Episode 47 - Exploring Whole Child Approaches to Reading with Yaacov Petscher, PhD

Episode Summary

Yaacov Petscher, PhD, joins the READ Podcast to discuss whole child approaches to reading and child development, seeking to examine, “what works for whom under what conditions?” Dr. Petscher explains the role of research in testing ecological models and specific factors that may inform why children vary in their reading and language development. He specifically refers to his current work in understanding trauma and reading development, citing his Reach Every Reader study with Dr. Hugh Catts. Dr. Petscher and Danielle engage in a discussion on the benefits of translational science, offering insights for educators and families to apply in school and community contexts. 

Top READ Bookmarks
Each episode, host Danielle Scorrano identifies key takeaways or “READ bookmarks.”

“What works for whom under what conditions?”

1. Whole Child Approaches to Reading and Child Development 

Dr. Petscher discusses how whole child approaches to child development has informed his research in reading. He cites Darling-Hammon and Cook Harvey’s (2018) model, which outlines factors across 

  • Positive school climate 
  • Productive instructional strategies 
  • Social and emotional development 
  • Individualized supports 

Read Darling-Hammond and Cook Harvey’s (2018) report, Educating the Whole Child: Improving School Climate to Support Student Success: https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/educating-whole-child-report  

“As we're trying to think about the kinds of interventions that kids need, not just the reading interventions, dosage, and responsiveness, but what a child needs from a gestalt, or a totality perspective, maybe there's some of these other theories that can inform the idea of what works for whom under what condition.” 

2. The Role of Research in Understanding Reading Development

Dr. Petscher and Danielle discuss how well-designed research isolates a “construct” to understand the extent to which it relates, strengthens, mitigates, or causes aspects of reading development in an attempt to deepen and expand how these factors are applied to “real-life” or educational settings. Dr. Petscher clarifies that these factors are not “deterministic” but inform the probability of a child’s risk for difficulty. 

3. Trauma and Reading

The CDC cites that 2/3 of adults experience trauma before the age of 18, and 20% of adults experience four or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).  

Dr. Petscher worked with Hugh Catts, PhD, as part of the Reach Every Reader initiative, to understand the extent to which a parent’s self-report of ACE is connected to their involvement in their child’s education and then subsequently, their child’s reading and language skills. 

“For the cluster of families who reported the highest ACE and the lowest involvement in their kids' education, their children had significantly lower reading and language scores at the beginning of kindergarten compared to the group whose parents reported the lowest ACE and the highest involvement in their kids' education.” 

4. The Role of Translational Science

A challenge still exists in moving well-designed research studies to educational contexts/curricula. 

“We have a real disconnect between what we find in published studies and then the challenge of translating and implementing those kinds of things in school.” 

The growing movements in translational and implementation science provide an “onramp” for bringing research to schools. 

“I’m thankful that we have an emerging translational science movement in reading and we have scientists and who are well trained in the science of reading that are thinking very carefully about the implementation science.” 

5. Benefits of Translational Science and Integrated Approaches in Reading

Host Danielle Scorrano synthesizes the benefits of translational science and integrated approaches in reading through increased 

  • Accuracy in screening and identification 
  • Awareness by educators, families, and communities of factors that contribute to or mitigate risk of reading difficulties 
  • Agency of educators and caregivers to employ methods and interventions to support children 
  • Advocacy to further share information and implement supports at community and systems levels 

Learn more about Dr. Yaacov Petscher   Read “Heterogeneity in Parental Trauma, Parental Behaviors, and Parental Academic Involvement”


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READ Podcast is produced by The Windward School and The Windward Institute. READ is hosted by Danielle Scorrano.

About READ: READ, the Research Education ADvocacy Podcast connects you with prominent researchers, thought leaders, and educators who share their work, insights, and expertise about current research and best practices in fields of education and child development.

Note: All information and insights shared demonstrate the expertise and views of our guests and does not constitute an endorsement by The Windward Institute or The Windward School.