Ensuring Full Literacy Mid-Point and Annual Meeting Update

After another very successful annual meeting, the Ensuring Full Literacy (EFL) team, a multidisciplinary and multi-institutional group formed by a shared Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Partnership Grant, is reaching their mid-point with exciting research and initiatives unfolding. 

Who is EFL?

EFL is a team of almost 150 scholars, industry, community, and outreach partners who work together to bridge the many dimensions of literacy acquisition in our multicultural and digitally-connected world. The partnership spans 16 universities and colleges across Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Europe and is separated into six main themes:

  • Literacy
  • Oral Language
  • Computational Modeling
  • Neuroimaging
  • Language Background & Culture
  • Technology & New Media

Through a collaborative approach, industry and outreach partners bridge the chasm between inquiry and application by working directly with researchers to generate informed hypotheses and design targeted studies that evaluate how characteristics of the reader and the medium interact to shape literacy outcomes. This includes generating knowledge on how spoken language can be most effectively taught, learned, and used to support reading, as well as when and how the incorporation of technology can facilitate language acquisition and reading comprehension.

Unlocking New Horizons: The Transformative Power of Cross-National Collaborations in Research and Industry

A partnership grant offers benefits like no other. Distinguished researchers such as Dr. Janet Werker, Project Director and Co-Lead of Oral Language theme, and Dr. Hélène Deacon, Co-Lead of the grant’s Literacy theme, share how in a harmonious symphony of intellect and innovation, cross-national collaborations between research institutions and industry partners open the horizons for new frameworks of thinking.

“The value [this grant] is bringing is the collaboration piece. It’s brought together top-notch international experts, with the majority of us being Canadians. We’re experts in reading, oral language, computational modelling and so much more, and by weaving our expertise together, people are able to do, and are already doing, some really amazing stuff,” said Deacon. “I’ve been doing this type of work for two decades, and I thought I knew exactly what I was doing and exactly how to do it, but it’s fabulous to have people show me some new ways of doing things and really working collaboratively so that we’re really learning from each other, and we’re learning really new things”.

“This work is so important because we know statistically that spoken language acquisition is the best predictor of success in learning to read, but up until this grant, most of the research on spoken language acquisition and on literacy has been done by different groups of people who meet together with themselves, but not with other groups,” said Werker. “The variables, the experiences and the mechanisms that actually link spoken language acquisition have not really been looked at from the lens of what different researchers can bring based on their varied expertise, and how we can modify questions or ask complimentary questions to further research. That’s what makes this grant so powerful.”

Cultivating Future Scholars

The team’s focus also extends to inspiring a future generation that carries the torch of innovation forward. Nympha Fontanilla, EFL Project Coordinator, underscores the team’s profound commitment to sculpting the next generation of scholars. By fostering a collaborative ethos, the project aspires to channel diverse perspectives through curated exchange opportunities where next-generation scholars can become catalysts of innovation, equipped with a more nuanced understanding and global outlook. 

“We have trainees and next-generation scholars who range from students completing their undergraduate degrees, to postdoctoral fellows that work with researchers in their labs, and directly with community and industry partners,” said Fontanilla. “This grant allows for so many opportunities for our trainees to get experience presenting new projects, or get feedback on research they’ve started from leading-experts in their fields.”

The Canadian Children’s Literacy Foundation (CCLF), a national charitable organization dedicated to ensuring that all children in Canada have the literacy skills they need to reach their full potential, has been partnering with the grant since 2020. Nina Jobanputra Shukla, Director of CCLF’s Early Words program emphasizes trainee’s involvement in advancing their community programs.

“We’ve been working on several projects through the grant, the primary one being with Mitacs. Postdoctoral students have been supporting us in gathering up-to-date evidence-based research on common topics relating to literacy,” said Jobanputra Shukla. “When we’re providing training to healthcare providers and other professionals, we want to ensure that the information we’re providing them is based on the most recent research and evidence. We take the information that the researchers provide, distill it into knowledge translation tools like tip sheets, and incorporate it into our training. In doing so, we’re providing parents and healthcare professionals with information that is relevant, up to date and easily accessible. All of our work is informed by best-in-class research and evidence, thanks to partnerships with UBC and Dalhousie. We love seeing the research provided by the grant being applied in the community.”

The EFL’s team’s endeavors are an echo of a future where the boundaries of literacy research are pushed beyond the horizon, ignited by the sparks of collaborative innovation.

