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SickKids

Empower™ Reading and Learning Group

Problems with literacy are a major public health concern here at home and around the world. Drawing from over three decades of research with more than 6500 participating children and adolescents, the SickKids Empower™ Reading and Learning Group offers comprehensive reading intervention programs for struggling readers, and professional development for educators.

Empower™ Reading has five distinct reading intervention modules that address decoding, spelling, reading comprehension and vocabulary skills for different age groups. Comprehensive professional development is made available to all teachers who deliver the Empower™ Reading programs.

We are committed to improving standards of literacy, increasing knowledge on reading disabilities and providing accessible interventions for individuals with reading disabilities. Effective remediation for reading problems translates into better child and family health outcomes and better opportunities in the future.

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Contact Empower™

Contact the Empower™ Reading and Learning Group for more information.

Log in to Empower™ Teacher Resources

Trained Empower™ teachers who are currently teaching the program can log in to access teacher resources.

Program highlights

The Empower™ Reading and Learning Group is dedicated to bringing evidence-based literacy instruction to students with reading difficulties. The program includes instructional features shown to address reading disabilities, including:

  • Balanced and flexible teaching approaches and methodologies
  • Explicit teaching of skills and knowledge needed for decoding and comprehension of different types of text
  • Delivery of instruction at different paces to meet individual student and group needs
  • A ‘self-talk’ dialogue and an organizational structure that support students to become independent readers
  • Modelling by the teacher of how students can become an expert reader
  • Many activities to practice and solidify the skills and strategies being taught
  • Retraining of unproductive attitudes and beliefs about success and failure.

Professional development for Empower™ Reading teachers

The Empower™ Reading team provides professional development (PD) to all teachers who teach Empower™ Reading. This PD includes the key elements of effective training and coaching for teachers, as supported by research, including:

  • Full-day, interactive workshops, offered by experienced Empower™ Reading trainers that include information on reading development and disabilities and the specific instructional components of Empower™ Reading
  • In-school visits that provide support and instructional coaching
  • Email communication, website support and virtual visits
  • Long-term mentorship that continues for as long as the teacher implements the program.

The ultimate goal is to improve student outcomes (e.g., basic word identification and decoding skills, comprehension) by providing PD that enhances teachers’ knowledge and skills about reading development and reading disabilities.

For more information, please contact the Empower™ Reading and Learning Group.

Meet the team

The Empower™ Reading team is passionate about improving the literacy skills of students with reading problems. Learning to read is critical to school success, employment opportunities, family life, and physical and mental health. Literacy and global health standards are closely linked, with more literate societies having greater levels of maternal, child and family health.

Empower™ Reading is part of SickKids’ larger commitment to improving the health of all children through the integration of care, education, research, and to promoting the health and well-being of children and families by actively addressing important issues – such as illiteracy.

Maria De Palma, M.A.
Program Manager
Email: mdepalma@sickkids.ca

Karen Steinbach, M.A., C. Psych. Assoc.
Program Manager
Email: karen.steinbach@sickkids.ca

Maureen W. Lovett, Ph.D., C. Psych.
Senior Scientist Emeritus, Neurosciences and Mental Health
and Professor Emerita, Paediatrics and Medical Sciences, University of Toronto
mwl@sickkids.ca

Shannon Mack, Hon. B.A., M.A.
Administrative Coordinator
416-813-6328
Email: shannon.mack@sickkids.ca

Naomi Badger
Administrative Coordinator
416-813-6329
nbadger@sickkids.ca

Léa Lacerenza, M.Ed.
Senior Curriculum Developer
Senior Trainer and Mentor
Email: lea.lacerenza@sickkids.ca

Meredith Temple, M.A., C. Psych. Assoc.
Operations Coordinator
Lead Trainer and Mentor
Email: meredith.temple@sickkids.ca

Inga Einarson, B.A., GDip.Ed.
Trainer and Mentor
Email: inga.einarson@sickkids.ca

Susannah Peace, B.Ed.
Trainer and Mentor
Email: susannah.peace@sickkids.ca

Natalie Stacy, B.Ed.
Trainer and Mentor
Email: natalie.stacy@sickkids.ca

Edie Edwards, B.Sc., B.Ed.
Trainer and Mentor
Email: edie.edwards@sickkids.ca

Tamara McEachern, Hon. B.Sc., M.A.
Trainer and Mentor
Email: tamara.mceachern@sickkids.ca

