Brock prof wins award for reading research


Applied developmental psychologist Jan Frijters has a powerful message for teens living with dyslexia, their parents and teachers: don't give up the struggle to read.

Applied developmental psychologist Jan Frijters has a powerful message for teens living with dyslexia, their parents and teachers: don’t give up the struggle to read.

In fact, the International Reading Association – the world’s foremost expert on literacy – is so impressed by the research behind this message that it has granted Frijters and his team its 2014 Albert J. Harris Award for their paper “Evaluating the Efficacy of Remediation for Struggling Readers in High School.”

“This award is an excellent validation of the need to move research-based interventions into the schools,” says Frijters. “It’s a validation not to write off some adolescents who many people think, ‘well, if they haven’t learned to read by now, there’s no hope for them’.”

Developmental psychologist Maureen Lovett, a colleague of Frijters, created a remedial reading program focusing on three areas — word identification strategies, knowledge of text structures, and reading comprehension strategies.

With massive support from psychological and educational colleagues at the Toronto Catholic District School Board, the research teamed rolled out the intervention to the most struggling high school students in an entire school district.

The research team worked with 268 students in mostly Grades 9 and 10 who had “very serious” reading delays, mostly due to their struggles with picking up reading skills.” Eighty-three students on the waiting list acted as the “control” group.

“When we talk about reading disability, we talk about children who are just consistently failing to meet the developmental expectations of where they should be for their age,” he says, adding that it includes slow reading, inaccurate reading or reading without understanding what is written.

Participants were assessed on reading and reading-related skills at the beginning and end of the semester, with some participants being assessed one year later.

The researchers found that students who went through the program achieved higher scores on all aspects of reading compared to students in the control group, even one year later.

Frijters says providing adolescents with reading skills has “massive implications” for their lives.

“It has implications for whether an adolescent who turns into a young adult will pick up a health information pamphlet, for example,” he says. “It has direct relations to whether or not they will be able to get a job that depends on them being able to read.”

And it’s a big challenge. In recent years, up to 15 per cent of high school students in Ontario have failed their first attempt at one or more components of the provincial literacy test, which threatens their chances of earning a secondary school diploma.

The development of this intervention is continuing under the umbrella of the Center for the Study of Adult Literacy, on which Frijters is one of five principal investigators. Collaborators at Brock University, the University of Memphis, Georgia State University and SickKids Hospital are building a hybrid reading intervention for struggling adult readers.

Frijters’ and colleagues’ paper, “Evaluating the Efficacy of Remediation for Struggling Readers in High School,” was published in the Journal of Learning Disabilities in 2012.

The Albert J. Harris award recognizes an article or monograph “that makes an outstanding contribution to the understanding of, prevention, or assessment of remediation for struggling readers in high school.”

The 53,000-member International Reading Association (IRA) is a nonprofit, global network of individuals and institutions committed to worldwide literacy. Based in the U.S., the IRA works to improve the quality of reading instruction, disseminate research and information about reading, and encourage the lifetime reading habit.

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