Picture of Miguel Garcia-Salas, outside

Building Interactive Modules to Develop Children’s Reading Skills

Picture of Miguel Garcia-Salas, outside

My name is Miguel Garcia-Salas, and I am a second year PhD student in the School of Communication Science and Disorders (CSD). I am also a Florida Interdisciplinary Research Fellow in Educational Sciences through the Florida Center for Reading Research. I am broadly interested in promoting the language and literacy development of children in vulnerable communities as well as exploring innovative training methods and approaches within CSD to support the learning of both speech-pathology students and our clients alike. The opportunity to take part in the Project Enhancement Network and Incubator (PEN & Inc) program has allowed me to combine the two seemingly unrelated research lines to create a website that is designed to help vulnerable families promote language and literacy skills through shared reading modules.

While there is just about nothing more valued in our society than parents reading with their children, there are many familial differences that could challenge a parent’s ability to read with their children. Parents read with children in many ways and with various outcomes in mind. Decades of research has established many shared reading strategies and techniques to promote a child’s imagination, grow their vocabulary, develop their language skills, and prepare them to read themselves, among many others. However, many of the strategies we teach parents to help promote their children’s development make assumptions that are not true for all families. First, it assumes that parents do not have their own language and literacy challenges and that they can use shared reading resources appropriately and efficiently. Second, it assumes that the way we provide the resources and instruction to parents is accessible and allows parents to consistently use those tools in the future.

For example, consider migrant families or families experiencing homelessness, two vulnerable communities with whom I have been able to recently work with. These communities often face frequent moves, and with each move comes disruptions to a child’s education. Empowering these families with tools and strategies to help their children’s language and literacy development is important. However, often we provide shared reading support at two sides of a spectrum, with both being ineffective for these communities. On one hand, we might provide frequent, time-consuming, shared reading training at physical locations that are inaccessible and inconvenient for families. On the other hand, we might send families a one-page brochure or infographic with a brief overview of shared reading strategies, often resulting in families feeling uncertain in their abilities to use the shared reading techniques. My PEN & Inc project hopes to meet families in the middle, use creative ways to engage and instruct families in a convenient manner, and research what level of instruction is needed to produce lasting change in shared reading behaviors.

My website contains online learning modules that teach parents a shared reading strategy called dialogic reading. Dialogic reading is a shared reading strategy that promotes interaction and engagement through thoughtful prompts and focused responses to a child’s answers. The website consists of seven lessons that focus on pre-reading strategies, dialogic reading techniques, and post-reading procedures. Within each lesson is an interactive presentation, a modeled demonstration, and the opportunity for parents to record videos of themselves reading with their children. Parents will then get personalized feedback on those videos from trained shared reading coaches. 

While creating the modules by themselves was difficult enough, I have found the most challenging aspect of the design is to create the modules while also considering how I would use them in a rigorous research project. Eventually, I hope to have modules that can stand by themselves and be accessible to all families. However, I want to first ensure that they are effective, efficient, and convenient for vulnerable families. Maybe personalized coaching is unnecessary to produce lasting change? What if the presentations and models are the only methods needed? Is five coaching sessions enough? What do parents enjoy and not enjoy about the modules? These are the types of questions I hope to answer through the creation of this website and its use in a research project. 

Too often, us scholars adopt an “if we build it, they will come” mentality when it comes to connecting research-backed skills and techniques with the people they were designed to help. When we do, we ignore the systemic barriers that often prevent access to those resources. Using digital scholarship and collaborating with vulnerable communities are two ways to break down those barriers. Thanks to Sarah, Matt, and FSU library support, I feel confident that my website can bring vulnerable families shared reading support that is wanted, convenient, and efficient.