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Spring 2018 The Beacon


The Windward School


Beacon The Windward School Newsletter for Educators and Parents

Reading Comprehension and Executive Function Neurobiological Findings By Neena Hudson, Jonathan Scheff, Mary Tarsha, and Laurie E. Cutting

Spring 2018 IN THIS ISSUE Reading Comprehension and Executive Function Neurobiological Findings By Neena Hudson, Jonathan Scheff, Mary Tarsha, and Laurie E. Cutting Page 1 Head Lines Early Identification of Dyslexia By Dr. John J. Russell Page 10 Research Roundup Reflecting on Progress By Danielle Scorrano Page 13 Questions: An Important Aspect of Student Learning By Nicole Berkowitz, Betsy Duffy, Diane Happas, and Katie Price Page 16 Laptops Are Great. But Not During a Lecture or a Meeting. By Susan Dynarski Page 20 Alumni Profile Callie Toal ’18 By Heather Pray Page 22


eading skill in the elementary grades positively predicts academic and societal outcomes (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1997; Kern & Friedman, 2008). Proficient readers are less likely to drop out of school and more likely to achieve higher levels of schooling; they earn more money on average, have higher rates of homeownership, and have lower rates of incarceration (McLaughlin, Speirs & Shenassa, 2014; Snowling, Adams, Bowyer-Crane, & Tobin, 2000). Nevertheless, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 32% of fourth-grade students in the United States are reading below a basic level (National Center for Education Statistics, 2013), suggesting that our educational system is not currently producing enough individuals who read at appropriate levels. In some ways it is not surprising that so many children struggle to read: Reading comprehension is a complex task that can break down at several levels, including decoding (word-level processing), listening comprehension (a subset of oral language skills), THE ROBERT J. SCHWARTZ and domain-general processes not specific to MEMORIAL LECTURE reading, such as executive functioning. Executive functioning is a complex construct, but it is generally thought of as a “collection of top-down control processes used when going on automatic Wednesday, April 25, 2018 or relying on instinct or intuition would be 7:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. ill-advised, insufficient, or impossible” Westchester Middle School (Diamond, 2013, p. 136), thus suggesting that it may play a role in directing cognitive RSVP online at See page 9 for complete details. resources during reading, as well as in integrating various types of information. A common developmental model of reading, the Simple View of Reading (Gough & Tunmer, 1986), and its expanded models (Scarborough, 2001), capture the complexity of reading by dividing reading into two main categories: word recognition and language comprehension. Key skills under word recognition include phonological processing, decoding (applying knowledge of letter-sound relationships to pronounce written words), and sight word recognition, while language comprehension includes components such as vocabulary and knowledge of syntax (see Figure 1). Impairment in phonological awareness is a core deficit in children with dyslexia (Morris, 2013)—this could include, for example, difficulty detecting rhyme and alliteration, as well as segmenting words into syllables and sounds. Understanding this deficit has led to the establishment of direct, explicit, code-based instruction as a best practice (Morris, 2013). Although dyslexia includes people with poor word-level

Laurie E. Cutting, PhD


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skills, studies within the last 15 deficit not specific to reading years have shown that adequate alone (Stothard & Hulme, 1992). decoding, while required, is not Although the Simple View of sufficient for comprehension. reading focuses on word- and Of note, studies have shown that language-level skills, our lab in some children can have a selective particular has also highlighted the deficit in reading comprehension contribution of executive functions with intact word recognition to reading ability. This is illustrated abilities (Cain & Oakhill, 2006; in Figure 1, which shows executive Locascio, Mahone, Eason, & function as the third major Cutting, 2010)—for example, a component that we hypothesize child may be able to easily sound may play a role in facilitating out words (word recognition) but the coordination of reading skills. still struggle with understanding Executive functions are domainFigure 1. Adapted from Scarborough (2001) in Cutting, the meaning of a text (this is general skills, which are skills Bailey, Barquero, & Aboud (2015). reading comprehension). This used in multiple domains, impairment is referred to as specific not just reading. They include reading comprehension deficit, or cognitive control abilities such Executive functions may play a role in S-RCD (Cain & Oakhill, 2006). as working memory, inhibition In the current article, we briefly (resisting an impulse), and task facilitating the coordination of reading review the behavioral research on switching (changing from one skills. Executive functions are domainreading comprehension, including objective or set of rules to another). the component skills of reading Working memory is the ability general skills, which are skills used in comprehension. However, the to hold and manipulate verbal (or multiple domains, not just reading. bulk of the article focuses on the spatial/written) information in neurobiology of reading compreone’s mind while simultaneously Several studies suggest that reading hension, especially what is known dealing with new incoming comprehension difficulties might be beyond that of word-level processinformation, and has relevance for ing. In particular, we examine the reading in that one has to hold connected to executive dysfunction. neural correlates of discourse-level previously read information in processing as well as what is known memory, while simultaneously about the neurobiological profile of S-RCD. We end with a integrating new information into this existing information. discussion of the practical implications of this research. Inhibition and task-switching are relevant to reading comprehension in that the ability to inhibit thoughts and switch between Behavioral Correlates of Reading Comprehension them is needed (e.g., when reading about a cat, one needs to As indicated by the Simple View, reading comprehension is access information about cats; however, one needs to also inhibit influenced by oral language comprehension, a domain-specific this access at a certain point and task switch so that not so much skill that includes grammar, pragmatics (which examines social information is accessed that the reader loses track of the focus of language use, or how context in language communication the text). Behaviorally, researchers measure executive functions contributes to its meaning), and semantics (Hulme & Snowling, usually with several tests that require the pertinent cognitive skill. 2009). Empirical evidence has upheld the Simple View’s For example, the Tower of London test (related to, but different characterization of oral language comprehension as an important from the Tower of Hanoi test) is a popular measure of planning component of successful reading—for example, Catts and ability. The test consists of colorful blocks that fit on pegs, and colleagues (1999) found that poor comprehenders (either with the person taking the test must move the blocks on the pegs or without word-level deficits) were three to five times more according to a set of rules. The researchers record timing and likely to have a history of oral language deficits. More specifically, error rate, and then compare them to a standardized scale. poor comprehenders are worse than typically developing peers Several studies from our lab and others highlight the on standardized tests of vocabulary, grammatical understanding, importance of executive function skills to reading comprehension and grammatical sensitivity (Catts, Fey, Zhang, & Tomblin, 1999; (Cain, Oakhill & Bryant, 2004; Cutting, Eason, Young, & Catts, Adlof & Weismer, 2006; Nation & Snowling, 1998; Nation Alberstadt, 2009; Locascio et al., 2010; Oakhill, Cain, & Bryant, & Snowling, 2000). Finally, children with S-RCD show poor 2003; Pimperton, & Nation, 2012; Sesma, Mahone, Levine, listening comprehension in addition to reading comprehension, Eason, & Cutting, 2009; Welsh, Nix, Blair, Bierman, & Nelson, indicating that these children may have a general comprehension

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2010). In the study conducted by Locascio and colleagues (2010), for example, the researchers tested 86 children (ages 10 to 14) on measures of executive function and reading comprehension. The group included children with word-recognition deficits, S-RCD, and average readers. The S-RCD group performed uniquely poorly on a measure of strategic planning and organization. This critical finding (along with others; see citations above) suggests that reading comprehension difficulties might be connected to executive dysfunction.

