McGill and Tribal Nova partner for literacy research

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Researchers from McGill’s School of Communication Sciences and Disorders have conducted research toward developing a prototype iPad application which focuses on interactive and participatory reading for children. The app was produced in partnership with Tribal Nova, a designer of online content for children, and Harper Collins publishers. It should be ready for testing in the spring.

The research was conducted by Dr. Susan Rvachew, associate professor at the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders at McGill, and her research lab. Tribal Nova approached Rvachew’s lab to develop e-books with interactive elements for parents because of Rvachew’s experience in teaching parents shared reading techniques.  

Shared reading is a collaborative reading approach in which a child reads with an experienced reader, usually aloud. The books contain animations designed to elicit responses from the children, so that parents can use the books as platforms for teaching language and literacy. This has been shown to be beneficial for the development of children’s literacy skills.  

The research was conducted in two randomized controlled trials with children at risk for delayed acquisition of literacy skills.  Parents were taught to use shared reading techniques with the goal of facilitating vocabulary learning and emergent literacy skills.  

“In these studies, it took many hours to teach the parents to use the techniques. We are hoping that the iREAD with books to be implemented on the iPad will encourage parents to use these techniques without having to learn the techniques in special classes,” Rvachew said.  

Research has shown literacy skills to be very important for children’s development in the long term, and that adequate language skills when entering school are crucial for academic and vocational success. Research conducted in Ottawa by Dr. E.B. Beitchman and colleagues found that children who start school with a language impairment are five times more likely to have a reading disability in grade three, two times more likely to have attention deficit disorder at age 12, and two times more likely to have been arrested at age 19, compared to children who have adequate language skills at school entry. 

As a speech-language pathologist, Rvachew aims to improve language skills in preschoolers.  

“We hope that new digital technologies might help families provide the best language inputs to their kids, so that they have the best chance to succeed at school,” she said. 


–Nathaniel Finestone