Blog Post #11:  - Meet Katherine Dore, a speech-language pathologist with When Children Succeed, a project with the Social Innovation Fund

Speaking for success

Oral-language competency key to literacy

The skills for learning to read and write start long before a child holds a book.


“Talking is foundational to literacy,” says speech-language pathologist Katherine Dore.


Children living in poverty often lack the sort of language-rich home environments and life experiences that will help them read, she says.


Katherine is part of When Children Succeed, a demonstration project that aims to show that additional resources can help close poverty’s education gap. She and 20 additional K-2 teachers have been working in schools in Saint John’s seven priority neighbourhoods.


“The risk is that they will start off behind, and the research says the gap only continues to widen,” Katherine says. “Just having a positive outlook about going to school is huge. A lot of them, had they not had that extra attention and smaller classes, it would be a different experience.”

Reading relies on recognition

When Children Succeed is a partnership between ASD-South school district, the provincial Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, Saint John’s Business Community Anti-Poverty Initiative (BCAPI) and Living SJ. It is one of eight projects receiving support from the Social Innovation Fund, a five-year, $10-million provincial investment in creative ways of combating generational poverty in Saint John. The fund is managed by Living SJ.


The children in the priority schools may come from households where the language is not stimulating or interactive. Where it’s used to instruct or discipline, rather than to engage. Children aren’t given as many opportunities to practice talking and having conversations. If a child is behind in speaking and listening, that can affect learning to read, which depends heavily on recognition.


“If you have a broad vocabulary and good knowledge of sentence structure, these are going to help you be able to make sense of what’s on the page,” Katherine says. “If they are sounding out a word that is not in their vocabulary that ‘click’ never happens.  Also, vocabulary is hugely important to comprehension.” 

“Vocabulary is hugely important to comprehension." 

- Katherine Dore

Teachers are bringing more language-enriched play experiences into their classrooms, as in this farm-based play area in a kindergarten classroom at Glen Falls Schools.

“Just like kids, parents are also going to learn by doing.” - Katherine Dore

More play-based learning 

In the fall, Katherine tested kindergarten and Grade 1 students on oral language skills in areas like grammar and vocabulary.


In several of the schools, some 40 to 50 per cent were below grade level.


“Which wasn’t a surprise, to be honest,” she says. “But when it’s on paper, it’s quite alarming to see how many kids are struggling.”


Katherine visits the schools, supporting teachers in engaging students in language activities. She also works with teachers to incorporate oral language in their play centres.


“We are seeing play being used as a learning tool more and more in classrooms, particularly in the younger grades,” Katherine says. “It’s really conducive to talking, to saying what you are seeing, doing and what you are feeling.  Not to mention it also fosters children’s social skills and negotiation with peers.”


She also does parent education, leading sessions on things like how to role-play using fairy tales or how to ask open-ended questions to spark conversation about a story.


"Just like kids, parents are also going to learn by doing,” she says. “They want to do what’s best for their children. Sometimes they just don’t know how.”


Katherine will soon retest students to gauge their progress over the past year.


Anecdotally, the indicators are good.


“From the teachers, all I hear are positive comments on how the students are talking and interacting and trying to express themselves,” she says. “They’re finding some kids who were red-flagged are not even struggling.”

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