Jun 19 2018


Last week Professor Kathy Rastle, from the Department of Psychology had a paper published in the Psychological Science in the Public Interest journal, that looks into how best to teach children to read. We caught up with Kathy to understand how this research could end the 'reading wars', as well as drawing up evidence-based recommendations for reading instruction in the classroom.

1. Could you tell us a bit more about yourself and your role within the Department of Psychology?

I am Head of the Department of Psychology, and am also Professor of Cognitive Psychology.  This means that in addition to leading the department, I also engage in research, teaching, and different forms of outreach.

2. Last week your paper on how best to teach children to read was published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest. Could you tell us more about this research?

My research investigates how the brain solves the problem of learning to read.  This is a topic that we actually know quite a bit about, but this knowledge base has been slow to have an impact on how children are taught to read. Instead, reading instruction has been characterised by decades of 'Reading Wars', where policy has been determined by entrenched ideological positions as opposed to evidence.  In this new work, we describe what we know about learning to read from the last 100 years or so of research, and draw up evidence-based recommendations for reading instruction in the classroom.

3. What do you hope this research will achieve?

We hope that this paper will end the 'Reading Wars'.  That is, we hope that it will substantially reduce the gap between what we know from the science and what happens in classrooms.  Learning to read is just so vitally important.  It provides access to knowledge, employment, and culture; and low literacy presents huge costs to individuals and society.  Yet, we know that over 15% of British children leave school without the basic literacy skills to get on in life. If we can improve schools’ success in teaching children to read, if only by a small amount, then we have the potential to impact the lives of tens of thousands of children with this research.

4. Aside from teaching children to read, do you have any other research interests?

Though this was a very applied paper, I mainly do fundamental research looking at the nature of written language, how the brain represents it, and the constraints that underpin human learning. For example, I am running a large ESRC project at present looking at the impact of sleep and sleep deprivation on language learning.

5. What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Two years ago, I decided to take up piano, and found a great teacher who had studied Music at Royal Holloway in the 1970's!  He must be good, because I’m about to take my Grade four exam.  Wish me luck!

6. What’s your favourite term and Royal Holloway and why?

I love the Autumn, partly because that is my favourite season, but also because I love seeing the excitement and potential of all of our new and returning students.  It reminds me of my own university days, which I would go back to in a heartbeat.

7. You may have seen our latest recruitment campaign, ‘Find your why’. We are interested to find out what Royal Holloway has helped you to discover about yourself…

I’ve learned that freedom and creativity are very important to me professionally, and I’ve found both in quite good measure in my time at Royal Holloway.