that is activated includes the regions implicated in word-level processing (Aboud, Bailey, Sefcik, & Cutting, 2016; Landi, Frost, Menc, Sandak, & Pugh, 2013; Rimrodt et al., 2009; Xu, Kemeny, Park, Frattali, & Braun, 2005). However, comprehension also elicits a broader network, especially in areas that support linguistic and domain-general processing, a finding that is largely consistent with the behavioral literature (Rimrodt et al., 2009). More specifically, researchers have identified cortical activation patterns during reading tasks that support the idea that reading comprehension involves language-level and domain-general Neurobiological Correlates of Reading processes in addition to word-level skills. This is illustrated in Word-level Processing and Dyslexia Figure 2. As can be seen, regions of higher activation include: the To date, neurobiological research into impaired reading prefrontal cortex and bilateral temporal-parietal junction, often has focused primarily on dyslexia. This research has delineated attributed to social cognition required in story comprehension; the consistent profiles of dyslexia from typical readers. Anatomically, bilateral temporal poles, believed to be important for generating people with dyslexia exhibit less structural asymmetry between specific semantic associations in connected text; and posterior the right and left hemisphere, specifically in language-related medial structures, which have been associated with updates in areas (Richlan, Kronbichler, & the reader’s mental model (Price, Reading comprehension incorporates Wimmer, 2013). These findings 2012; Swett et al., 2013). are echoed in functional imaging multiple cortical regions that are associated Broadly, these findings mean work of reading-related tasks that that reading comprehension with reading-specific functional regions show a marked underactivation incorporates multiple cortical of left occipitotemporal and as well as domain-general regions such as regions that are associated with tempoparietal regions, as well as reading-specific functional those for executive functions. Some of overactivation in right hemisphere regions as well as domain-general homologues in readers with these regions seem to be multifunctional regions such as those for executive g dyslexia as compared to typically functions. Further, it is important developing readers (Price & to note that some of these regions TEMPOROPARIETAL McCrory, 2005). Additionally, Semantic Memory/Predictions seem to be multifunctional. and Coherence Building INFERIOR FRONTAL training studies have shown For example, a temporalparietal Executive semantic control (selection/retrieval) that behavioral improvement region that participates in in reading correlates with specific orthographic-phonological neurobiological changes in mapping during word-level POSTERIOR MIDDLE TEMPORAL the reading network, implying Sentence processing and processing also participates in ANTERIOR TEMPORAL executive semantic control Sentence processing and increasingly reorganization is possible with semantic memory and prediction specific semantic associations intervention (Barquero et al., and coherence-building during 2014; Richards & Berninger, comprehension (Swett et al., Figure 2. Regions of the brain found to specialize in 2008; Simos et al., 2002; Temple under review). semantic understanding. Image adapted from Price (2012). et al., 2003). Emerging Neurobiological Findings for S-RCD Reading Comprehension As noted above, accurate word-level reading does not guarantee Although many neurobiological studies have examined successful comprehension: Readers with S-RCD exhibit intact processing of sentences in isolation, and to a lesser extent word-level processing skills but atypical language-level skills. discourse, few studies have examined neurobiological correlates of Although the neurobiological literature is scarce on S-RCD, comprehension over the course of child development. Generally, some findings are emerging. An early study by Landi and Perfetti and not surprisingly, neurobiological findings have revealed that (2007) investigated the differences between adults with different during reading comprehension (assessed with tasks involving levels of reading comprehension ability who were matched on processing of either isolated sentences or discourse), the network nonword decoding ability (i.e., showed an S-RCD profile) using Abbreviations DYS: Dyslexia EEG: Electroencephalogram

MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging fMRI: functional MRI

S-RCD: Specific reading comprehension deficit TD: Typically developing



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electroencephalogram (EEG). This technique uses a set of electrodes (worn as a cap on the head) that measure the voltage differences across the scalp that can be used to detect processing differences. In their study, Landi and Perfetti measured the EEG signal of adult readers while they performed brief tasks that involved semantic and phonological processing (the first required the participant to determine whether two words or pictures were related in meaning and the second whether two words had the same pronunciation). By measuring the average signal over many repetitions of these tasks, the researchers could detect different electrophysiological responses between these two groups to these different kinds of tasks. Specifically, there were differences in the average response between the skilled versus unskilled comprehenders in the semantic tasks but not in the phonological tasks. This result implies that brain activity that correlates with phonological processing is similar between skilled and poor comprehenders who show adequate decoding abilities; in contrast, semantic processing elicits disparate activity between the two groups. This study provided initial neurobiological evidence that supports behavioral findings that differentiate S-RCD readers from typical readers in semantic processing. Our lab has built on the initial work of Landi and Perfetti, as well as other behavioral research, by using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to further explore S-RCD and its neural underpinnings. MRI enables us to identify specific regions in the brain that are involved in processing different types of stimuli. In an initial study (Cutting et al., 2013), we investigated the word-level abilities of adolescents with S-RCD, dyslexia (DYS), and no reading deficit (typically developing, or TD). During functional MRI scans, the participants viewed pseudo words, high-frequency (i.e., very commonly used) real words, and low-frequency real words. By comparing the groups

(S-RCD, DYS, and TD) across conditions (pseudowords, high-frequency words, and low-frequency words), we explored whether the S-RCD groups showed intact orthographicphonological processing in regions such as the left occipitotemporal cortex and the supramarginal gyrus, regardless of word type. The occipitotemporal regions are associated with word-level orthographic-phonological processing and the supramarginal gyrus is associated with phonological aspects of word- processing. Of additional interest was whether low-frequency words, which place greater demands on lexical access, would show anomalies in the S-RCD group in different regions of the brain that are specifically related to semantic processing (but again not in regions associated with orthographic-phonological processing). As hypothesized, the TD and S-RCD groups showed similar activation patterns compared to the DYS group in regions associated with word-level processing: the occipitotemporal regions and supramarginal gyrus. These findings indicate that the S-RCD group had intact orthographic and phonological word-processing skills. Additional findings revealed, however, that the S-RCD group showed anomalies potentially related more focally to semantic processing. Specifically, the S-RCD group showed anomalies in connectivity between left inferior frontal gyrus and other regions when reading low- versus high-frequency words. These regions are known to be important for semantic processing and other behavioral studies have demonstrated the increased lexical access demands of low- versus high-frequency words. These findings suggest possible neural correlates of specific weaknesses in S-RCD in accessing lexical-semantic representations during word recognition.Thus, consistent with the Landi and Perfetti study, this study provides evidence of intact orthographicphonological processing skills, but weaknesses in semantic processing

Key Terminology Specific reading comprehension disorder (S-RCD) refers to individuals with intact word-level abilities (i.e., decoding and word recognition abilities), but a deficit regarding reading comprehension. S-RCD can be contrasted with dyslexia, which refers to individuals with word-level deficits. Domain general: Domains, in this article, refer to different cognitive abilities, such as reading, numerical reasoning, or their subskills. A domain-general skill is one that applies to multiple domains (e.g., executive functions), while a domain-specific skill applies to just one (e.g., decoding is specific to reading). Executive functions: A group of domain-general skills involved in top-down control, such as working memory, inhibition, and task/rule switching. Decoding: The ability to apply knowledge of letter-sound relationships to pronounce written words. Electroencephalogram (EEG) is a tool used in developmental cognitive neuroscience. Participants wear a net of sensors on their scalps, and the sensors record electrical current. These currents provide information about the underlying neural activity in real time, although they are not spatially very precise. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a tool that allows for capturing brain images. There are various types of MRI scans; functional MRI, or fMRI, refers to MRI scans during which the participant performs a specific task. By scanning the participant’s brain during the task, researchers can gather information about how the brain performs certain tasks compared to others. Typically developing, or TD, is a convention in the field of neuroscience to indicate a lack of identified deficits.

