BEYOND WORDS: HOW LEARNING TO READ AND MENTAL HEALTH ARE RELATED FOR STRUGGLING READERS
de Lugt, Jennifer
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The overarching purpose of this research program was to describe how intervening for academic deficits may be accompanied by changes in mental health. This multi-dimensional, multi-perspective, and iterative research program was developed to report on two distinct but related studies that addressed the same issue: in what ways does the mental health of students change as they transition from being struggling readers to more able readers? To describe the changes, these studies used a number of qualitative research methodologies—focus groups, individual interviews, and ethnographic case studies. Themes that emerged from the focus group and interview data in the first study were used to create a model that guided observations and interview questions in the second study. The first study described what parents, classroom teachers, and two reading instructors of nine previously struggling readers reported as the outcomes of becoming a more proficient reader. Data from this study indicated three broad domains in which change, as perceived by participants, occurred―cognitive/learning, behavioural/social, and psychological/emotional. Within these three domains, six dimensions were identified as having changed as reading improved: (a) academic achievement, (b) attitude, (c) attention, (d) behaviour, (e) mental health, and (f) empowerment. These domains, dimensions, and 15 constituent elements were used to create the model to guide the subsequent study. The purpose of the second study was to validate and refine this model by using an ethnographic case study approach to explore the ways in which the model accounted for the changes in reading and mental health seen in three boys over the months they participated in the intervention. By investigating the relationship between learning to read and mental health, this research aimed to enhance our understanding of how gains in reading may also improve the mental health of struggling readers. The model was found to be robust and a convenient conceptual framework to further our understanding of this relationship. Importantly, gains made in the cognitive/learning domain through an effective reading intervention, offered in a supportive learning environment, were shown to be accompanied by concomitant gains in both the behavioural/social and psychological/emotional domains—all of which enhance student thriving.