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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

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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.

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

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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

Connected Letters, Connected Thinking: How Cursive Writing Helps Us Learn

Blog Type:  Teaching Date Posted:  Saturday, August 22, 2015

cursive writing on paper

By Judy Packhem, M. Ed.

Cursive writing is an endangered species these days. Left out of the Common Core State Standards, cursive is now seen as inconsequential, and even obsolete, by some in the education community.

This is distressing to me, and it should be to all of you who care about educating our children, especially children with dyslexia.

There is ample reason to justify the teaching of cursive writing, beginning with the scientific evidence.

Your Brain on Cursive Writing

The development of the functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) machine made it possible to see activity in the brain and pinpoint which parts of the brain are being used during critical functions such as thought, speech, and writing, among others.

Brain mapping, as it is called, shows that during cursive writing both the right and left hemispheres of the brain are active. This is something that is not present either while keyboarding or writing in print.

Cursive writing is much more than an obsolete mode of writing. It is connected to our thought processes, to our retention of learning, and to our creative selves.

This right-left brain synergy, when both sides of the brain are used simultaneously, promotes improved language and memory functions. Some brain researchers go further to say the more we integrate the logical (left) and intuitive (right) sides of our brain, the greater our skill at innovation — the ability to analyze problems and solve them with out-of-the-box thinking.

Researchers studying Albert Einstein’s brain found that the right and left hemispheres of his brain were uniquely well connected. I’ll let you connect the dots on that one.

From Essays to Note Taking:  Why Writing by Hand Is More Powerful

There are two compelling studies that prove the superior benefits of handwriting versus keyboarding for learning.

Educational psychologist Virginia Berninger, who studied the writing composition of children in grades two through five, found that the students “consistently did better writing with a pen when they wrote essays.”

Compared to the students that typed on a keyboard, the students who hand wrote their essays were able to compose at a faster rate and they produced longer essays. They also wrote more complete sentences than the keyboarders and their essays expressed more ideas.

Another study by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer looked at college students taking lecture notes on laptops versus longhand in notepads. Students who took notes on computers produced a lot more notes, but the quality was poor. The typed notes tended to be mindless transcription of the lecture. The handwritten notes, while less lengthy, resulted in deeper learning and longer retention.

A week after viewing the lectures, the college students were given 10 minutes to review their notes and were then given a test. Students with handwritten notes performed significantly better on both factual and conceptual questions.

While computers may make it easier to take lots of notes, they may bypass the deeper thinking that needs to occur for effective note taking and, consequently, learning.

Benefits of Cursive Specific to Dyslexia

The International Dyslexia Association (IDA), in its handbook, recommends the use of cursive handwriting. This “reinforces a multisensory approach to reading and spelling.”

Diana Hanbury King, founding fellow of the Academy of Orton-Gillingham, published books and articles citing the benefit of cursive handwriting for dyslexics.

“In the case of dyslexics, there are several reasons for insisting on cursive. To begin with, in cursive writing, there is no question as to where each letter begins – it begins on the line. The confusion with forms is not merely a left and right reversal as with b/d and p/q; it is also an up down reversal as with m/w and u/n; hence the uncertainty as to whether a letter begins at the top or the bottom. Second, spelling is fixed more firmly in the mind if the word is formed in a continuous movement rather than a series of separate strokes with the pencil lifted off the paper between each one.”1

The connected letters in cursive result in increased writing fluency (speed and smoothness). The flow of cursive means your pen — along with your thoughts — doesn’t stop moving.

This characteristic of cursive writing is shown to be especially beneficial for many struggling learners with processing speed deficits or language difficulties like dyslexia and dysgraphia.

Cursive writing is much more than an obsolete mode of writing. It is connected to our thought processes, to our retention of learning, and to our creative selves.

 

Resources

  1. King, D. (2001). Writing Skills for the Adolescent. Cambridge, MA: Educators Publishing Service.

About the Author

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Judy Packhem, M. Ed., of www.shapingreaders.com, is a reading specialist/ consultant and dyslexia therapist with certifications from the International Dyslexia Association and the Academy of Orton-Gillingham. She helps struggling readers of all ages become successful learners. Related:

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Tags:  brain research college cursive dyslexia handwritring research science

What Is a Language-Based Learning Disability?

Blog Type:  Learning Disabilities Date Posted:  Wednesday, November 15, 2017

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What Is a Language-Based Learning Disability? Five Part Series

Landmark360.org launched the five-part series What Is a Language-Based Learning Disability? to define and explain Language-Based Learning Disabilities (LBLD), offer tips on remediation, highlight the importance of early intervention, and give readers a glimpse into the life a family with a child with LBLD.

Read these posts and give us feedback. We're eager to know what you think.

Part One: What We Know About LBLD and Learning, by Bob Broudoflame
Part Two: Language-Based Learning Disabilities: A Primer, by Melody O'Neil
Part Three: Help Your Struggling Learner: Remediation Is a Key to Success, by Christine Ozahowski
Part Four: It's a Myth That Young Children Cannot Be Screened for Dyslexia, by Nadine Gaab, PhD
Part Five: Language-Based Learning Disabilities on the Homefront, by Angela Timpone Gowans

 

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Landmark360.org's post by Bob Broudo about LBLD and Learning won a 2017 Gold InspirED School Marketers Brilliance Award in the national competition that recognizes excellence in private and independent school marketing and communications.

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Tags:  dyslexia early intervention early remediation programs education language-based learning disability learning research
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