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in S-RCD readers. However, because MRI provides greater spatial sentences or a narrative (especially the frontal operculum). resolution than EEG, this study also provides insight into the Furthermore, there were specific patterns of activation for possible regional, cortical deficits specific to different types of readers. narratives (in the extrasylvian cortex), which the authors associate One difficulty in MRI research into reading comprehension with the extralinguistic cognitive processes unique to the narrative is creating a task that subjects can perform in the MRI machine. level of complexity. Other findings also highlight different brain When a subject performs a specific task, such as reading a real activity associated with the complexity of processing discourse word or a fake, pseudo word that resembles real words, this is (compared with letters, words, or sentences). For example, the called functional MRI or fMRI. Researchers can record response more complex the text, the greater the right hemisphere activity. in the participant’s brain immediately after performing the task Finally, they found unique activation patterns for different portions in order to get a sense of brain activity specific to that task. of a narrative, which they associate with synthesizing information Because of the various technical constraints of fMRI, fMRI tasks across different portions of the narrative and maintaining an must be rather short and concrete. Reading comprehension, on understanding of the narrative as a whole: Left and right hemispheres the other hand, is an ongoing process over many lines of text. To were active at the beginning of a narrative, but right hemisphere resolve this temporal conflict—the long period required to read activity was greater at the end of the story. a passage and the short period required to capture a functional This rather complex set of findings has significance for our MRI volume—our lab has developed paradigms in which we break understanding of the differences between processing different down passages into meaningful phrases (Swett et al., 2013). While aspects of written language: letters, words, sentences, through in the MRI scanner, individuals read one meaningful phrase at a to passages. In summary, the authors demonstrated that readers time—e.g., “Hydroponics/ is a draw on some specific regions of funny word/ for plants/ growing the brain when processing The behavioral findings found in previous different aspects of language, without soil.” By scanning the reader during each phrase, we have work broadly align with group differences and that a critical differentiation been able to collect a progressive is between regions of the brain found when we study the functional and measure of brain activity during more heavily involved in word passage reading. Individuals also structural neurobiology of different reader recognition processes and regions read phrases of random words and that support the processing of groups. Our research shows that S-RCD perform a baseline task of viewing sentences and passages for meaning. symbols—these tasks allow us to In terms of how findings has a unique neurobiological profile as collect data regarding single-word on the functional correlates to compared to typically developing readers reading and visual processing. discourse processing relate to Therefore, by measuring the executive function, the story and readers with dyslexia. processing involved for both words becomes more complex. The and discourse, the experiment study from our lab by Swett and provided a comparison of word-level activation to passage-level colleagues (2013) aimed to explore the neural correlates specific activation. to expository text comprehension, and observe how these regions Initial findings in adults (Swett et al., 2013) revealed that activate over time, as a reader builds and maintains a coherent word-level processing involved greater activation in regions of the mental representation of text. Expository comprehension involves cortex typically associated with word-level processing (occipital organizational skills such as maintaining concepts in working and occipitotemporal) while passages involved greater activation memory and updating concepts or structures (this is true as well in other regions that are typically associated with higher-level for narrative text comprehension). Therefore, we hypothesized integrative processes (these were dorsal medial prefrontal, bilateral that we would observe activations in what we call the dorsal angular gyrus, and posterior cingulate regions). These findings attention network, a group of regions associated with executive are consistent with the results from previous research conducted functions. However, although we observed activation in the by Xu and colleagues (2005), as well as others, showing that dorsal attention network in children (Aboud, Bailey, Petrill, & sentences elicit more activation than words in isolation. However, Cutting, in press), we did not find such for adults (Swett et al., the study by Xu and colleagues was unique in that it captured 2013). Instead, for adults we found that cortical regions associated activity associated with discourse processing, not simply isolated with a semantic control network were active for both passages sentences, by comparing brain activity during narratives, sentences, and single words, without much involvement of executive words, and letters. These contrasting conditions enabled the function regions. These disparate findings suggest that executive researchers to distinguish activation patterns between some brain function may play a more unique role in discourse processing regions associated with core linguistic processing (for example, over development, perhaps supporting the integration of various left perisylvian regions were active under all conditions) and linguistic processes during reading development, but less heavily increased activity that was specific to connected text, either needed for skilled adult readers. Ongoing work is examining



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comprehension in various ways (both narrative and expository as well as listening versus reading comprehension) across various developmental stages in order to further disentangle the exact nature of the contribution of domain-general regions to comprehension and text processing patterns of activation, including those that may be specific to readers with S-RCD. Evidence of a Structural Neurobiological Profile for S-RCD The studies reviewed have examined the brain activity of readers during reading to reveal how different regions of the brain might support different aspects of reading. Our group has also attempted to characterize the structural neurobiological profile of S-RCD readers (Bailey, Hoeft, Aboud, & Cutting, in press). In this study, we explored gray matter volume (the exterior part of the cortex that consists primarily of neuron cell bodies and dendrites) using structural MRI (which are MRI scans that capture the brain’s morphology). Gray matter volume has often been measured as a marker between clinical groups, such as in whole-brain measurements in schizophrenia or hippocampus measurements in chronic lifelong stress. In this study, we found, as expected, and consistent with other DYS studies (Linkersdörfer et al., 2012), that the DYS group (adolescents) differed from the TD group in the occipitotemporal and supramarginal regions. These regions are associated with phonological and orthographic processing. We also found that the S-RCD group differed significantly from the DYS group (but not the TD group) in these regions. This finding maps onto our functional MRI study showing differences between readers with dyslexia and readers with specific reading comprehension difficulties in brain regions important for phonological and orthographic processing. These findings lend further support to the idea that the processing of phonological and orthographic forms of words is largely intact in the S-RCD group. However, as seen in our functional MRI study, the S-RCD group differed from the TD group in other brain regions. Importantly, we also observed reduced gray matter volume in right frontal regions. These regions are commonly associated with executive functions and are thought to underlie processes such as controlling mental representations. Together these findings lend more evidence to the idea that readers with S-RCD might have a distinct profile from TD and DYS groups; that is, the behavioral findings found in previous work broadly align with group differences found when we study the functional and structural neurobiology of different reader groups. In summary, neurobiological investigations of discourse processing in developing readers with typical and atypical reading abilities are just beginning. The studies described here contribute to the growing literature, but more work is required to characterize S-RCD and its neurobiological correlates, as well as how the neurobiological correlates of discourse processing more generally evolve over development.

Implications for Practice Despite exciting and fast-evolving insights from both behavioral and neuroimaging work, how exactly these findings may translate to practitioners is a more complex topic, and in truth potential implications will likely occur down the road (Mele-McCarthy, 2015). For example, reading comprehension deficits are currently diagnosed by behavioral tests of comprehension skill but this method may be obscuring subtypes of readers that respond differentially to various interventions. Although it is not yet feasible to approach identification of learning disabilities via neuroimaging, neurobiological methods help to illuminate possible subtypes, refine existing theory, and improve behavioral constructs of reading impairment. The power of neuroimaging, with regard to identification of learning disabilities, is the capacity to elucidate individual differences when behavioral profiles are indistinguishable (McCardle, Cutting, & Miller, 2013). This is important from a diagnostician’s point of view because it implies that similar behaviors may stem from unique subtypes. The accumulation of research findings emphasizes that reading comprehension entails word recognition, oral language, and domain-general skills. Our research shows that S-RCD has a unique neurobiological profile as compared to typically developing readers and readers with dyslexia. Additionally, our lab’s work demonstrates that this profile includes domaingeneral regions thought to subserve executive processes. Teachers as well as researchers have asked, then, whether training executive processes explicitly could lead to better educational outcomes, in reading as well as arithmetic or measures of executive functions themselves. This is a current area of research; so far, researchers have tested executive-function training programs and have consistently found that working-memory training improves working memory, but so far there is mixed evidence for transfer to other cognitive domains such as reading (Melby-Lervåg & Hulme, 2012). Others have tried to combine working-memory training with reading instruction. For example, Peng and Fuchs (2015) conducted a study where they specifically combined working-memory training with reading-comprehension intervention for one group of children, and then compared this group to another group receiving reading-comprehension intervention only. They found no additional benefits to adding workingmemory training to the intervention. To be clear, this does not necessarily mean executive-function training does not belong in schools but suggests that further research needs to be conducted in order to understand the usefulness of executive-function training and examine in what type of context(s) it may be beneficial. Generally, future neurobiological research into S-RCD and reading comprehension will further inform our knowledge about the neural processes that subserve comprehension, elucidate the role and mechanisms of domain-general processes like executive functions, and, perhaps, facilitate better understanding of how to diagnose and intervene with individuals who have reading deficits.

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Price, C. J. (2012). A review and synthesis of the first 20 years of PET and fMRI studies of heard speech, spoken language and reading. NeuroImage, 62(2), 816–847.

Stothard, S. E., & Hulme, C. (1992). Reading comprehension difficulties in children. Reading and Writing, 4(3), 245–256.

Price, C. J., & McCrory, E. (2005). Functional brain imaging studies of skilled reading and developmental dyslexia. In M. J. Snowling & C. Hulme (Eds.), The science of reading: A handbook (pp. 473–496). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. Richards, T. L., & Berninger, V. W. (2008). Abnormal fMRI connectivity in children with dyslexia during a phoneme task: Before but not after treatment. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 21(4), 294–304. Richlan, F., Kronbichler, M., & Wimmer, H. (2013). Structural abnormalities in the dyslexic brain: A meta-analysis of voxel-based morphometry studies. Human Brain Mapping, 34(11), 3055–3065. Rimrodt, S. L., Clements-Stephens, A. M., Pugh, K. R., Courtney, S. M., Gaur, P., Pekar, J. J., & Cutting, L. E. (2009). Functional MRI of sentence comprehension in children with dyslexia: Beyond word recognition. Cerebral Cortex, 19(2), 402–413. Scarborough, H. S. (2001). Connecting early language and literacy to later reading (dis)abilities: Evidence, theory and practice. In S. B. Neuman & D. K. Dickinson (Eds.), Handbook of early literacy research (Vol. 1, pp. 97–110). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Swett, K., Miller, A. C., Burns, S., Hoeft, F., Davis, N., Petrill, S., & Cutting, L. E. (2013). Comprehending expository texts: The dynamic neurobiological correlates of building a coherent text representation. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7(December), 853. Temple, E., Deutsch, G. K., Poldrack, R. A., Miller, S. L., Tallal, P., Merzenich, M. M., & Gabrieli, J. D. (2003). Neural deficits in children with dyslexia ameliorated by behavioral remediation: Evidence from functional MRI. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(5), 2860–2865. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, What Works Clearinghouse. (September 2010). Reciprocal Teaching. Retrieved from Welsh, J. A., Nix, R. L., Blair, C., Bierman, K. L., & Nelson, K. E. (2010). The development of cognitive skills and gains in academic school readiness for children from low-income families. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102(1), 43–53. Xu, J., Kemeny, S., Park, G., Frattali, C., & Braun, A. (2005). Language in context: Emergent features of word, sentence, and narrative comprehension. NeuroImage, 25(3), 1002–1015.