Devi Rodgerson, M.Ed., OCT
Trainer and Mentor
Email: devi.rodgerson@sickkids.ca

Anita Van Oorschot-Settle, B.Ed.
Trainer and Mentor
Email: anita.vanoorschot-settle@sickkids.ca

Gemma Battista, B.Ed.
Mentor
Email: gemma.battista@sickkids.ca

Sue Butler, M.Ed.
Mentor
sue.butler@sickkids.ca

Nancy Carisse, B.Ed.
Mentor
Email: nancy.carisse@sickkids.ca

Janet Chalmers, B.Ed.
Mentor
Email: janet.chalmers@sickkids.ca

Elizabeth Docker, B.Ed.
Mentor
Email: elizabeth.docker@sickkids.ca

Katherine Fenton, B.Ed.
Mentor
Email: kathy.fenton@sickkids.ca

Nancy Hastings, M.Ed.
Mentor
Email: nancy.hastings@sickkids.ca

Brenda Rockburn, B.Ed.
Mentor
Email: brenda.rockburn@sickkids.ca

Judy Skochinski, B.Ed.
Mentor
Email: judy.skochinski@sickkids.ca

Vlasta Sohaj-Nichie, B.Ed.
Mentor
Email: vlasta.sohaj-nichie@sickkids.ca

Karen Stoker, B.Ed.
Mentor
Email: karen.stoker@sickkids.ca

Rosanna Temor, B.Ed.
Mentor
Email: rosanna.temor@sickkids.ca

Anne Woolner, B.Ed.
Mentor
Email: anne.woolner@sickkids.ca

Learn more about our work

The Empower™ Reading and Learning Group, formerly the Learning Disabilities Research Program (established in 1979), is a clinical and educational unit at SickKids founded by Dr. Maureen Lovett, Senior Scientist Emeritus. Our dedicated team includes teachers, psychology professionals and expert trainers who provide literacy training, coaching and mentoring to EmpowerTM Reading teachers across Canada and abroad.  More than 3500 school teachers in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec and Manitoba have been trained to teach Empower™ Reading and more than 55,000 students have received the program. In addition to growth throughout Canada, Empower™ Reading is being used in several schools in Connecticut, as part of two research studies, one conducted by Yale University and the other jointly between Haskins Laboratories and the University of Connecticut. Empower™ Reading has also undertaken outreach initiatives by partnering with the Cree School Board in Northern Quebec and the Morris Foundation and local schools in Maharashtra, India.

Read about how Empower™ was created

Dr. Lovett’s Learning Disabilities Research Program (LDRP) was the first research laboratory to conduct randomized controlled trials to evaluate the effectiveness of different interventions for reading disabilities. The team brought scientific integrity to a field that previously relied on anecdotes and opinion. Transfer and application of new learning was the focus of the team’s research and shaped the interventions developed and evaluated. Results from LDRP’s studies revealed the importance of decoding strategy instruction, motivational retraining, and promotion of a flexible approach to word identification and text reading. These results led to the development of the PHAST (Phonology and Strategy Training) Reading Programs—since updated to become Empower™ Reading. The LDRP’s research findings indicated that faster learning and better outcomes were achieved when a multidimensional intervention approach was adopted. The importance of strategic instruction and the promotion of a flexible approach to word identification and text comprehension cannot be overemphasized when it comes to achieving better literacy. These approaches also proved effective for children with different profiles. Results indicated that the Empower™ Reading programs were beneficial for young struggling readers who vary in socioeconomic status, language background, and in intellectual functioning at entry.

Evidence-based reading training studies at Yale University

Haskins Laboratories at Yale University are renowned for their history of innovative research on basic reading, speech and language development skills, as well as their associated disorders. Haskins, led by Dr. Ken Pugh, President and Director of Research, studies the brain circuitry underlying skilled reading and its typical and atypical development, with a focus on the neurobiology, behaviours and the plasticity that permits learning. In a NICHD-funded grant, Dr. Pugh and his team are conducting an intervention study to examine how evidence-based reading training modifies brain systems for cognition, language and reading during the course of instruction to improve reading outcomes in children with reading disability. Using Empower™ Reading as the intervention, school-based remediation is offered to small groups of children identified with reading disabilities. Neuroimaging is conducted throughout the course of intervention to examine which reading-relevant brain systems change from pre- to post-treatment. This is the very first study to use brain imagining to explore the mechanisms of intervention response during the course of intervention training itself.

