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Source: University of Canterbury – statements

25 November 2020

Decades of work aimed at improving children’s learning success and wellbeing has earned Professor Gail Gillon the University of Canterbury’s (UC) highest research honour.

  • Professor Gail Gillon (Ngai Tahu iwi), founding Director of the UC Child Wellbeing Research Institute and an international leader in the area of children’s speech, language and early literacy development, is the winner of the UC 2020 Research Medal.

Decades of work aimed at improving children’s learning success and wellbeing has earned Professor Gail Gillon the University of Canterbury’s (UC) highest research honour. 

Professor Gillon (Ngai Tahu iwi) is the winner of the UC 2020 Research Medal, awarded by the University Council in recognition of a sustained record of research excellence.

She is the Founding Director of the UC Child Wellbeing Research Institute and is an international leader in the area of children’s speech, language and early literacy development.

Learning to read and communicate well are fundamental skills for a child’s educational success.  Professor Gillon says her focus is on effective and culturally responsive practices that help all children achieve in their literacy learning.

Her expertise is in understanding the relationship between spoken and written language development and the importance of phonological awareness (awareness of individual sounds, or phonemes, in words), to reading and spelling development.

Her successful intervention trials in phonological processing skills for children with dyslexia and children with speech difficulties have received international acclaim.

“I’ve always had a passion for ensuring all children experience early literacy success. Research that helps inform policies to reduce the current inequities that we know exist in our New Zealand education system is vitally important,” Professor Gillon says.

Her team’s work is focused on the science of reading and translating research findings into practical ways that teachers, speech language therapists, reading specialists and whānau can advance children’s literacy learning.  

Their research has led to creation of the Better Start Literacy Approach, a programme currently being implemented in a number of junior school classrooms around New Zealand.

Professor Gillon has also held significant leadership roles at UC and the award recognises her mentoring and support of many emerging researchers, colleagues and doctoral students. She has been a strong advocate for increasing Māori and Pasifika-led research.

She is also Deputy Director of the Better Start National Science Challenge E Tipu E Rea, a 10-year programme of research hosted by Auckland University which is focused on ensuring all young children have a successful start in life.

She says she feels proud and humbled to have been chosen for the award, knowing there are so many talented UC researchers.

“It’s an amazing recognition and I would like to gratefully acknowledge my talented research collaborators and practitioners that have supported my research endeavours.”

Professor Ian Wright, UC Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), says Professor Gillon is internationally recognised and has achieved an excellent record of high quality research.

“Professor Gillon is one of the outstanding scholars of her generation working on the early literacy and speech language domains of phonological awareness. Arguably, she is New Zealand’s most visible and reputed scholar in the early years’ language and literacy field, and continues to actively shape key debates and research direction within the discipline.”

  •  From 1 December the Child Wellbeing Research Institute is offering a free, online course through UCX called A Better Start to Reading. This is an introductory level course for parents, educators and students interested in supporting children’s early reading.

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MIL OSI