A community approach: supporting early language and literacy

One of Dr. Noella Piquette’s current research foci is prevention of reading difficulties. The University of Lethbridge Faculty of Education professor says,“There’s trustworthy evidence setting out what it takes to teach children to read,” she says. “By following it, can we have most children reading and writing comfortably?”

Dr. Noella Piquette says that parents can help their children by conversing with them regularly and reading to them every day.

After researching together for over 10 years, Piquette and Drs. Robert Savage (McGill University) and Eileen Wood (Wilfred Laurier University) launched a five-year, cross-provincial study, following National Reading Panel and Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network recommendations.

“Instead of trying to solve issues for students already experiencing reading disabilities, we decided to start much earlier.”

Their project involves working with children from the time they’re in kindergarten until Grade 4. The study involves four Alberta schools, in which Piquette conducts regular workshops with parents and teachers together.

“We have fun, engaging activities to work with at home,” she says.

She stresses to parents that the two essential things they can do for their children’s academic success is to engage them in conversation and read to them every day.

“Our research has shown significant gains in children’s listening comprehension and enjoyment of reading,” she asserts.

In another study, Child Strength, Piquette collaborates with Dr. Robin Gibb from the U of L Department of Neuroscience, on a study involving emergent literacy and executive function.

“We’re creating activities for Coalhurst, Alberta’s Parent Link Centre to introduce to very young children,” she says.

The play-based activities include skills like thinking, sorting, and expressing emotion. Parents receive materials to continue with at home.

“After the first week parents were over the moon,” states Piquette. “They couldn’t believe the difference the activities made in children as young as two."

"We have the joy of knowing there’s already research to prove this,” adds Piquette, whose goal is to make evidence-based information available to parents in a manner they can use.

Now in its second year, Child Strength is expanding with additional activities in more communities. Piquette and Gibb plan to make their activity sets available free to daycare and early childhood centres.

As keen as Piquette’s interest is in supporting learners, she is equally committed to those who teach them. Of primary importance to her is helping educators gain knowledge, improve practice, and feel supported, encouraged and validated. She works with Foothills School Division, creating resources for new kindergarten, grades 1-3 teachers.

“A second study grew from this when kindergarten teachers wanted support learning more about inquiry and play-based learning,” she says.

“These studies all fold into each other,” Piquette states, “and the results profoundly confirm what is so necessary for children, parents, and teachers.”

For more information, visit Piquette's web page, Alberta Education or Abacadabra.