The Power of Children’s Learning in Their Reading

Hélène Deacon, Leadership Team - DAL

5 July 2022


Reading is central to children’s academic and life outcomes; even in elementary school, teachers expect children to be able to learn from what they read. There is abundant evidence to show that children in grades two and up can learn both the spellings and meanings of novel words through independent reading, and that this learning is related to their word reading skills. However, less is known about the abilities of younger children to learn during shared book reading and the relation of such abilities to early word reading skill. 

Our project will investigate whether children in Pre-Primary, Primary, and Grade 1 can learn the spellings and meanings of novel words during shared book reading. We are interested if the ability to learn spellings, or meanings, or both, during shared book reading is related to early word reading skill. We will also investigate the skills that may support young children’s abilities to learn during shared book reading. We suspect that these skills may include aspects of orthographic knowledge, such as print conventions and letter-pattern regularities and legalities, as well as knowledge of punctuation and sentence structure. We are also interested in young children’s home literacy experiences and how they may be related to learning during shared book reading. 

The goal of our project is to establish a developmental time course of young children’s abilities to learn during shared book reading and the skills that support this learning. If one skill develops before the other, the earlier developing skill could be used to leverage the later developing skill. A developmental timeline of these skills will be useful to informing interventions and literacy lessons to ultimately better support children to learn from what they read. Our project will also set the stage for a subsequent longitudinal study which will investigate the development of these skills over time.

This project is led by Dr. Hélène Deacon, Ensuring Full Literacy Co-Lead and Director of the Language and Literacy Lab at Dalhousie University, along with Dr. Nicole Conrad of Saint Mary’s University, Lab Manager Stef Hartlin, Postdoctoral Fellow Émilie Courteau, Graduate Students Alex Ryken and Savannah Heintzman, and Undergraduate Students Sophie Bhaskara and Marilla Hulls