Current Studies

Promoting Literacy Development in Children in Rural Cocoa Producing Communities

How does inconsistent access to language and reading instruction in a new language impact literacy outcomes? How can we best design policies to ameliorate the negative consequence of poverty on literacy? As part of the Transforming Education in Cocoa Communities (TRECC) program and with a team of Ivorian graduate students, we are conducting a cognitive, linguistic, and reading assessment in children growing up in rural cocoa communities in Cote d’Ivoire. We combine behavioral indicators of literacy development with portable neuroimaging using functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) to shed new light on brain development in impoverished and adverse conditions. Children in these communities face many challenges to learning to read: high poverty rates, poor school attendance, and child labor in cocoa agriculture. Children face the added challenge of learning to read in a new language, French, different from the language spoke in their community. Education is almost exclusively French, while there are over 60 languages spoken in Ivory Coast. Our combined brain-behavior approach allows us to apply the latest tools of cognitive neuroscience to advance the study of global child development.

Research Team: Dr. Hermann Akpe, Fabrice Tanoh, Axel Blahoua

Funding: Jacobs Foundation Early Career Fellowship (PI: Jasinska); Jacobs Foundation Science Capacity Building Funding (PI: Jasinska)

Neural and Genetic Basis of Language and Reading Development

The aim of this research program is to track how aspects of language and cognition (including working memory, attention, and executive functions) are represented and processed in the developing brain, and determine how environmental factors such as language background (i.e. bilingualism, biliteracy) shape the neurodevelopmental trajectories of these key linguistic and cognitive skills, and literacy outcomes.
Chinese-, Spanish-, and English-speaking children and adults are invited to participate.

Current studies in this research program include:
– Cross-linguistic influences on morphological and orthographic processing underlying the development of reading in the bilingual brain. (With Dr. Li Sheng, Communication Sciences and Disorders, University of Delaware; PhD Student: Sarah Wang)
– Developing cognitive skills that shape a young child’s capacity to understand complex language constructions such as scalar implicatures. (PhD Student: Alyssa Kampa)
– fNIRS and fMRI tracking of neurodevelopmental changes supporting emergent literacy. (With Dr. Ken Pugh, Haskins Laboratories)
– Relation between genes COMT and BDNF and the structural and functional development of the brain. (With Dr. Nicole Landi, University of Connecticut)

Technology-based Literacy Intervention for Rural Cote d'Ivoire: Scalable Solutions

Learning to read depends not only on having access to education, but on having access to quality education. In this research program, we develop a technology-based literacy intervention program for remote, rural communities of Côte d’Ivoire with the goal of providing quality, evidence-based educational programming via mobile phone to complement the school curriculum. No existing literacy intervention programs in Cote d’Ivoire currently offer scalable solutions to quickly address the problems of widespread student literacy failures. Our interdisciplinary approach combines expertise in literacy development, tech-based education solutions, and human-computer interaction in order to examine how technology-based literacy intervention, and its effective implementation and scalability, can improve literacy outcomes in communities with high illiteracy rates. We combine multiple research tools from the learning sciences (language, cognitive, and literacy assessment, longitudinal neuroimaging of the brain’s reading networks, and evaluation of technology use and integration into the community) to find an optimal and scalable strategy for literacy intervention that can be adopted in Cote d’Ivoire and throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Research Partners: ENEZA Education; Dr. Amy Ogan, Carnegie Mellon University

Jasinska Research Team: Dr. Herman Akpe, Fabrice Tanoh, Axel Blahoua

Funding: Jacobs Foundation Research Grant (Co-PI: K. Jasinska)

Tracking the Neuroplasticity of the Speech Cortex and Language Outcomes in Children with Cochlear Implants

Hearing loss is one of the most common birth defects in the United States affecting approximately 3 in 1,000 newborns. Depending on the degree of hearing loss, deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) infants receive interventions that may include cochlear implants (CI). Nevertheless, there is a huge amount of variability in these children’s linguistic and academic outcomes. The amount/type of therapy that children receive, as well as the language input they are exposed to are thought to contribute (to some degree) to this variability. Additionally, the age of implantation is considered one of the strongest predictors of language outcomes for DHH children, since lack of exposure to sound early in life affects the development of the brain’s auditory processing areas. But not all children implanted at the same age achieve the same language skills. Could there be factors at the neural level that make it easier (or harder) to process speech and acquire language once the brain gains access to sound through the CI? The mechanism by which the brain adapts to a new sensory modality following implantation and begins to perceive the relevant speech stream in a range of listening environments (including noisy contexts that may negatively impact speech processing), and the implication for developing language skills remain poorly understood. We combine two cutting edge technologies (fNIRS and eye-tracking) to examine dynamic changes in neuroplasticity and organization of neural pathways for speech perception and language skills right after implantation. Our research may help predict language outcomes and explain the high degree of individual variability observed in children with CIs. Children requiring additional support could be identified earlier, preventing language delays and later academic problems.

Research Partners: Dr. Giovanna Morini, Communication Sciences and Disorders, University of Delaware;

Dr. Thierry Morlet, Nemours Children’s Health System

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