Using Empower™ Reading in a Yale response-to-intervention genetics study

Dr. Jeff Gruen is a Professor of Paediatrics and Genetics at Yale University, and a leading scientist investigating the genetics of reading and language disorders. His work allowed identification of a transcriptional control element called READ1, and READ1 alleles both detrimental and protective for reading disability and language impairment. Dr. Gruen and his lab are conducting the New Haven Lexinome Project, a multidisciplinary study of the genetics of response-to-intervention using Empower™ Reading as the intervention. The Lexinome team is collecting academic performance assessments on two unselected first grade cohorts spanning an entire urban public-school district (New Haven) for five consecutive years. This research will enable the construction of developmental growth curves that show rate of development in individual language, reading, math, attention and executive function domains. With these curves, the research team will be able to model learning and growth with a wide array of environmental, genetic and epigenetic factors, adjusted for family and cultural history, pregnancy, medical history and socioeconomic factors. Through sophisticated modeling, and because this will yield an extraordinarily rich and deep dataset, Dr. Gruen will be able to test for multiple interactions between genetic/epigenetic factors and environmental factors, attention and executive function. Most relevant to the Empower™ Reading group at SickKids, the Lexinome team will be able to monitor progression in response to a standard school intervention (SRBI); and an enhanced reading intervention (Empower™ Reading), through direct skill growth monitoring, as well as directly in brain structure and function through non-invasive neuroimaging.

Haskins Global Literacy Hub. (2020). Resource Library: Trusted online resources for TEACHERS and EDUCATORS. Retrieved July 21, 2020

Fletcher, J. M., Lyon, G. R., Fuchs, L. S., & Barnes, M. A. (2019). Learning Disabilities: From Identification to Intervention. (2nd ed.) The Guilford Press.

McBride, C. (2019). Coping with Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, and ADHD: A Global Perspective. Routledge.

Seidenberg, M. (2017). Language at the Speed of Sight: How We Read, Why So Many Can't, and What Can Be Done About It. Basic Books.

Wolf, M. (2018). Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. Harper Collins.

Wolf, M. (2007) Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. Harper Collins

Frijters, J.C., Lovett, M.W., Sevcik, R.A., & Morris, R.D. (2013) Four methods of identifying change in the context of a multiple component reading intervention for struggling middle school readers. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 26(4), 539-563.

Lovett, M.W., Frijters, J.C., Steinbach, K.A., Wolf, M., Sevcik, R.A., & Morris, R.D. (2017). Early intervention for children at risk for reading disability: The impact of grade at intervention and individual differences on intervention outcomes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109, 889-914.

Lovett, M. W., Lacerenza, L., De Palma, M., & Frijters, J. C. (2012) Evaluating the efficacy of remediation for struggling readers in high school. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 45(2), 151-169.

Lovett, M.W., Lacerenza, L., De Palma, M., Steinbach, K.A., & Frijters, J.C. (2008) Preparing teachers to remediate reading disabilities in high school: What is needed for effective professional development? Teaching and Teacher Education, 24(4), 1083-1097.

Lovett, M.W., Lacerenza, L., & Borden, S.B. (2000) Putting struggling readers on the PHAST track: A program to integrate phonological and strategy-based remedial reading instruction and maximize outcomes. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 33(5), 458-476.

Lovett, M. W., Lacerenza, L., Steinbach, K. A., & De Palma, M. (2014) Empower™ Reading: Development and roll-out of a research-based intervention program for children with reading disabilities. Perspectives on Language and Literacy, 40, 21-31. Baltimore, MD: International Dyslexia Association.

Morris, R.D., Lovett, M.W., Wolf, M. Sevcik, R.A., Steinbach, K.A., Frijters, J.C., & Shapiro, M. (2012) Multiple-component remediation for developmental reading disabilities: IQ, socioeconomic status, and race as factors in remedial outcome. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 45(2), 99-127.

Questions? Contact us

For general inquiries, get in touch with the team at empower.reading@sickkids.ca.

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