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ABRACADABRA helps autistic children read

Researchers from the University of Sydney find major benefits to Concordia-developed child literacy software
August 22, 2016
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By Luke Quin

ABRACADABRA, a free children’s literacy software developed by researchers at Concordia’s Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance (CSLP), has received another validation of its impact — this time for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia, featured more than 20 children with ASD and revealed statistically significant gains in reading accuracy and comprehension, with large effect sizes.

“We were ecstatic to see the article and the results,” says Phil Abrami, professor in Concordia’s Department of Education and director of the CSLP.

Abrami and his colleagues first developed ABRACADABRA in 2002 to support literacy among children from kindergarten to Grade 2 and sometimes beyond. Since then, it has gone through a number of refinements and become an indispensable resource for teachers, parents and children in Montreal, across Canada and abroad.

ABRACADABRA The early literacy tool ABRACADABRA has been proven very effective in improving young children’s reading skills.

Today, tens of thousands of young students have made strides with the help of ABRACADABRA.

While there are now well over a dozen research articles that examine the benefits of ABRACADABRA, this latest is particularly significant for several reasons.

Firstly, it was conducted without the involvement of Abrami or other champions of ABRACADABRA. Third-party assessments of interventional tools are increasingly important in the scientific community because they demonstrate that there is no possibility the creators influenced the results. Secondly, the study appears in one of the most respected publications in the field, the Journal of Educational Psychology.

Lastly, the University of Sydney study is the first to analyze the effects of ABRACADABRA on children with special needs.

“We have worked with special needs kids in the past but never had a chance to document the results,” says Abrami. “It’s what we hoped for but this is the first real demonstration. The large magnitude of the effects are very encouraging.”

The magic of ABRACADABRA

Learning to read isn’t easy. Many young learners face big hurdles to gain basic literacy. The benefits of computer-based instruction offer hope.

ABRACADABRA is fun and interactive. The program earned a Design and Development Division Outstanding Practice Award in 2010 from the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, and an Award of Merit in 2011 from the Canadian Network of Innovation in Education. And in a recent evaluation of early literacy software, ABRACADABRA was rated highest.

A French adaptation of the software — produced in collaboration with researchers at Université du Québec à Montréal — was launched in 2015 to benefit all Québec French school boards.

ABRACADABRA and all its digital support materials are available without charge to educators world-wide. ABRACADABRA is one of several bilingual tools that comprise the Learning Toolkit. The other tools include: an early numeracy tool, ELM; an inquiry skills tool, IS21; and a process portfolio tool, ePEARL.

In addition, working with Queen’s University the CSLP has developed a suite of tools for music education.

Key to ABRACADABRA’s success is that it works in conjunction with educators and parents rather than attempting to replace the teacher. On this point, Abrami is resolute.

“Too many people think that the technology is the magic bullet. In fact, it is the pedagogy that is the magic bullet. That’s why we spend so much of our efforts on training teachers to use the software,” he says.

“Technology doesn’t do the teaching, the teachers do the teaching, supported with the technology.”

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