About the Authors Neena S. Hudson, MS, is a doctoral student in the Education and Brain Sciences Research Laboratory in the Department of Special Education at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University. Jonathan D. Scheff, MEd, is a doctoral student in the Education and Brain Sciences Research Laboratory in the Department of Neuroscience at Vanderbilt University. Mary Tarsha is a master’s degree student in the Education and Brain Sciences Research Laboratory in the Department of Psychology and Human Development at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University. Laurie E. Cutting, PhD, is an Endowed Chair at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University. She is the Patricia and Rodes Hart Professor of Special Education, Psychology, Radiology, and Pediatrics, and is head of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Reading Clinic. She is also a Senior Scientist at Haskins Laboratories and is a member of the Vanderbilt Brain Institute at Vanderbilt University.

This article was originally published in Perspectives on Language and Literacy, vol. 42, No. 2, 2016 (spring), copyright by the International Dyslexia Association, Inc. ( Used with permission.

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Windward Teacher Training Institute

Educational Neuroscience:

How Cognitive Neuroscience Can Inform Approaches to Learning Educational neuroscience is an emerging field of research that draws upon the disciplines of cognitive neuroscience, education, and psychology, with the goal of examining neurobiological processes as related to education. In this lecture, the neural mechanisms of reading, mathematics, and attention will be discussed as well as insights about how this emerging field can influence instructional practice. In addition, neurobiological approaches that may inform and refine our understanding of how to identify and treat reading difficulties will be discussed.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018 7:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. RSVP online at

Presented by

Laurie E. Cutting, PhD Guest Lecturer

The Windward School Westchester Middle School 40 West Red Oak Lane White Plains, NY 10604-3602


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Head Lines

Early Identification of Dyslexia By Dr. John J. Russell Head of The Windward School


t their first parent-teacher conference, the parents of a bright, enthusiastic kindergartener tell the teacher that they are concerned about their child’s first attempts to read. Unlike their older children, he was late to speak; has trouble understanding rhymes; cannot write his name; and often is unable to name objects that are familiar to him. By this time in their schooling, his siblings were all beginning readers while he cannot sound out even simple three-letter words. They are told by their child’s well-intended teacher that children learn to read at their own rate. In addition, he is a boy and needs “the gift of another year.” They heed the teacher’s advice, and the boy moves on to first grade where formal reading instruction begins. The boy’s struggles are now even more pronounced. Once again, the parents are reassured by his teacher that while his development is different from the other students in his class, he just needs more time to acquire the skills that his peers have already begun to master. By second grade, the boy is far behind his grade level in reading; his homework sessions are battles that regularly result in tears on all sides; and the social and emotional elements of his progress reports are showing increasing evidence of anxiety and oppositional behavior. Convinced that he may be dyslexic, the very concerned parents make a referral to the district committee on special education to have him evaluated. They are told that he has not received enough formal reading instruction to determine if he is dyslexic and that they have to wait until the end of third grade before a formal diagnosis can be made. Finally, as an unmotivated, frustrated fourth grader who is two years behind his peers, he is identified as dyslexic and begins to receive the specialized instruction that he has needed since kindergarten. Despite an overwhelming body of research indicating that early recognition and treatment are extremely important steps in the prevention of a reading problem in the child who is at risk of dyslexia, variations of this story take place every year in thousands of schools across the country. Why?

The Catch-22 of Early Diagnosis of Dyslexia It is well established that reading problems and the multitude of negative consequences that result from them can be reduced by early intervention (National Reading Panel, 2000; Schatschneider & Torgesen, 2004). To be eligible for early intervention,

children must be identified as soon as possible. For many years and even today, dyslexia is commonly defined as an unexpected difficulty in learning to read. This results in many educators arguing that they have to wait until adequate reading instruction has been provided before making a diagnosis of dyslexia. This “catch-22” type of logic prevents early identification, thus denying dyslexics the early intervention that is critical to their future success and ensuring that they unnecessarily experience the debilitating effects of failure in their formative years of schooling. Recognizing the inadequacy of this early definition of dyslexia, in 2012 the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) crafted a new research-based definition that helped to reduce, but did not eliminate, the “wait to fail” mentality that the previous definition fostered. The IDA definition of dyslexia added the neurobiological basis of dyslexia and a phonological component, both of which can be assessed before reading instruction takes place, thus allowing for possible identification before dyslexics encounter reading failure. It states: “Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

Early Warning Signs of Dyslexia The earliest and simplest indicators for risk of dyslexia are a family history of reading difficulties and problems with oral language. With the publication in 1983 of “Categorizing Sounds and Learning to Read—A Causal Connection,” Bradley and Bryant set the stage for future work that would refine the early identification of dyslexics. They found that: “Children who are backward in reading are strikingly insensitive to rhyme and alliteration. They are at a

Spring 2018 The Beacon

disadvantage when categorizing words on the basis of common sounds even in comparison with younger children who read no better than they do. Categorizing words in this way involves attending to their constituent sounds, and so does learning to use the alphabet in reading and spelling. Thus the experiences which a child has with rhyme before he goes to school might have a considerable effect on his success later on in learning to read and to write [emphasis added].” A small percentage of children experience delays in expressive language. These late talkers frequently use only a few words by age two, and their speech often consists of monosyllabic words, even though their development in other areas is within normal range (Lyytinen & Lyytinen, 2004; Preston et al., 2010). Preston also reports that late talkers were almost four times as likely to be diagnosed with reading difficulties as were children who were not late talkers. The link between family history and language delays is clear in a meta-analysis of 95 publications by Snowling & MelbyLervag (2016). They found that children of at-risk families experience language delays as infants and toddlers and that these delays manifest themselves as phonological lags in preschool. Similarly at school age, family risk of dyslexia is associated with significantly poor phonological awareness and literacy skills (Lyytinen, Eklund, & Lyytinen, 2005). While it does not yield a diagnosis of dyslexia by itself, it has been established that between 40% to 60% of children with a parent or sibling with reading difficulties will have reading problems themselves (Scarborough, 1990; Snowling, Gallagher, & Frith, 2003; Scerri & Schulte-Körne, 2010). More recent studies (Paracchini, Diaz, & Stein, 2016; Truong et al., 2017) provide additional evidence of the role genetics play in reading difficulties. Bradley and Bryant’s findings were the foundation for the validating research that followed, confirming that phonological awareness, rapid naming, and verbal working memory are the strongest predictors of literacy acquisition, and these abilities can be assessed when children start school in kindergarten. (Fletcher et al., 2002; Fuchs et al., 2012). Further confirming the predictive value of these measures, difficulties in these areas have also been established as the primary causes of dyslexia (Ramus, 2003; Vellutino et al., 2004; Snowling & Hulme, 2012). These behavioral studies have been bolstered by recent research employing promising new tools that are able as early as infancy to identify differences in brain structures and neural activity in dyslexics.

are dyslexic show differences in response to language sounds within days of birth. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the Boston Longitudinal Dyslexia Study (2011), conducted by Nadine Gaab and her team at Children’s Hospital Boston, established that children five years old and younger with a family history of dyslexia displayed decreased neural activity during phonological processing tests while preschoolers with no family history of dyslexia did not. The Gaab Lab and the Gabrieli Lab at MIT joined together to conduct a comprehensive study, Research on the Early Attributes of Dyslexia (2014), that examined more than 1,500 kindergarteners for early signs of dyslexia. Using behavioral and language assessments and MRI scans, they found that differences in brain structure correlated with pre-reading skills. It is important to note that these differences were present as reading instruction was being started. Neuroimaging studies such as these are extremely important for several reasons. They unequivocally establish that a diagnosis of dyslexia, while behavioral in nature, is consistent with physiological and structural differences found in the brains of dyslexics but not found in non-dyslexics. This research also demonstrates that these differences in neurological function can be found as early as infancy. While these and other studies have demonstrated the potential predictive power of neuroimaging, the reality is that it is unrealistic to think that schools will be able to perform this type of sophisticated and expensive testing. Fortunately, low cost and valid assessments of phonological awareness, rapid naming, and verbal working memory are reliable predictors of literacy acquisition. Early identification of dyslexia can begin in preschool with a family history and a test of phonological awareness, and then followed by more formal examinations of rapid naming and working memory upon entrance to school. The research basis for early identification is clearly established; the tools for screening are readily available; and yet school districts have been notoriously slow in adopting measures to identify and then remediate dyslexic students. Frustrated by this lack of response in the face of overwhelming evidence, parents of and advocates for dyslexics have sought legislative relief.

It is well established that reading problems and the multitude of negative consequences that result from them can be reduced by early intervention.

Progress on the Research Front In 2009, John Gabrieli and his colleagues used electroencephalograms to demonstrate that newborns with parents who

Progress on the Legislative Front, But a Long Way to Go As of 2015, 28 states had statewide dyslexia laws, 6 states had initiatives or resolutions related to dyslexia, and 14 states had handbooks or resource guides to inform parents and educators about procedures for identifying and educating students in public and private schools (Youman & Mather, 2016). For dyslexics, parents of dyslexics and those who teach dyslexics, passage of these laws is cause for optimism, but “tempered optimism” might



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Head Lines

be more appropriate in this context because it is often a long, tortuous journey from writing policy to effective implementation. Insight into the challenges of moving from a law to delivering the type of school experience that lawmakers intended is readily apparent in the name of the dyslexia bill that passed the Tennessee House in 2014. It was titled “Dyslexia is Real” indicating that the audience for this bill, including educators, needed to be convinced of the very existence of dyslexia. If you do not believe in the existence of something, how effective will you be in screening for it? Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education found that some school districts in Texas took actions specifically designed to decrease the percentage of students identified for special education” and that the Texas Education Agency did not comply with federal laws to identify and provide services to students with disabilities. The findings came after Texas reported a substantial decrease in its number of children with disabilities over more than a decade (The New York Times, January 11, 2018). Windward parents in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut have experienced

what is perhaps an even more insidious version of this resistance to identify and provide services to students eligible for special education. Educators who ascribe to the earlier, inadequate definition of dyslexia still tell parents that dyslexia cannot be diagnosed until children have failed to learn to read after receiving what they deem to be “adequate” reading instruction. This usually means that students have to struggle through second or even third grade before they are identified. Decades of research substantiates that this is simply not true. There is absolutely no reason to put off early identification and subsequent research-based intervention. “Free Appropriate Public Education” (FAPE) is an educational right of children with disabilities that is guaranteed by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Failure to provide early identification of students with dyslexia is to deny them their rights under IDEA. It is not just unethical; it is illegal; and it must stop.

There is absolutely

no reason to put off early identification and subsequent research-based intervention.

Spring 2018 The Beacon

Research Roundup

Reflecting on Progress and Looking to the Future of Research and Classroom Practice By Danielle Scorrano, The Windward School Research Associate


s the research associate at The Windward School, I have the opportunity to connect with researchers, scientific institutions, and other schools across the country. This past fall, I learned from key researchers in the field of dyslexia, spoke to school teachers, and listened to presentations from parent groups and organizations. These experiences presented unique opportunities for me to share insights about the expanding fields of dyslexia and reading research with the Windward community. Furthermore, these connections ensure that Windward’s researchbased instructional program remains both cutting edge and firmly grounded in the most rigorous, scientifically valid research available.

Evidence of Scientific Progress and Collaboration

of Tufts University and the Gaab Lab explained that atypical connectivity between neurons or “white matter” could be identified as early as infancy in children with a family history of dyslexia (Ozernov-Palchik, 2017; Ozernov-Palchik & Gaab, 2016). Given the highly hereditary nature of dyslexia, the family histories of potentially at-risk children offer important information for early diagnosis, but this is not the only path for early diagnosis. Research demonstrates that screening should be available to all children in order to identify at-risk readers. Behavioral assessments can measure potential deficits of at-risk pre-readers by assessing phonological awareness, letter-sound knowledge, rapid automatic naming, and working memory (Gaab, 2017; Ozernov-Palchik &

In October, Betsy Duffy, Director of Language Arts and Instruction, Alexis Pochna, Division Head of the Westchester Lower School, and I visited Georgetown University’s Center for the Study of Learning. Dr. Guinevere Eden, Director of the Georgetown Lab, delivered the Spring 2017 Schwartz Lecture at The Windward School. Later in November, Dr. John Russell, Head of School, Jon Rosenshine, Associate Head of School, Jill Fedele, Coordinator of Middle School Language Arts, and I attended the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Additionally, I participated in The New England Research on Dyslexia Society’s (NERDY) meeting of researchers and institutions at the University of Connecticut. I learned about many important areas of research including: Early Dyslexia Screening and Identification Dyslexia, a neurobiological and lifelong disability, affects 5–17% of children (Shaywitz & Shaywitz, 2003). New advances in brain imaging technology combined with behavioral measures have enabled researchers to better understand the reading brain and the early markers of dyslexia. Studies have shown that certain brain characteristics of dyslexia can be identified as early as infancy (Ozernov-Palchik, 2017). This research highlights the importance of screening and identifying dyslexia at early ages, so at-risk children can receive the targeted interventions they need to learn how to read. In too many cases, the identification of dyslexia in a child is based on a model of “failure”—a diagnosis typically following a child’s failure to learn how to read in second grade or later (Ozernov-Palchik & Gaab, 2016). Dr. Nadine Gaab, the Principal Investigator at the Gaab Lab and a founding member of NERDY, emphasizes that early markers of dyslexia can appear as early as preschool. During her NERDY presentation, Ola Ozernov-Palchik

Dr. John J. Russell, Jill Fedele, Erin McNiven (former lower school teacher at Windward) Danielle Scorrano, and Jon Rosenshine attended the IDA Conference in Atlanta, Georgia in November 2017.

Gaab, 2016). The expansion of brain imaging technology also allows researchers to deeply explore the neural correlates of dyslexia, resulting in more precise methods of identification. With this research, the “wait to fail” model cannot reasonably continue in our schools. Although research clearly demonstrates the importance and the potential for early screening and identification, applying this research in practice is problematic, as many children throughout the United States each year remain undiagnosed. Consequently, they do not receive the support and remediation they need. Certain barriers may inhibit this research from universal practice. For example, the National Center for Learning Disabilities cites that disparities in special education identification exist particularly in low socio-economic communities and across populations of



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Research Roundup

different racial and ethnic groups (Horowitz, Rawe, & Whittaker, 2017). Hopefully, further collaboration between the scientific and education communities, as well as measures at the school and policy level will expand screening procedures to benefit all at-risk readers. Effective Targeted Intervention for Students with Dyslexia Although screening students at earlier ages for reading difficulties is a critical development for the education community, early diagnosis must be followed by effective intervention for at-risk readers. When at-risk children do not receive the remediation they need to read, they are at risk of failing to read as well as experiencing associated negative social-emotional consequences (Ozernov-Palchik & Gaab, 2016). Due to the neuroplasticity of the brain, studies show that the structure of the reading brain can change in children and adults with dyslexia when they receive the right, effective intervention. In his presentation at NERDY, Dr. John D. Gabrieli emphasized that only effective interventions would change brain anatomy. Furthermore, research shows that all children benefit from high-quality reading instruction, particularly at early ages (Gaab, 2017). What constitutes high-quality reading instruction and more specifically, effective remediation for children with dyslexia? According to the National Reading Panel (2000), systematic reading instruction should incorporate phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, reading comprehension, and explicit writing instruction. At-risk readers also benefit from diagnostic and targeted instruction that occur at a higher dosage in small-group settings. During the IDA conference, NERDY, and Windward’s professional visit to the Center for the Study of Learning, researchers explained the positive effects of high-quality intervention. In Dr. Eden’s studies, she has compared behavioral measures and brain scans of adults and children with dyslexia before and after an intensive intervention program targeted for reading and math difficulties. The brain images have shown an increase in gray matter volume, or new brain tissue, in the brains of children with dyslexia, particularly in the areas around the hippocampus. Furthermore, Maureen Lovett, Senior Scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children at the University of Toronto, has demonstrated the effectiveness of interventions for older students. Although science has deepened our understanding of how quality interventions change the brain, progress still needs to be made in the application of remediation for the vast majority of students in the United States and across the world. Practitioners can learn from research principles about identifying and remediating dyslexia:  Consider

the hereditary, genetic nature of dyslexia. Children with family history of dyslexia have as much as a 40–60% likelihood of being diagnosed with dyslexia (Ozernov-Palchik & Gaab, 2016).


early language and reading development at young ages. Environmental factors are integral for early language and reading development, particularly in home settings. In her presentation at the IDA conference, Dr. Maureen Lovett cited research that shows language development is a crucial foundation for later academic achievement. In addition, studies show that economic disadvantages negatively affect exposure to reading and vocabulary development. Early exposure to language and vocabulary can help children develop foundational skills for reading.


and diagnose dyslexia early.


teachers to provide quality instruction for students with language-based learning disabilities such as dyslexia.

