ECV2020 Keynote Speaker 2

A better start to literacy

Gail Gillon, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand (

Biography: Professor Gillon is the Founding Director of the Child Well-being Research Institute, University of Canterbury in Christchurch New Zealand.  Prof Gillon is also the deputy director of a 10-year national program of research (A Better Start National Science Challenge) focused on ensuring children’s educational success and health wellbeing. She is an elected Fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Life Member of the New Zealand Speech-Language Therapy Association, and Member and past Chair of the International Association of Communication Sciences and Disorders (IALP) Child Language Committee.

A native New Zealander (Ngāi Tahu iwi) with a strong leadership background in education and speech language therapy, Prof Gillon is an international expert in children’s speech and phonological awareness development. She has led several successful intervention trials to support the early literacy success for all children and particularly those with speech and language impairment or those at risk for dyslexia. Her recent work focuses on culturally responses approaches to advancing young children’s literacy success.


In many countries, education inequities persist leading to long term disadvantage for subgroups of children, such as children raised in poverty or children with disabilities such as speech and language disorder. Change is often needed at a systems level to ensure more equitable education and health outcomes for these children. This webinar presents findings from theBetter Start Literacy Approach developed by our team of researchers at the University of Canterbury in collaboration with teachers and community leaders.  The approach was specifically designed from a culturally responsive and strengths-based perspective to enhance early literacy success for all children.

The Better Start Literacy Approach is multifaceted. It involves professionals such as teachers, speech-language pathologists and literacy specialists collaborating together. It involves supporting children’s parents or family members to engage with their children’s learning. It involves using novel online assessments to monitor children’s progress in response to quality teaching. It involves teachers being well supported to implement class and small group lesson plans focused on building children’s phonological awareness, letter knowledge, vocabulary, listening comprehension oral narrative skills and early reading and spelling abilities.

Over 1000 children, their teachers and families have participated in a Better Start Literacy Approach. Controlled intervention trials suggest the approach significantly accelerates children’s foundations cognitive skills that are critical for literacy success to a greater extent than usual curriculum approaches. This webinar will discuss the approach and share findings from a subset of 5-year-old children from low socio-economic communities who entered school with lower levels of oral language.

Implications for children: This presentation will talk about activities that can really help children get off to a great start with reading at school.

Implications for families: This presentation provides parents with knowledge about the important skills children need to succeed in their early reading and writing and provides a link to the Better Start Literacy Approach website that has free materials for parents to help their children read at home.

Implications for practitioners: The presentation describes a model to help bring about systemic change in early literacy approaches to help all children succeed in their early literacy. Links to the presenter’s open access online research articles and free readers designed to help children learn to read are provided in the presentation

Funding: The Better Start National Science Challenge 10-year Research programme funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment and the Foundational Learning Grant funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Education.

Key words: Early Literacy, indigenous voices, education, wellbeing, innovation, vulnerable communities, families’ voices

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: