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  • Prof. Elinor Saiegh-Haddad

    Prof. Elinor Saiegh-Haddad

    Bar-Ilan University Awarded Ministry of Education Grant to Develop Language and Literacy in Preschoolers

    Date: 2018-07-24 Hour: 11:52

    Prof. Elinor Saiegh-Haddad, Chairwoman of Bar-Ilan University's Department of English Literature and Linguistics, has been awarded a three-year, one million shekel grant from the Israel Ministry of Education to design and implement an intervention program that will help five-year-old native Arabic speaking children develop language and literacy.

    This project will be the first of its kind in the world to target linguistic, metalinguistic, and metacognitive skills in helping children develop literacy. It will also be the first to focus on helping children deal with diglossia and with the linguistic distance between the spoken language variety they use in everyday speech and Standard Arabic, the language of literacy.

    Prof. Saiegh-Haddad is collaborating on the project with Prof. Rachel Schiff, of Bar-Ilan's Churgin School of Education.  They are currently formulating a series of games and activities that will assist kindergarten children in developing their linguistic, metalinguistic and metacognitive abilities.  The games and activities will be utilized by kindergarten teachers under the instruction of teacher trainers who've been trained by Saiegh-Haddad and team about their implementation.

    One hundred Arab teachers and 1,000 Arab children (a random sampling of ten children per kindergarten) from 100 kindergarten centers in the north of the country will participate in the project.  As a diglossic language that consists of distinct spoken dialects alongside one uniform standard written language, Arabic is a unique and important language to study because it can shed light on how dialect speakers develop literacy, as well as issues related to early language and literacy acquisition.

    The intervention will take place over a six-month period during the 2018-19 academic year.  Prior to and following the intervention children will be tested by performing tasks that have been developed by Saiegh-Haddad and team.  This testing will assist them in evaluating the efficacy of the intervention.  The theoretical and practical implications of this study are vast, according to Saiegh-Haddad. 

    Theoretically, it will enable educators to determine what factors predict literacy in general and literacy in a diglossic culture. "In the long-term it will shed light on how to teach, how to help children cope with linguistic differences between spoken and standard Arabic (as well as other diglossic languages), and which specific skills are more closely related to literacy development.  In the long run it will also enable us to predict which factors best predict how well Arabic-speaking children will be able to read in the elementary grades.  This information is not available anywhere in the world," she says. 

    Prof. Saiegh-Haddad is an expert in language and literacy acquisition in children – specifically in Arabic speaking children – and the impact that speaking one language variety and reading in another has on literacy development.  She has published tens of articles on the subject in leading journals in the field.  She also developed a curriculum to assist teachers in identifying reading difficulties in the beginning and throughout the first grade in order to preempt the Matthew effect, when gaps are created between stronger and poorer readers.

    Earlier this year Saiegh-Haddad and her colleague Dr. Lior Laks organized an international research workshop entitled "Multilingualism, Multi-dialectalism and Language Development" which was funded by the Israel Science Foundation.  The workshop focused on language and literacy development in multidialectal contexts such as Arabic, African American English, Modern and Cypriot Greek in Cyprus as well as in bilingual contexts. Saiegh-Haddad and Laks are now putting together an edited volume on this topic based on the papers presented at the conference.