Numerous studies, including the National Reading Panel (2000), emphasize that a teacher’s knowledge of language is crucial for a child’s reading success.

Danielle Scorrano, Alexis Pochna, Dr. Guinevere Eden, and Betsy Duffy at Georgetown University in Washington, DC in October 2017.

Deeper Exploration of Research Questions At NERDY and in Dr. Eden’s lab, I learned more about numerous expanded areas of brain imaging and behavioral research that have benefited from increased collaboration throughout the scientific community. At Dr. Eden’s Center for the Study of Learning, we discussed the relatedness between math and reading disabilities. Dr. Anna Matejko, a post-doctoral research fellow in the lab, cited that between 30–70% of students with reading disabilities also have a math disability, and Dr. Eden’s Center has investigated the underlying brain correlates that would provide evidence for this potential comorbidity. Through brain imaging technology, Dr. Eden has identified certain shared areas of brain activity for reading and arithmetic tasks in children with dyslexia, perhaps due to neuronal recycling. Future investigations into the

Spring 2018 The Beacon

comorbidities of math and reading disabilities will further provide insights in the brains of people with dyslexia.

A Call for Continued Action In addition to the knowledge I gained at IDA, NERDY, and the Center for the Study of Learning, I was most struck by the collaboration across the research community. Despite investigating specific nuances in the causes of dyslexia and its interventions, this community demonstrates continuous collaboration between their labs and research centers. I also learned about the exciting partnerships between scientific institutions and schools—the kinds of partnerships that Windward is dedicated to developing through its strategic planning. Looking ahead, parents, educators, scientists, and policy makers need to ensure that every child with dyslexia receives the support and services needed to thrive both academically and personally. In order for more progress to occur, there must be a greater commitment to providing support for early language and reading development, especially targeting the needs of at-risk children. Furthermore, there will need to be even more collaboration between scientific institutions, universities, teacher preparation and development programs, parent groups, policy makers, and, especially, schools.

Building on Successes as a “Beacon” for the Future Learning from the scientific and education community offers new opportunities to highlight the pioneering work of The Windward School. As Maureen Lovett cited in her presentation at IDA, implementing lasting change in schools requires a “village.” There needs to be a school culture built on sound infrastructure that bridges research with quality professional development and consistent classroom implementation. Every aspect of Windward’s methodology is grounded in research and is deliberately implemented in all areas of the School’s mission. Windward Teacher Training Institute (WTTI) provides courses,

workshops, and lectures to make research applicable in classroom practice in many school settings. Last year, WTTI offered over 20,000 hours of professional development to Windward faculty and staff and beyond, reaching communities in 17 states in the United States. In recent years, educators from Canada, India, Spain, and Argentina have learned from various classes offered by the WTTI. The Windward Teacher Training Program also ensures consistency of program implementation within the school through Friday staff development sessions, curriculum meetings, new teacher workshops, after school and weekend courses, lectures, and the Summer Intensive Practicum (SIP). For example, the teacher training program delivered over 11,000 hours of professional development to Windward faculty last year, equating to over 330 hours of training for assistant teachers to the most seasoned faculty members. Within each content area, all teachers continue to develop through an instructional coaching model that integrates feedback, observations, and opportunities for professional growth. One example of lesson planning that is continuously reinforced for Windward teachers across all content areas is the deliberate planning of language and questioning as explained in “Questions: An Important Aspect of Student Learning” on page 16. The results of a Windward education are proven in the evidence of student progress in the classroom, performance on standardized assessments, and in the continued success of alumni ambassadors. As Dr. Russell recently outlined in the strategic mission of The Windward School and Windward Teacher Training Institute, it truly does take a village to educate children. With the increased commitment to research and partnerships between scientific institutions and school communities like Windward, the scope of outreach of informed research practices will continue to grow. As the future unfolds, Windward’s methodology will serve as a “beacon” of the future where all children thrive both academically and personally.

Sources Gaab, N. (2017). It’s a myth that young children cannot be screened for dyslexia. The Examiner, 6(5). Retrieved from: Gabrieli, J. (2017). Dyslexia: from neurophysiology to intervention. Presentation at the Third Meeting of the New England Research on Dyslexia Society (NERDY), Storrs, CT. Horowitz, S. H., Rawe, J., & Whittaker, M. C. (2017). The State of Learning Disabilities: Understanding the 1 in 5. New York: National Center for Learning Disabilities. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, NIH, DHHS. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching children to read: Reports of the subgroups (00-4754). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Ozernov-Palchik, O. (2017). Investigating contextual facilitation effects on phonetic processing in young children with dyslexia. Presentation at the Third Meeting of the New England Research on Dyslexia Society (NERDY), Storrs, CT. Ozernov-Palchik, O., & Gaab, N. (2016). Tackling the ‘dyslexia paradox’: Reading brain and behavior for early markers of developmental dyslexia. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 7(2), 156-176. Shaywitz, S. A., & Shaywitz, B. A. (2003). Dyslexia (specific reading disability, Pediatrics in Review, 24(5).



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Research Roundup


An Important Aspect of Student Learning

By Nicole Berkowitz, Betsy Duffy, Diane Happas, and Katie Price

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” ———— Albert Einstein ————


arefully crafting questions for instruction to optimize learning has a long history dating back to Socrates. Questioning has remained such an important strategy in teaching that cognitive scientists and educational researchers have extensively studied teachers’ questioning behaviors in schools for more than 40 years. Typical classroom teachers ask between 200 to 400 questions per day, and about 80 percent of these questions fall into the simple recall of facts or procedural category (Redfield & Rousseau, 1981; Brudaldi, 1998; Wilen, Instructional language requires a thoughtful and deliberate design. Although Windward teachers do not script all their verbal output, they pre-plan essential questions to be asked before, during, and after instruction.

15% of the sample taken did not include any complex questions at all (Hardman, Smith, & Wall, 2003). John Hattie, author of Visible Learning for Teachers; Maximizing Impact on Learning (2012), recommends that teachers spend appropriate time planning the balance of surface, deep, and conceptual learning exchanges and questions in order to enhance academic outcomes. Windward teachers receive extensive staff development and coaching not only in the factual knowledge necessary to understand lesson concepts but also in recognizing 4-SQUARE MODEL EXAMPLE Simple Questions Choice and Product Questions  What

is a canopic jar?


long did it take to mummify a body?


prepared the body for mummification?

Complex Questions Process and Meta-Process Questions  Why

do you think the process of mummification was important to ancient Egyptians?


do you know the process of mummification was difficult?

2001). A later study used devices no bigger than a handheld calculator to monitor and record classroom interactions to study teacher questioning. Accompanying software provided detailed analysis using real-time data. Even using a high technology research design, the study’s findings were similar to those of the previous studies. Most of the questions asked were of a low cognitive level, designed to funnel pupils' responses towards a predetermined answer while more complex, open-ended questions made up only 10% of the questioning exchanges. Interestingly,

how deeper ideas in a text relate to each other. Teachers specifically learn how to craft the questions necessary to elicit varied levels of student responses, prompting true knowledge building and analytical thinking. Eventually, through teacher modeling, students acquire the ability to apply these inquiry methods to their own learning. In this article, we discuss how teachers plan, execute, and scaffold questions, and we share the evidence-based research on which our instructional practices are grounded.

