Professor Robert Savage

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Biography and Keynote Speaker Abstract

I am a Professor and Head of the Department of Psychology and Human Development at University College London. Until recently I was William Dawson Scholar at McGill University, Montreal, Canada and have published nearly 100 research articles in international journals exploring children’s early reading and spelling strategies. I work with children who show both typical and atypical development (e.g. dyslexia). My work is partly on the basic underlying neuro-cognitive processes that are used in reading and spelling by children.

I am a school-based psychologist and classroom teacher by training, and from these applied experiences maintain an interest in making schools effective learning places for all children.  I am interested in policy questions such as how we can make schools more inclusive and classroom teaching and parenting maximally effective for children, and the design of good evidence-based programs in achieving this aim.

I am particularly interested in preventing early reading and spelling problems, often using technology. I have published over 25 reading intervention studies on 3 continents (North America, the United Kingdom and Australia). These sorts of studies are hard to do well, but are crucial and thus take up most of my professional research time these days.


Novel recent approaches to early reading intervention

In this talk, Professor Rob Savage will describe recent work exploring the effects of early intervention inspired by Response-to-Intervention (RtI) models, and using large-scale field-based experiment designs. These interventions aim to make methods for dealing with the complex and opaque nature of English more manifest to young readers. He will discuss two intervention studies. Study 1 explored whether best-practice ‘tier 2’ phonic work could be optimized using a novel phonic approach for at-risk grade 1 (year 1) children - incorporating both ‘direct mapping’ and ‘set for variability’. Significant effects of reading interventions were found on several literacy outcome measures and effects were evident at delayed post-tests. These patterns also ‘transferred’ across from English to French in children educated in a dual language context. Study 2 assessed another theory-driven approach based on the ‘Simplicity Principle’ to support word reading skills of ‘at-risk’ grade 2 (year 2) children. This intervention was also successful in improving literacy outcomes. Professor Savage will discuss results with regards to future best practice for literacy intervention at Key Stage 1.

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