As the Ensuring Full Literacy team reaches the mid-point of their Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Partnership Grant, the next phase leans toward knowledge mobilization and sharing key research findings with the public.
Ensuring Full Literacy in a Multicultural and Digital World is a team made up of almost 150 Canadian and international scholars as well as industry, community and outreach partners who are working 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. Through a collaborative approach, industry and outreach partners co-create research-agendas 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.
The ultimate goal of the project is to generate the scientific knowledge necessary to ensure full literacy; the deep text comprehension needed to succeed in our rapidly-evolving knowledge economy.
The project is separated into six main themes: Literacy, Oral Language, Computational Modeling, Neuroimaging, Language Background & Culture, and Technology & New Media, and within these themes, team members use cutting-edge methodological approaches including digital media, neuroimaging and computational analysis. Dr. Janet Werker, Project Director and Co-Lead of Oral Language theme, explained that this grant uniquely focuses on how researchers can work with industry and community partners to better disseminate their research findings with the broad public through a collaborative approach.
“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.”
Something critical to note about research relating to literacy and reading, is that researchers are now recognizing that readers are constantly changing. No longer are readers seen as monolingual individuals who are coming from a single culture, who are all English learners. The research in this grant is recognizing individuals from multilingual and multicultural backgrounds, who bring different knowledge and culture to language systems.
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. Since then, postdoctoral fellows and other trainees have been supporting CCLF by gathering up-to-date evidence based-research on literacy-related topics. This information is then shared amongst healthcare providers and caregivers.
“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,” said Nina Jobanputra Shukla, Director of the Early Words Program at CCLF. “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.”
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.”
Dr. Hélène Deacon, Co-Lead of the grant’s Literacy theme, conducts research relating to how children learn to read, specifically how they use their oral language skills to support the transition to skilled reading. She shared that working on this grant in such a collaborative manner has impacted her research approaches in very positive ways.
“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,” said Deacon. “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.”
Deacon also stressed the high-caliber of researchers and scholars involved in the grant, and all the endless potential for collaboration.
“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.
Nympha Fontanilla, Project Coordinator for Ensuring Full Literacy, shared that one of the additional goals for the grant is to involve trainees in the project.
“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.”
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. Maryn Ashdown, Director of Neighbourhood and Youth Services at the VPL, is actively working with Dr. Janet Werker to see how Ensuring Full Literacy can support the goals of the VPL.
“We are really excited about the possibilities of the intersection of literacy that both of us are working on,” said Ashdown. “A lot of Dr. Werker’s work is not just about print literacy, but also around the other many kinds of literacies that people, and especially children, need to develop as they grow in order to be full participants in society, and that is exactly the library’s mandate.”
Ashdown further explained that being involved in the research and knowledge trajectory makes the work being developed so much more impactful, and allows it to reach broader community groups.
“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,” said Ashdown.
As the team moves forward into these next phases of the grant, and the focus is on sharing research findings and knowledge mobilization, 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.”
To learn more about Ensuring Full Literacy in a Multicultural and Digital World, click here.
Written by Kelsea Franzke