Spring 2018 The Beacon

Planning Questions Instructional language requires a thoughtful and deliberate design. Although Windward teachers do not script all their verbal output, they pre-plan essential questions to be asked before, during, and after instruction. These questions align with the complexity of the text, the make-up of the class, and the level of reasoning required. For example, when planning to use chapter books and fictional stories, teachers note places in the text that correspond to the major story elements, and they highlight points in the narrative where they anticipate possible breakdowns in student comprehension. Teachers then determine natural breaks in the reading to ask guiding questions about the story element being identified. They classify their questions and comments using the 4-square model (see below), a concept originally developed by Marion Blank (1994) to engage students in varied levels of critical thinking. Similarly, when planning a lesson for an expository text, teachers pre-plan questions and comments according to the text structure using the same 4-square model. The responses elicited from students are dependent on the types of questions asked. Questions can be divided into two categories: simple and complex. Simple questions (who, what, when, where, how many), or lower cognitive questions, are questions that typically elicit single-word responses or short phrases and focus on labels, recall of facts, and characteristics. Such questions should be planned to test students’ understanding


The comment side of the 4-square must also be considered when planning a lesson. In addition to asking questions, teachers produce statements that support student learning. Like questions, comments can be described as simple or complex. However, while questions are determined by their level of abstraction, comments are categorized by their syntactic complexity. Comments provide opportunities to expose students to a sophisticated, literate style of language and are used to reiterate and restate main ideas, model critical thinking, and elaborate content. An essential part of the teacher planning process is conducting background research and reading extensively about the topic. Teachers can then enhance their planned comments to build and supplement student background knowledge to aid in overall comprehension. Preparing questions and comments in advance ensures that a teacher asks different types of questions and uses a rich variety of sentence structures in their oral language. As a general practice, teachers can utilize the 4-square model to observe the ratio of simple to complex questions and comments. If too many questions or comments are planned in one square, instructional language will not be rich or varied enough. Planning a balance and variety of instructional language broadens the range of thinking from fact-based exchanges to higher levels of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Teachers at Windward strive to improve their technique for asking effective questions during lessons. While teacher questions

Simple Comments Simple, Active Declarative Sentences  Organs

were stored in a special canopic jar.


embalmers wrapped the body in layers of linen bandages.

Complex Comments Sentences with Conjunctions and Clauses  There

were partial scenes painted or carved on tomb walls, coffins, and canopic jars, but no complete description was recorded.


the Greek historian, described how the Egyptians preserved their dead.

and retention of information and facts. Complex questions, on the other hand, refer to a process involving the manipulation of information and are most often represented by “how” and “why” questions. These open-ended questions are designed to tap higher-level thinking and require explaining, predicting, comparing/contrasting, analyzing, and justifying. In addition, complex questions encourage rich, expansive, and elaborated student responses.

Windward teachers receive extensive staff development and coaching not only in the factual knowledge necessary to understand lesson concepts but also in recognizing how deeper ideas in a text relate to each other.

and comments are planned in advance, it is important to note that it is not the quantity but the qualitative use of questions that facilitates learning. Beyond questioning strategies, teacher training at The Windward School includes effective teaching strategies for whole class engagement, vocabulary instruction, text structure with the use of graphic organizers, and the foundation of writing—all of which results in a multi-strategy approach to teaching and learning.


The Beacon Spring 2018

Classroom Delivery Windward teachers use evidence-based strategies to facilitate classroom discourse that maximizes student participation and enriches discussion. Thus, additional professional development is also devoted to strategies for incorporating wait time, feedback, and effective dialogic techniques into lessons. Questions that have been planned with such care and purpose deserve to be processed by the entire class before a student is called upon. Defined as the amount of time between asking a question and calling on a student to respond, wait time is a classically underused tool in classrooms. Researchers suggest that wait time ought to be at least three to five seconds, and they have proven that sufficient wait time is essential for maximizing the effectiveness of classroom discourse (Rowe, 1986). Specifically, increased wait time results in more active student engagement, higher levels of participation, greater success in answering, lengthier and more complex responses, improved retention of material, and a deeper discussion of the content. Additionally, longer wait time is related to an increase in the number of clarifying questions asked by students (Rowe, 1986). After posing a question to the class, providing wait time, and calling on a student to respond, the teacher pays careful attention to the response and provides feedback that is clear, instructional, and specific. If a student is initially unable to answer a question or answers incorrectly, the teacher scaffolds her questions until the student is able to provide a correct answer. For example, during a reading activity, the student may be encouraged to look back in a specific paragraph to locate information that will help answer the When questions question. Or the teacher may provide were interspersed verbal support by posing follow-up questions to guide the student to within text correct, refine, add to, or justify the readings, students original response. Remaining with the student (rather than having a different demonstrated child answer) and talking the student better retention through the process of finding the correct answer is essential for facilitatof content ing understanding and ensuring that material and recall the student experiences an appropriate measure of competence. Extending of specific facts. the student’s turn helps that student internalize and generalize the process or strategy to successfully engage in future academic discussions. Feedback is used to validate and reinforce correct responses. Windward teachers provide positive feedback that is specific and goal-oriented. Examples of such targeted feedback include, “Did everyone notice that Jared checked back in the text for his answer?” or “By providing two examples, you made your argument sound more convincing.” Such specific guidance informs the responding student, as well as the rest of the class, not only that the student’s response has been positively evaluated but also,

more importantly, what type of replicable learning behavior could result from that response. Although teachers question students, it is important to note that the desired format of classroom discourse is not an examination but rather an interactive, continuous, and animated discussion. In addition to assessing, correcting and reinforcing student understanding, questioning techniques are used to create an environment in which children share their views, listen to each other’s reasoning, and examine and revise their own thinking. Thus, delivery of a carefully-planned and targeted set of questions should be seen not as the ultimate goal but rather the starting point for engaging the students in a lively and focused discussion. In order to facilitate a reciprocal and continuous exchange of ideas, teachers acknowledge and elaborate upon student contributions. Student responses may also be incorporated into a subsequent question for the class to consider (e.g., “Sarah just described Ellen as feeling hopeful. How have Ellen’s feelings changed since the beginning of the chapter?” or “The four planets closest to the sun are rocky. Why are Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars more dense and rocky than the other planets?”). For questions with more than one answer or with room for multiple interpretations, teachers should seek responses from several students. Follow-up questions can also serve to extend discussion points. In addition, students may be asked to agree or disagree with or elaborate on each other’s contributions. By using the techniques described above, Windward teachers carefully facilitate classroom discourse without dominating it. Although teachers question students, it is important to note that the desired format of classroom discourse is not an examination but rather an interactive, continuous, and animated discussion.

Theoretical Underpinnings Windward teachers’ abilities to structure academic conversations are based on an extensive body of research. The outcomes of varied research designs (e.g., experimental and descriptive studies as well as meta-analyses) have contributed to a theoretical framework for the role, design, and use of questions. Researchers and theorists have gathered, analyzed, and interpreted data about the patterns of question-answer exchanges in the classroom.

Spring 2018 The Beacon

Replicated findings point to the types of teacher behavior and language that promote academic language and increased student engagement. The proven effects of question-asking were first noted by educational psychologists in the 1960s. When questions were interspersed within text readings, students demonstrated better retention of content material and recall of specific facts. In later decades, researchers and theorists explored learning in classrooms through video-observation methods. Transcripts were then analyzed for specific features including teacher questions, wait time, feedback, explanations, and student response patterns. Using quantitative and qualitative techniques, researchers could identify the impact of varied question types on student thinking and expression. Among the comprehensive classroom communication strategies to benefit learning was the notion of “dialogic teaching.” Dialogic interactions were characterized by teachers’ efforts to engage students in extended discussion with questioning as the critical element to facilitate higher-order thinking and reasoning. A large-scale American study led by Martin Nystrand (1997; 2003) was pivotal in establishing strong empirical support for the role of open-ended discussion in literature instruction and its effects on student achievement. According to Nystrand (1997), productive classroom discourse exhibits a high degree of reciprocity in interaction and is marked by open-ended questions that create contexts for students to generate extended responses which, in turn, reflect reasoning

processes that are typically regarded as indicative of high-level thinking. In this landmark study of literature discussions in 42 eighth- and ninth-grade classrooms, authentic questions generated the kind of reciprocity that enabled students to take on roles as ‘‘fully fledged conversants.” Nystrand termed instructional contexts in which students and teachers engage in authentic conversations and where knowledge is interactively co-constructed as ‘‘dialogic events’’ (Nystrand, 2003). Subsequent systematic reviews of research that focused on instructional conversations between teacher and student continued to support the efficacy of dialogic interactions as a pedagogical strategy. One noteworthy review of research on the effects of classroom discussion is the three-year study and meta-analyses published in the International Journal of Educational Research, funded by the United States Department of Education. After an exhaustive literature search and research study comparing nine classroom discussion approaches with recognized track records and published results, the authors identified and confirmed the features of classroom discourse that had the greatest impact on student learning: extended student talk, discussion of texts through open-ended questions, and a high degree of teacher uptake (i.e., follow-up questions and comments) (Soter, 2008). Taken from this broad research base, the instructional discourse strategies implemented by Windward teachers ensure that all students participate in discussions that promote high-level thinking, comprehension, and student expression.

