Deciphering the hidden meaning of a story



Under the direction of Chantal Desmarais, a rehabilitation researcher at Université Laval, Paméla Filiatrault-Veilleux, a doctoral student at the Centre interdisciplinaire de recherche en réadaptation et intégration sociale (CIRRIS), has developed a digital tool to measure the ability of children aged 3 to 6 to fully grasp the meaning of a text.

To understand a story, it is not enough to be able to decode words and sentences: one must also be able to interpret certain implicit information, such as a character's emotions and goals. This is known as "inference," a skill that causes a number of students to struggle with learning to read and is also a challenge for speech-language therapists. Unlike difficulties with oral expression—which are relatively easy to spot when listening to a child speak—inference problems are more difficult to identify and measure. However, there was no truly effective tool to conduct this type of assessment.

To understand a story, it is not enough to be able to decode words and sentences.

To remedy the situation, CIRRIS members, with the help of software engineering students from Université Laval qui who founded Logiciels Skyglow Inc, developed an application called Évaluation de la compréhension inférentielle en récit (ÉCIR). About 100 children, six speech-language therapists, researchers and other specialists contributed to the clinical validation of this application.

In this interactive tool, actors tell a story that includes sound effects. This helps students better visualize the narrative and grasp its meaning. They are then asked open-ended questions to measure their level of understanding and their ability to draw inferences.

Since its launch in 2017, nearly 100 speech-language therapists and clinics have acquired a license to use this tool with students. Teachers and other specialists can also benefit.