The EFL 3rd Annual Meeting

Earlier this summer, the group held a highly successful annual meeting in Vancouver, BC where members from across Canada and beyond came together to share emerging and ground-breaking research, sparking discussions regarding the trajectory of the field.

The meeting featured presentations from Dr. Hélène Deacon (Dalhousie University), Dr. Becky Xi Chen (University of Toronto), Dr. Xiuhong Tong (Education University of Hong Kong), Dr. Guofang Li and Dr. Henny Yeung (University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University), Dr. Brea Chouinard (University of Alberta), Dr. Carla Hudson Kam (University of British Columbia), Spencer von der Ohe (University of Alberta), Dr. Muhammad Abdul-Mageed (University of British Columbia), with a keynote presentation from Dr. Ioulia Kovelman (University of Michigan) on, ‘The Reading Brain: Bilingual Learners’. 

Various community partners also provided updates, including CCLF, Vancouver Public Library, Decoda Literacy Solutions Society, and NIRx. A poster session highlighting research from grant trainees was also held.

“What truly happened was the coming together of minds, really diving into the projects that were presented, and hearing constructive, but strong critiques of one another’s work, and trying to ensure that we get the best practices from each discipline in that collaboration,” said Werker, the Project Director.

Dr. Hélène Deacon expressed how impressed she was with the caliber of research shared at the annual meeting, and how the collaborative approach is helping to shift perspectives.

“Some of the work that’s being done is really pretty revolutionary in a Canadian context,” said Deacon. “For example, computational modeling has been going ahead quite separately from reading research and quite separately from research on oral language. So, bringing in that methodological expertise from computational modelling has actually shifted the kinds of questions we ask. I hadn’t anticipated at the beginning of the grant, but there are some really new ideas coming out in a way that is really exciting.”

Ariel Siller, CEO of CCLF, explained the importance of ensuring public messaging is framed in an accessible and culturally relevant way.

“To ensure we’re reaching multilingual communities, we’ve engaged in community consultations with people from many different language community groups. Based on these consultations, we’ve then created literacy resources in several languages, which has been incredibly exciting,” said Siller. “And we aren’t just translating the words into different languages, we’re working with community members to ensure the messaging is framed in a culturally relevant way. Next, we are hoping to use this information to create videos in various languages so that we can disseminate the information in multiple modalities.”

Maryn Ashdown, Director of Neighbourhood and Youth Services at the Vancouver Public Library, was one of the community partners present at the Annual Meeting. With knowledge mobilization being at the forefront of the grant through these next phases, partnerships with organizations like the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) are critical.

“We see this opportunity as having access to specialists who really generate knowledge, and who can help us improve our programs. The eventual outcome that we’re looking for is to better literacy for all of the families and children who attend our programs,” said Ashdown. “We had a conversation not too long ago about the potential to try and take some of the learning that is being generated in the grant’s project, and then translate it into action that library staff could take when developing and delivering literacy programs that other libraries could also potentially leverage, and also share with other practitioners such as educators and the early-learning community,”

With the Ensuring Full Literacy team dispersed across Canada and internationally, opportunities to bring everyone together are few and far between, making the stakes of each annual meeting higher than the last, with the insights and takeaways growing bigger each year.

“Getting to be in-person with the full team and our partners is just electrifying,” said Fontanilla. “The excitement and electricity fostered at the Annual Meeting carries through the rest of the year and just gives momentum to the project. This Annual Meeting has already resulted in so many initiatives, which ultimately turns into outputs that we can share with our knowledge mobilization partners, with the ultimate goal being that we’re contributing something positive to society.”

Unveiling a Path of Knowledge Translation and Dissemination

As the team heads into their mid-point of the partnership grant, a renewed commitment emerges – that of magnifying the spotlight of their collaborative research triumphs and extending the ripple effect to encompass the wider community. Oftentimes, educators, caregivers, and related collectives encounter barriers to accessing up-to-date research insights. In an effort to increase the efficacy of literacy programs and initiatives, the EFL project is emphasizing their commitment to not only foster new alliances, but to ensure the outcomes of such collaborations reach all those vested in the realm of literacy advancement. 

Fontanilla reminds us that the ultimate goal for the project is ensuring that the information is accessible to as many people as possible.

“Right now, we’re in a big push for knowledge mobilization and we want to ensure the research is translated in a way that’s accessible to more people,” said Fontanilla. “That’s what we’re focusing on for these next few years, and we’ll be working on deepening our relationships with our community and outreach partners in order to do so.”