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Dr Robert Savage
Gr 3
25 Woburn Square
  • Professor in Psychology and Human Development and Head of Department
  • IOE - Psychology & Human Development
  • UCL Institute of Education
UCL HR Head Of Department,UCL Principal Supervisor,UCL Subsidiary Supervisor

I am Professor and Head of Department at University College London. I hold degrees from Oxford, Cambridge and London and worked for 15 years in Montreal, Canada. I have published over 95 research articles in international per reviewed journals exploring children’s early reading and spelling strategies. I work with children who show both typical and atypical development (e.g. dyslexia). My work is partly on the basic underlying ‘neuro-cognitive’ (brain and thinking) processes that are used in reading and spelling by children. I am a school-based educational psychologist and classroom teacher by training, and from these applied experiences maintain an interest in making schools effective learning places for all children. I am interested in policy questions such as how we can make schools more inclusive and classroom teaching and parenting maximally effective for children, and the design of good evidence-based programs in achieving this aim. I have published over 25 reading intervention studies on 3 continents (North America, the United Kingdom and Australia, with ongoing work in Asia). These sorts of intervention studies are hard to do well, but are crucial to evidence-based practice and thus take up most of my professional time these days. I am also interested in technologies for literacy and in aspects of bilingualism having worked in bilingual school contexts. I am particularly interested in preventing early reading and spelling problems where a part of the answer maybe use of high quality digital media and other technology. I have for 15 years with colleagues co-led the design, development and trial to international scale of, a major tool for literacy teaching – ABRACADABRA ABRACADABRA (A Balanced Reading Approach for Canadians Designed to Achieve Best Results for All)

Research Summary

The development of cognitive processes in normal reading and spelling in the early years; the cognitive psychology of poor reading and developmental dyslexia. Literacy and related interventions, particularly in the elementary school years, including use of technology.

My research interests focus primarily on the effects of reading intervention, effective teaching, and basic cognitive processes in literacy. I have just completed a 5 year SSHRC, and  Max Bell foundation funded project in Canada explores preventative early intervention for reading and spelling using response-to-intervention (RtI) models. We test contemporary constructs and theories such as the use 'set for variability' in word reading and the Simplicity Principle for advanced phonic teaching through randomized control trial interventions. In this work we are also exploring effects of  morphological and vocabulary interventions on development. In the next round of funded work from 2017 onwards we will seek to extend this work in the UK and world context and also undertake a series of scaled up, intensive, 'bespoke' theory-driven interventions for at-risk children who have not responded to these high-quality interventions, and who have both literacy and wider attentional and emotional needs. We will also be seeking funds to transfer these findings into maximally effective practice in the field.

A second major stream of my work is to explore similarities in teaching English and French, maximally effective teaching in inclusive classrooms in English and dual language (mostly English and French) contexts, and the impact of French immersion on literacy and language development. Recent work here for example has tested theories about the role of common indices of fluency as predictors of reading in English-French bilinguals across 6 years of elementary school. Emerging studies from our team explore the complex patterns from intervention on transfer in dual language classrooms.

I have a range of other interests in children's reading and spelling acquisition, some related to my primary focus on early identification of- and effective intervention for- reading and spelling problems in schools. I have a particular interest in the effective use of information technologies for literacy. Other current projects include: The assessment of effective classroom teaching in year 1; The ‘Simple View of Reading’; The nature and impact of inclusive education; The most effective support for children at-risk when transitioning to high school; The impacts of teachers on anti-bullying; Meta-analyses of the teacher professional development literature. Foundational to all of these applied interests is research I undertake on basic cognitive processes in normal early reading and spelling development such as the role of rules, 'analogy', and inference-use in reading acquisition. I have a long-standing interest in the cognitive processing problems of poor readers and dyslexics, such as phonological awareness, rapid naming, vocabulary and meta-language skills such as morphological awareness, as well as the role of motor skills and 'automaticity' in learning.

Teaching Summary

I have for many years taught undergraduate and graduate-level classes on language and literacy development, inclusive education and exceptionalities as well as advanced classes on methods, statistics and intervention evaluation. I have given hundreds of talks and have over many years given innovative professional development in literacy  to education professionals and parents. I have supervised numerous Masters and Ph.D students to completion.

2006 Associate Professor Faculty of Education McGill University, Montreal, Canada
2003 Assistant Professor Faculty of Education McGill University, Montreal, Canada
2001 – 2002 Consultant Educational Psychologist   Advanced Learning Services, United Kingdom
2001 – 2002 Associate Lecturer Professional Educational Psychology Institute of Education, University of London, United Kingdom
1999 – 2002 Post-Doctoral Researcher With Professor Morag Stuart Institute of Education, University of London, United Kingdom
1999 – 2002 Professional Educational Psychologist (School Psychologist)   London Borough of Sutton, United Kingdom
1997 – 1998 Research Officer   National Foundation for Educational Research, United Kingdom
1995 – 2002 Associate Lecturer   Open University, United Kingdom
1994 – 1997 Lecturer in Psychology   East Berkshire College, United Kingdom
1990 – 1991 Research Assistant   Department of Employment, United Kingdom
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