About the Authors Nicole Berkowitz, CCC-SLP, is a Speech Language Pathologist and Language Arts Coordinator at The Windward School. Betsy Duffy, MSEd, is the Director of Language Arts and Instruction at The Windward School. Diane Happas, CCC-SLP, is the Coordinator of Language at The Windward School. Katie Price, CCC-SLP, is a Speech Language Pathologist and Language Arts Coordinator at The Windward School.

References Brualdi, A. (1998). Implementing performance assessment in the classroom. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 6(2). Blank, M. (1994). Directing School Discourse. Tucson, AZ: Communication Skill Builders. Culatta, B., Blank, M. & Black, S. (2010). Talking things through— roles of instructional discourse in children’s processing of expository text. Topics in Language Disorders, 30(4), 308-322. Hardman, F., Smith, F., & Wall, K. (2003). Interactive whole class teaching in the national literacy strategy. Cambridge Journal of Education, 33(2), 197-215. Hattie, J. A. C. (2012). Visible learning for teachers. Maximizing impact on achievement. Oxford, UK: Routledge. Marzano, R. J., Pickering, D. J., & Pollock, J. E. (2001). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Nystrand, M., Gamoran, A., Kachur, R., & Prendergast, C. (1997). Opening dialogue: Understanding the dynamics of language and learning in the English classroom. New York: Teachers College Press. Nystrand, M., Wu, A., Gamoran, A., Zeiser, S., & Long, D. A. (2003). Questions in time: Investigating the structure and dynamics of unfolding classroom discourse. Discourse Processes, 35(3), 135–198. Redfield, D. L., Rousseau, E. W., (1981). A meta-analysis of experimental research on teacher questioning behavior. Review of Educational Research, 51(2), 237-245. Rowe, M.B. (1986). Wait time: slowing down may be a way of speeding up! Journal of Teacher Education, 37(1), 43-50. Soter, A.O. et al., (2008). What the discourse tells us: Talk and indicators of high-level comprehension. International Journal of Educational Research, 47, 372-391. Wilen, W. W. (2001). Exploring myths about teacher questioning in the social studies classroom. The Social Studies, 92(1), 26-32.


This page has been left intentionally blank. The print version of the Spring 2018 issue of The Beacon included a print-only, licensed article, "Laptops Are Great. But Not During a Lecture or a Meeting," by Susan Dynarski from The New York Times. If you would like a print copy of The Beacon, please email

This page has been left intentionally blank. The print version of the Spring 2018 issue of The Beacon included a print-only, licensed article, "Laptops Are Great. But Not During a Lecture or a Meeting," by Susan Dynarski from The New York Times. If you would like a print copy of The Beacon, please email


The Beacon Spring 2018

Alumni Profile

Callie Toal ’18 Turning Disabilities into Gifts By Heather Pray, Director of Communications


hroughout elementary school, Callie Toal ’18 knew she was different. When her classmates were reading, she would pretend to read. Instead of raising her hand to answer a question, she would remain silent. If homework needed to be turned in, she would say she lost it. All of that changed when she came to Windward. As Callie heads off to college next fall, she knows she will go with a firm foundation and the right tools to succeed. From pre-K to fourth grade, Callie attended a school where her ADHD created constant obstacles to her success. “She was never able to focus on one task, and she would jump from one thing to the next, even when telling stories,” her mother, Julie Leeds, recalls. Looking back, Callie remembers the impact that her early years of education had on her confidence: “I thought I was stupid or the other kids were smarter.” While her classmates were learning, a teacher suggested that Callie rub quarters together during class because “she thought it would help me focus and sit still.” Rather than contributing to class, the typically social and outgoing Callie became too nervous to participate. The atmosphere became so toxic that teachers threatened to stop teaching her because she wasn’t like the other students. Her self-esteem plummeted. “I had my name picked out to read a story, and as I struggled, I could see my teacher smirking and hear my classmates laughing,” she remembers. While her parents knew Callie had ADHD from the young age of three, her diagnosis of dyslexia was not made until second grade; and despite having a specialized tutor in third grade, Callie did not fully understand the meaning of her dyslexia diagnosis.

Callie’s parents had heard about Windward from good friends and decided that fifth grade would be a good time to transition Callie to a new school. Prior to beginning at Windward, Callie visited the school as part of the admissions process. “I remember visiting a language arts classroom, and they were ‘scooping words.’ Witnessing that process made reading seem so much easier. I knew then that this was going to be the right school for me,” she adds. Callie’s first day of school at Windward was the end of teachers not understanding her needs and peers laughing at her because she was different from them. There would be no more name-calling of “lazy,” “daydreamer,” “passive,” or “stupid.” She recalls, “When I arrived at Windward, I remember getting ready to read in class, and it occurred to me that everyone was the same as me. When I was called to read in class, no one laughed. The teachers wanted to stay and help me. I felt comfortable asking a question without someone thinking I was stupid.” That pivotal first day brought another momentous occasion for Callie and her family: a painless evening of doing homework. “When I came home from my first day of school, my parents asked me if I needed help. Homework was always a nightmare, but that evening I completed my homework all by myself. I didn’t need their help. The evening wasn’t a complete mess like it had been many nights before,” she remembers. Callie’s progress in learning strategies to succeed continued at Windward through eighth grade. Throughout her childhood, Callie had always participated in sports. “I played everything, and I’ve always been extremely competitive,” she remarks. While she participated in Windward’s soccer program in fifth grade, Callie Callie Toal ’18 will be attending Kenyon College to play soccer in Fall 2018.

Callie with her family

understand them at all.” She continues, would move on to club sports for the rest of “Playing sports, especially “I also hated public speaking, but thanks her adolescence. The juggling of sports and academics helped instill discipline in Callie. soccer, really helped teach to Windward and having to present in study skills class, I became used to public speaking. “Playing sports, especially soccer, really helped me to work hard and I learned to be calm, stop fidgeting, and stay teach me to work hard and have the discipline to get my work done. I couldn’t play sports if have the discipline to get on point.” Callie would end up taking first place at that speech competition. I wasn’t doing well in school—and that was my work done. I couldn’t Callie’s discipline, time management, not an option for me,” she shares. and resilience have remained with her at Blair With discipline firmly in her skill set, play sports if I wasn’t she would soon add time management and Academy. “Callie will never back away from a doing well in school— organization. “Windward really helped me challenge,” her mother points out. “If Callie is manage my time and kept me organized. told that a class is too challenging or that she and that was not an Before Windward, I shoved all my papers does not have to take the class due to her IEP, option for me.” into my backpack. I wasn’t sure what was she will take the class and succeed. Callie was homework or not. At Windward, they gave also exempt from taking a foreign language. us binders to organize our papers. It really helped me keep things Most kids would be thrilled with that idea—but not Callie. in order,” she reminisces. Discipline, time management, and She ended up taking one for three years!” organization were all essential to making the most out of the The next challenge for Callie will be attending Kenyon College eighth-grade study skills class: how to write a research paper. and playing college-level soccer in the fall. With a foundation for success firmly secure, Callie is extremely grateful that Windward “If I had left Windward without being able to write a research taught her to be her best advocate and never to be ashamed paper well, I wouldn’t have survived,” she asserts After Windward, Callie enrolled in Blair Academy, a boarding of her disabilities. Instead, she sees her disabilities as gifts and opportunities to offer a different perspective of the world. “I school in New Jersey, where she is currently finishing her senior year. No longer afraid to raise her hand in class, Callie participated hope people like me look at their differences and disabilities and embrace them. Maybe they will turn out to be the key gifts that in a sophomore speech competition in which she shared with lead you to do things no one else thought you could. I have her audience what it is like to be in the mind of someone with ADHD and dyslexia, and I’m proud of it. It makes me who ADHD and dyslexia. “Windward really helped me understand I am, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.” my learning disabilities because before I attended, I didn’t


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The Windward School Newsletter for Educators and Parents Spring 2018

Dr. John J. Russell Head of School Jonathan Rosenshine Associate Head of School Board of Trustees 2017–18 Executive Board Ellen Bowman President Timothy M. Jones 1st Vice President Susan Salice 2nd Vice President Mark A. Ellman Treasurer Mitchell J. Katz Secretary Thomas Coleman Patty Wolff Arthur Ceria Elizabeth A. Crain Peter D’Avanzo George Davison Nicholas Finn Thomas Flanagan David Friedland Alexander A. Gendzier Mark Goldberg Jeffrey Goldenberg Gregory D. Kennedy Stacy Kuhn Raul Martinez Janice Meyer Denis J. O’Leary, III Maria Reed Eric Schwartz Lou Switzer Nicholas Van Amburg Devon S. Fredericks Trustee Emerita Editor Heather Pray Director of Communications Design The Blank Page, NYC

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The Beacon - Spring 2018