to early reading skill development. It is thus important to understand how letter-to-sound rules (or grapheme-to-phoneme correspondences) are used by children when reading sentences and passages of text. In this presentation, we will describe a series of intervention studies carried out with grade 1 and 2 at-risk poor readers from regular classrooms in two provinces in Canada. In the first study we explore 'direct mapping' of grapheme-to-phoneme correspondences to their representations in connected texts and the teaching of 'set-for-variability' strategies which allow the matching of a spelling pronunciation against a stored word in 199 at-risk poor readers in grade 1. In the second study, of children in grade 2, we explore applications of an approach to reading instruction that seeks the simplest interventions (known as the Simplicity Principle), which taught 94 below average early readers the most beneficial/common letter-to-sound relationships. Both reading intervention studies found measurable improvements in standardised reading tests for the at-risk students. Implications of findings and further programmatic studies are discussed.


Robert Savage is Head of Psychology and Human Development at University College London, UK. He holds degrees from Oxford, Cambridge and London and worked for 15 years in Montreal, Canada. He has published over 100 research articles exploring children’s early reading and spelling strategies, and works with children who show both typical and atypical development (e.g. dyslexia). His work is partly on the basic underlying neuro-cognitive processes that are used in reading and spelling by children. Robert is a school-based educational psychologist and classroom teacher by training, and from these applied experiences is enthusiastic about making schools effective learning places for all children. He is interested in policy questions such as how we can make schools more inclusive, classroom teaching and parenting maximally effective for children, and the design of good evidence-based programs in achieving this aim. He has published over 25 reading interventions. Quality interventions are crucial to evidence-based practice. Robert is also interested in technologies for literacy and in aspects of bilingualism having worked in bilingual school contexts. He is passionate about preventing early reading and spelling problems where a part of the answer maybe the use of high quality digital media and other technology. He has for 15 years with colleagues co-led the design, development and trial to international scale of a major tool for literacy teaching - ABRACADABRA.



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