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Selected Development Project
Project Title

An Early Intervention Study on Hong Kong Preschool Children at Risk for Specific Learning Difficulties

Principal Investigator

Professor Chung Kien Hoa, Kevin

Area of Research Project Learning and Assessment
Project Period
From 10/2007 To 3/2009
  1. To compare how 2 groups of children "at risk" for specific learning difficulties (SpLD ) in the preschool years progress in reading achievement through the primary grade level, with 1 group receiving a special intervention program and the other following the regular preschool curriculum

  2. To examine which early literacy, linguistic, and cognitive skills are predictive of the improvement of children with initial difficulties in the process of learning to read and how

  3. To provide general guidelines for preventing SpLD in children and methods of teaching for those at risk
Methods Used
  • Activities related to objective 1:
    1. Screening tests were carried out on 803 K2 students. In total, 110 students were identified as at risk for SpLD. They were divided into 2 groups: the at-risk group (AR) and the control-risk group (CR). The at-risk group received a centre-based intervention program tailored for children poor in reading. The control-risk group received self-learning materials related to their school curriculum and finished these materials at home. Another group of 50 students (NAR) not at risk was selected to act as controls, and these students were assigned equally to the 2 groups. Reading achievements of the 2 groups before and after the intervention period were then compared. 9 linguistic and cognitive tests (e.g., oral language and reading, morphological awareness, orthographic awareness, phonological awareness, and verbal memory) were developed and validated.
    2. The 9 tests were given to all 3 groups of participants before and after the intervention period to monitor their reading achievement.
  • Activities related to objective 2:
    1. Screening tests were conducted to identify students with low reading ability.
    2. The 9 tests examining students' linguistic and cognitive skills were then carried out on students identified as weak in reading. These tests helped investigate the students' performance in different reading-related aspects.
    3. An extensive literature review and an analysis of clinical experience were undertaken regarding the intervention materials developed for students with low reading ability. These steps enhanced our understanding of how students' linguistic and cognitive weaknesses are associated with their reading difficulties at the preschool level.

  • Activities related to objective 3:
    1. Extensive literature and the clinical experiences of preschool education professionals were gathered before designing the intervention materials. This information helped develop tailored training programs for children with poor reading skills.
    2. A CD containing all intervention materials and guidelines of the training program was produced and offered to all kindergarten and related organizations for free. A total of 1,500 CDs were produced.
    3. A seminar was held on March 28, 2009 to enhance teachers’ and related professionals’ understanding of the problems of SpLD and to determine how they could identify students at risk and provide early intervention.
Summary of Findings
  • Results of the 9 tests before the intervention period show that both AR and CR had similar reading achievement. Both groups performed worse than did NAR, particularly in the oral language and reading, orthographic awareness, and phonological awareness. After the intervention period, although AR and CR did not catch up with NAR, AR showed greater improvement in most tests than did CR. The differences in improvement were found significantly in orthographic awareness and morphological awareness. This finding shows that children at risk for SpLD in the preschool years can achieve more in reading ability by participating in a special intervention program.
  • Preliminary statistical analyses indicate that students at risk for SPLD usually exhibit poor linguistic and cognitive skills, such as phonological, orthographic, and morphological skills.

(a) Learning effectiveness
The training program was tailored for preschool children at risk for SpLD. It contains training sessions on 4 domains related to reading: oral language, orthographic knowledge, morphological awareness, and word recognition. The training program was designed at a level suitable for most kindergarten students weak in reading. The teaching strategies were designed with reference to the current literature review and clinical experiences to ensure that the training aroused the students' interest and enabled them to learn effectively from it.

(b) Professional development
The research findings provide research professionals with information on the linguistic and cognitive profiles of preschool students at risk for SpLD. Poor preschool readers also show difficulties in linguistic and cognitive areas. This finding provides the professionals with a deeper knowledge on poor readers' different learning profiles. With regard to their education, our resource package provides guidelines for the kindergarten teachers and related professionals to identify the students at risk. The package also serves as a sample of the training program demonstrating to teachers how a training program can be tailored for students at risk as well as how to help these students learn effectively.

(c) School development
The resource package is useful to schools because it provides detailed guidelines on identifying preschool students at risk for SpLD and strategies for teaching students at risk. Teachers should be better equipped with knowledge that caters to students at risk after going through the resource package. Thus, schools can better organize their curriculum to suit the needs of students at risk and prevent SpLD.

Selected Publications Related to the Study

鍾杰華、何淑嫻、陳維鄂、曾淑雯、李淑嫻(2009)。《讀樂樂 — 幼兒語文訓練活動》 ,香港:香港特殊學習困難研究小組。

Biography of Principal Investigator

Professor Kevin Chung is a professor at and the acting Head of the Department of Special Education and Counselling. He was the Associate Dean (Research) from July 2008 to August 2010 of the Faculty of Education Studies, as well as the Coordinator of KRA: Learning and Assessment. Prior to joining the Institute, he was the Program Director of MED and PCAES (Special and Inclusive Education) in the University of Hong Kong. He also taught high school in Sydney, Australia, for more than 4 years before embarking on a different track in his academic career. He completed his undergraduate and postgraduate studies in the University of New South Wales in Sydney. He won research grants 3 from the General Education Fund, 2 from the Quality Education Fund, and 2 from the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities. His research interests are developmental dyslexia, language/reading acquisition and instruction, and inclusive/special education.

Funding Source

Quality Education Fund