Ministry of Education
Provincial and Demonstration Schools Branch

Empower Reading Program and the Provincial Schools’ Research Partnership

This past spring, Trillium school concluded its research partnership with the Hospital for Sick Kids’ Learning Disabilities Research Program which began in 2008. The partnership involved the delivery and evaluation of the PHAST Reading Programs (now known as “Empower”) as successful language remediation programs for students with severe learning disabilities at Trillium, Amethyst, and Sagonaska Demonstration Schools. More specifically, the PHAST (Empower) Reading Programs are comprehensive literacy programs that transform students with significant reading, spelling, and writing difficulties into strategic, independent, and flexible learners. The PHAST (Empower) Reading Programs are the culmination of 30 years of groundbreaking, rigorous research conducted by Dr. Maureen Lovett and a team of experts in the Learning Disabilities Research Program (LDRP) at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto. The program addresses, head-on, the core learning problems that prevent children, adolescents, and adults with literacy difficulties from learning to read, spell, and write. The PHAST (Empower) Programs teach a dialogue structure that students use to guide themselves through successful application of specific decoding, spelling, comprehension, and writing strategies. The programs also reshape learners’ maladaptive beliefs about learning and their own abilities. The effectiveness of the PHAST (Empower) Programs has been demonstrated with children and adolescents with diagnosed learning disabilities as well as with students at risk for developing language learning difficulties.

The first study evaluated the effectiveness of theoretically-motivated, evidenced-based intervention programs for students in Grades 6 through 8 meeting criteria for developmental, language-based reading disorders. The research objectives pursued  a study that featured controlled evaluation in the community of the efficacy of different instructional components in the remediation of reading problems. All of the LDRP-developed programs (PHAST) address core deficits in phonological processing, letter-sound knowledge, and strategy training that characterize disabled readers with the primary goal of facilitating the acquisition of independent decoding strategies and basic literacy skills. Each program builds on these foundations to incorporate additional training in reading comprehension and/or fluency for greater reading success. The intermediate PHAST Reading Programs are 125 hours in length and are offered to groups of 4 to 8 students for one hour per day. Teachers who deliver the program are trained by Senior Research LDRP Teachers.

The second study, intended for adolescents in Grades 9 through 12, evaluated the efficacy of a 2-part literacy program, PHAST PACES Reading, Parts I and II. Based on more than 30 years of research, these programs were offered to students as a part of research that evaluates the effectiveness of these literacy programs in improving the reading, spelling and writing skills of adolescents with significant difficulties in literacy. The programs integrate cross-curricular content including narrative, expository and graphical text. The programs teach five metacognitive decoding strategies, five metacognitive comprehension strategies, and five metacognitive writing strategies to help students become independent and flexible readers and writers. PHAST PACES Part I integrates decoding and spelling and text comprehension strategy instruction and was developed for high school students meeting criteria for RD. The main focus of the PHAST PACES II course will be on the student development of critical compositional and creative writing skills. Students will build upon the spelling strategies learned in PHAST PACES I to acquire the necessary skills to write grammatically correct, coherent, and structured sentences, paragraphs and essays. Students will also continue to discern a variety of organizational patterns used in written texts and utilize those patterns in writing their own texts. Students will also learn a ‘writing plan’ which will include planning, organizing, editing and revising. Instruction will focus on increasing student motivation and engagement for understanding and learning from text.

High school curricular materials and texts appropriate for adolescents are used. Efforts have been made to meet the Grade 9 Ministry expectations for literacy in the province of Ontari: The PHAST PACES (Empower) Part I Program would be well situated in the continuum of literacy courses offered by any school district while Part II meets Ontario Ministry of Education criteria for an applied level Grade 9 English course.

PHAST PACES (Empower) Reading, Part I, is offered to students during Semester One, while Part II is offered during Semester Two of the school year. Students must take Part I to participate in Part II. Both PHAST PACES (Empower)  Parts I and II are incorporated into student timetables and students are given a credit for each part upon successful completion.

For more information regarding  the PHAST research study that was completed, please contact the Learning Disabilities Research Program (LDRP) at The Hospital for Sick Children.