Spelling success: Dr. Nicole Conrad wins $92,000 funding for literacy research

Psychology researcher Dr. Nicole Conrad

Psychology researcher Dr. Nicole Conrad

Dr. Nicole Conrad has won an Insight Grant worth $92,000 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

Dr. Conrad’s grant will be used to pursue research on the role of spelling on the development of reading skills in elementary school children.

 Titled Spelling matters too! The role of spelling practice on the development of reading skill, the project will focus on three complementary areas on study:

  • An examination of how spelling practice facilitates efficient and automatic word reading, which is necessary for comprehension;

  • Addressing theoretical predictions about how spelling practice benefits reading comprehension by comparing longitudinal theoretical models predicting whether spelling contributes to reading comprehension;

  • Comparing the effects of reading and spelling practice on comprehension of texts containing practiced words.

Dr. Conrad and her undergraduate students will perform their next study in Nova Scotia schools. The project involves administering reading and spelling tests to establish a benchmark, and then teaching words with certain orthographic patterns to early readers.

The researchers will then retest the children to study what effect learning about the patterns of letters used to represent words in print has on the children’s spelling and comprehension. 

“With increased knowledge of how spelling processes benefit reading outcomes, we can develop cohesive theories of literacy acquisition,” said Dr. Conrad, a cognitive psychologist. “More importantly, this research will provide insight into the best instructional practices for spelling, information clearly identified as needed by Canadian teachers.”

 “Professor Conrad is an established national leader in research devoted to understanding reading development,” said Dr. Adam Sarty, Dean of Graduate Studies and Associate V-P of Research at Saint Mary’s. “This SSHRC Insight Grant award is another recognition of her leadership and will provide needed support to advance her work focusing on the role of spelling.” 

 Insight Grants

The goal of the Insight Grant program is to build knowledge and understanding about people, societies and the world by supporting research. Recently announced by the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport, Dr. Conrad’s funding is part of more than $285 million for over 6,900 researchers and graduate students across Canada. 

 “Researchers in the social sciences and humanities generate ideas and innovations that improve the lives of Canadians,” said Ted Hewitt, President, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. “This investment will strengthen research training for students, connect Canadian and international researchers across disciplines and sectors, and equip Canada with the talent, knowledge and insights that are essential to meeting the challenges of today and tomorrow.”

  “Having been a past recipient of the highest teaching awards at Saint Mary’s University, Professor Conrad exemplifies the best of balancing excellent teaching and impactful research that Saint Mary’s encourages – we are very proud of her and her ongoing work,” said Dr. Sarty.

Dr. Nicole Conrad is a cognitive psychologist, has taught at Saint Mary’s since 2005. She received her Ph.D. degree in Experimental Psychology from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Her research focuses primarily on how memory is involved in reading acquisition and skilled reading, how children acquire the linguistic and cognitive information necessary to become skilled readers, and the nature of the beneficial relation between reading and spelling.

 About SSHRC

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) is the federal research funding agency that promotes and supports postsecondary-based research and research training in the humanities and social sciences. By focusing on developing talent, generating insights and forging connections across campuses and communities, SSHRC strategically supports world-leading initiatives that reflect a commitment to ensuring a better future for Canada and the world.

The work SSHRC supports encourages the deepest levels of inquiry. It spurs innovative researchers to learn from one another’s disciplines, delve into multiparty collaborations and achieve common goals for the betterment of Canadian society. Research outcomes are shared with communities, businesses and governments, who use this new knowledge to innovate and improve people’s lives.

Created by an act of Canada’s Parliament in 1977, SSHRC reports to Parliament through the Minister of Science.

— by Danielle Boudreau, Faculty of Science