Providing tools for preventing children’s difficulties in school

Vasiliki Diamanti's ultimate motivation in her research is to share the knowledge with the educators and clinicians and provide them with valid tools for preventing and remediating children’s difficulties with learning to read and write.

Vasiliki Diamanti, Associate Professor  at the Departement of Special Needs Education, UiO (Photo: Shane Colvin, UiO)

Vasiliki Diamanti came from Greece to work at the Department of Special Needs in august 2016. Curious about her reserach journey - with a PhD from the University College in London, and a Research fellowship from the University of Crete - we asked her about what her reserach field is, what she is working with now and what motivates her.

Children’s language development, literacy acquisition, and dyslexia

— My research experience includes children’s language development, literacy acquisition, and dyslexia in different orthographies.  As a PhD candidate at University College London I conducted a cross-linguistic study on dyslexia comparing the academic and cognitive performance of English-speaking and Greek-speaking elementary-school children. I also studied the spelling difficulties related to morphological knowledge of Greek words both in typical development and in the case of children with dyslexia. In a third study I documented the longitudinal progression of phonological, reading, and spelling skills of Greek elementary-school children with dyslexia and two control groups of typically developing readers.

— Later on, as a research fellow at the University of Crete, I studied the development of morphological awareness skills of Greek preschool and first grade children, as well as the morphological and phonological awareness skills of preschool children as longitudinal predictors of reading and spelling ability at the end of first grade, controlling for the effects of receptive and expressive vocabulary skills.

Development of numeracy and literacy

— I am currently involved in a collaborative research project, called NumLit (Development of Numeracy and Literacy in Children) running at the Department of Special Needs Education. It is a large-scale longitudinal study following children from kindergarten through primary and secondary school. Our goal is to identify the foundation linguistic and cognitive skills that predict children’s later numeracy and literacy ability. I am particularly interested in

  • development of children’s morphological awareness skills in Norwegian (i.e., their ability to analyze words into smaller meaning-bearing parts, as well as their ability to synthesize words from these smaller units)
  • how these skills contribute to typical literacy and numeracy development
  • their role in the context of risk factors for poor development.

— The answers to our research questions will be informative for practitioners in the fields of education, special needs education and school psychology, regarding which skills are important to screen children on before the onset of formal literacy and numeracy instruction in order to find those ones who are at risk for later learning difficulties. Our findings can also be informative about the context of interventional programmes for the prevention of these difficulties.

— Sharing new knowledge with educators is motivating

— Since my undergraduate studies I was highly interested in understanding how children develop their literacy skills and which are the behavioral manifestations of reading and spelling difficulties. That was the starting point of pursuing an academic career.

— My motivation is to contribute to our knowledge about the skills and processes related to literacy development and difficulties across orthographies and age groups.  Ultimately my motivation is to share the knowledge with the educators and clinicians and provide them with valid tools for preventing and remediating children’s difficulties with learning to read and write.

Findings give inspiration

— Typically one’s research findings lead them to the next study that they would like to do. Apart from that, my research ideas stem from reading the published work of fellow researchers and also from peer discussions at conferences and seminars. I would say a combination of the above is for me the most inspirational path for coming across research ideas.

Reliable morphological awareness tasks are the challenge

— In my field of research it has been widely shown that the skills of phonological and morphological awareness contribute significantly to the development of children’s reading ability and that this contribution is shared among the two skills. We can interpret this finding not only in terms of any shared content between tasks, but also in terms of the extent to which these tasks measure a more general metalinguistic skill that is important for learning to read. The challenge, therefore, is to create highly reliable morphological awareness tasks that can be used to define well a morphological awareness construct and pick up all the independent contribution to reading development.

— Speaking of tests, I should also refer to the wider challenge of developing materials in Norwegian for assessing children’s reading, spelling and language and cognitive skills due to the lack of a comprehensive database with information on word frequencies and psycholinguistic properties of words and morphemes etc. Such information is necessary for applying systematic selection criteria when developing new tasks and tests. A group of us at ISP have started the process of creating such a tool to help us with our future studies.


By Andrey Belovodskiy & Marika Vartun
Published June 4, 2018 9:53 AM