Facilitating emotional well-being and positive behaviours in children with literacy learning difficulties

Professor John Everatt
University of Canterbury

In 2017, Cure Kids collaborated on a joint, contestable funding round with The National Science Challenge, A Better Start. The aim of the partnership was to fund high-quality, mission-led research focused on child and youth well-being, specifically in the areas of childhood obesity, early literacy and learning, mental health problems, and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In July, 2017, ten projects were funded across the four specific areas.

What is the problem and who does it affect?

Many children experience reading difficulties which contribute to poor achievement at school and restricted job opportunities in the future. They can also precipitate further health and societal concerns, including emotional/mental health problems, school exclusions and greater rates of incarcerations. These issues also affect different populations disproportionately with higher rates of reading difficulties experienced by Maori, Pasifika and children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

There are key periods in a child’s schooling where effective and timely interventions can result in manifest benefits. Likewise, if interventions are not implemented early enough, behavioural and emotional issues are often too entrenched, making interventions far less effective.


What does this project hope to achieve?

Professor John Everatt, from the University of Canterbury, is leading a team investigating the extent to which culturally responsive and research-informed interventions can improve literacy in young readers, and whether this will be associated with children having more positive concepts of themselves while cultivating increased resilience.

Prof Everatt plans to recruit 40 children – aged 9-10 – with known literacy difficulties and/or identified dyslexia. The sample will include at least a 50 per cent representation of Maori and Pasifika children, given the weight of this issue falls disproportionately on these populations.

Children will be measured at baseline for, among other parameters, comprehension and vocabulary. They will then undergo a comprehensive intervention for a total of 40 hours over a 4-month period. The study will include measures of word reading and underlying skills of phonological processing. Teachers will complete questionnaires to assess the level of negative behaviours among children, while key members of whanau will be involved to encourage their children to engage in positive learning activities outside of school.

The intervention work will also aim to foster greater resilience in these children to ensure that they’ll be more prepared – more resilient – when faced with future difficulties beyond the period of the intervention.

Sufficient literacy is often something taken for granted, while, what often goes unseen is the associated adverse health and societal effects of not achieving in such a key skill. Children deserve the greatest opportunity to thrive and flourish at school, and this will be greatly bolstered by reducing the prevalence of reading difficulties.