student and teacher working with letter tiles

Harvard Graduate School of Education

Bridging Brain Research and Dyslexia Awareness

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Submitted by Nadine Gaab, PhD., and Elizabeth Norton, PhD.

As scientists who study reading difficulties and developmental dyslexia, we hope that one day, we will be out of business. That is, we hope that one day, we will all understand the causes of reading difficulties, be able to identify children at risk early, know how to best diagnose a reading difficulty, and know which remediation strategy is best for every single child. Most importantly, we hope that one day all children will enjoy learning to read and reading to learn. We are not there yet, though.

Parents and teachers often ask us how our research can be translated into practice. We can promise you that we are working hard but we need more time to answer all your questions. So far, our research has given us some promising clues. For example, we have shown that preschool children who have a parent or an older sibling with dyslexia already show differences in their brain structure and function, even before they receive any reading instruction. These changes can also be seen in children who struggle with letters and certain pre-reading tasks in kindergarten. These findings suggest that children with dyslexia may have characteristic brain changes either from birth or that develop very early in life. This fact only underlines that identification and intervention need to happen as early as possible. In another area of research, our colleagues have shown that the brain basis of reading is the same whether or not there is a discrepancy between an individual’s IQ and reading ability. This will hopefully inform diagnostic criteria, and allow more children who have trouble reading to get intervention. These are just two of the areas we are learning more about through our research, and we always have more to learn.

In addition to continuing our research, we are working hard to share all the knowledge we have with the families, teachers, principals and the volunteers who work with us in these studies. We are creating an open dialogue that has mutual benefits for the research and the participating families, as well as informs clinical and educational interests. We are not researchers that waltz in to a school, collect data, and then return to an ivory tower. We are involved with our partner schools, teaching professional development sessions for the staff and brain awareness days for the children. We set up information booths at community events and frequently speak with parent groups and advocacy organizations. For families who participate in our studies, we provide reports of their child’s reading assessments and when necessary, referrals to schools and organizations that work with individuals with reading difficulties. We are doing our best to inform, to communicate, to translate and to disseminate our knowledge, and we will keep going until every child reads well.

Learn more: The Gaab Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital: http://www.childrenshospital.org/research-and-innovation/research-labs/gaab-laboratory The Gabrieli Lab in the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT: http://gablab.mit.edu/index.php/participate

nadine gaab headshot

Nadine Gaab, PhD., is an assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Boston Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School, Principal Researcher at the Gaab Laboratory, member of the faculty at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and faculty adjunct at Brandeis University.

elizabeth norton headshot

Elizabeth Norton, PhD., Gabrieli Lab in the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, READstudy and former Landmark School science teacher.

more learning disabilities posts

Tags:  Boston Children’s Hospital brain structure and function Brandeis University developmental dyslexia dyslexia Elizabeth Norton Gaab Laboratory Gabrieli Lab in the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT Harvard Graduate School of Education Harvard Medical School IQ kindergarten Landmark School Nadine Gaab PhD pre-reading professional development reading ability reading assessment reading difficulties READstudy research siblings

The Teaching Brain

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Submitted by Vanessa Rodriguez

We’ve been hearing long, loud, and numerous complaints about the state of education and the need for radical reform of our educational system. We’ve heard about the limitations of high stakes standardized testing and the need for more accountability for our teachers.  The problem of education in this country today is vast, complicated and emotionally charged. Educators, scientists, psychologists, government officials, and bestselling authors are all part of the mix of voices that are creating the conversation and, in part, prolonging the controversies.

But it seems the biggest elephant in the proverbial room is how we think about teaching and our teachers. Both sides of the teaching debate have sought to define “good teaching.” However this effort is as misguided as one that would label a student “good learner”.  We need to keep the terms “good” and “teaching” forever more apart. Indeed, the concept of a perfect teacher for all students is a complete myth.  Instead we need to be asking new questions.

Our questions should begin with one in particular:  “What is teaching?”  Teaching is a human, evolutionary skill.  In fact, though we may not be in a classroom we are all teachers.

Four years ago, as a doctoral student at Harvard Graduate School of Education, I made a startling and it turns out profound connection between the cognitive psychology and neuroscience I had been studying and the practice of teaching:  I realized that for all we know about the nature and science of learning, especially the discoveries in brain research, we have grown very little in our insight into the teaching process. Why is this? Why has teaching, an interaction so integral to the foundation of education, been given such short shrift? Quite simply it is because no one has ever really bothered to understand how the teaching process, and its corollary, the teaching brain, are separate and distinct from the learning process, or the learning brain.

As a former Science, History, and English teacher, I have spent over a decade teaching in the classroom and I’ve learned that learning and teaching, while inextricably related, are separate, distinct processes. And that in order for  us to understand the teacher in all of us, whether it be in the classroom or the boardroom, we need to demystify teaching based on a complete understanding of the cognitive, biological, and psychological processes of the brain. The series of studies that I have worked on are based on this quest to uncover these processes of the teaching brain.

vanessa rodriquez headshot

Vanessa Rodriguez is a doctoral candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of the The Teaching Brain: The Evolutionary Trait at the Heart of Education.

teaching brain book cover

Order your copy of Ms. Rodriguez's book The Teaching Brain. Visit Ms. Rodriguez's web site.

more teaching posts

Tags:  cognitive psychology education reform Harvard Graduate School of Education neuroscience standardized testing The Teaching Brain Vanessa Rodriquez what is teaching?
Subscribe to RSS - Harvard Graduate School of Education