Learning Disabilities Center Defining and Treating Specific Learning Disabilities in Written Language

Member Research Program


Learning Disabilities Center Defining and Treating Specific Learning Disabilities in Written Language

Currently Virginia W. Berninger is P.I. of an NICHD interdisciplinary research grant on defining and treating specific learning disabilities affecting written language learning (dysgraphia—impaired handwriting; dyslexia-impaired oral word reading/decoding and spelling; and oral and written language learning disability [OWL LD also known as selective language impairment]--impaired listening and reading comprehension and written expression of ideas). In the University of Washington interdisciplinary learning disabilities center (UW LDC). We combine evidence-based definitions, organized by levels of language—subword, word, syntax/sentence, discourse/text—within each of four functional language systems—listening, speaking, reading, and writing—in defining these disorders and in assessing response to intervention. We also study typically developing oral and written language learners (OWLs) to help them do better on high stakes tests and meet common core standards. Our research at the word level focuses on teaching students the secrets of English, which has a morphophonemic orthography and requires awareness and coordination of phonology, orthography, and morphology. Phonics is necessary but alone is not sufficient. We study writing with a variety of computer tools for producing written language in the Information Age. Our research team includes computer scientists who are developing platforms to transport our work to schools serving students targeted for narrowing the achievement gap—including Spanish Speaking English Language Learners and Native Americans. We also have brain imagers who study the brain before and after specialized instruction to compare children who do and do not respond to instructional intervention as well as children with and without diagnosable specific learning disabilities. We also have geneticists who will investigate whether any of the replicated gene candidates for dyslexia (currently at least 14 possible variants at SNP locations) may predict response to instructional intervention. We also have psychologists who specialize in language assessment and instruction heading up assessment/instructional studies in university labs and school settings. Our ultimate goals for this five-year project, which draws on over 2 decades of UW research on writing, reading, and oral language assessment and instruction, and biologically based disabilities in these languages skills are (a) improving assessment-intervention links; and (b) professional development for general and special education teachers, psychologists, speech and language specialists, and occupational/physical therapists so that they communicate and collaborate more effectively in serving the broad range of students including both those with specific learning disabilities despite otherwise normal development and those who may struggle with written language learning for other reasons. A website for the University of Washington Learning Disabilities (UW LDC) and companion Center for Oral and Written Language Learning (OWLs) is in preparation. When completed the link will be on Virginia Berninger’s website in the College of Education, University of Washington. Recently I also completed a study of silent reading comprehension fluency, in collaboration with Professor Zvia Breznitz at the University of Haifa, supported by a Binational Science Foundation Grant (Israel and US). We focused on the transition from oral reading in the first three grades to silent reading in the fourth grade and variables that affect rate of silent reading comprehension. We are also still analyzing data from a five year longitudinal study of typical writing and reading development. This recent article is representative of our efforts to facilitate cross disciplinary dialogue and collaboration around language disabilities: Silliman, E., & Berninger, V. (2011). Cross-disciplinary dialogue about the nature of oral and written language problems in the context of developmental, academic, and phenotypic profiles. Topics in Language Disorders, 31, 6-23. Recent authored and edited books published and in preparation highlight other foci of our research group: Berninger, V., & Wolf, B. (2009a). Teaching students with dyslexia and dysgraphia: Lessons from teaching and science. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes. Reviewed in NASP Communiqué Vo, 39, 83, November 2010, by Pam Abrams. Berninger, V., & Wolf, B. (2009b). Helping students with dyslexia and dysgraphia make connections: Differentiated instruction lesson plans in reading and writing. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes. Spiral book with teaching plans from University of Washington Research Program. Rosenfield, S., & Berninger, V. (Eds.) (2009). Implementing evidence-based interventions in school settings. New York: Oxford University Press. (Outreach activities of Society of Scientific Studies of School Psychology, when Sylvia Rosenfield was President; and extension of the APA Task Force on Evidence Based Interventions, Academic Subdomain, co-chaired by Edward Shapiro and Virginia Berninger). Berninger, V. (Ed.) (2011). Past, present, and future contributions of cognitive writing research to cognitive psychology. New York: Psychology Press/Taylor Francis Group. Fayol, M., Alamargot, D., & Berninger, V. (Eds.) (2012). Translation of thought to written text while composing: Advancing theory, knowledge, methods, and applications. New York: Psychology Press/Taylor Francis Group. Arfé, B., Dockrell, J., & Berninger, V. (Eds.) (due later in 2012). Writing development and instruction in children with hearing, speech, and language disorders. NY: Oxford University Press. McCardle, P., & Berninger, V. (Eds.) (in progress) Evidence-based model for paying the educational debt and eliminating the achievement gap for Native Americans.
Based on over 2 decades of research drawing on cognitive psychology, psycholinguistics, developmental psychology, neuropsychology, instructional science, genetics, and brain imaging research, we have developed a model of a working memory architecture underlying language learning and use--it may be the language learning mechanism that Chomsky proposed but involves non-language processes as well. We use this model to diagnose, treat, and prevent specific learning disabilities affecting written language and in some cases involving oral language. We also use it for professional development for teachers and other educational professionals including psychologists and speech and language pathologists.
The instructional strategies we have developed and validated are based on teaching with working memory and all brain systems in mind.
The research method depends on the research question at hand. We use structural equation modeling to evaluate models of which variables (factors based on multiple indicators) uniquely predict which reading or writing achievement outcomes. Results have applications to evidence-based assessment practices. We use randomized control experiments (and sometimes design experiments) to evaluate effective instructional interventions for specific kinds of inclusion criteria (low achieving in specific reading or writing skills or have learning profile diagnostic of a specific learning disability in writing and/or reading). We also do studies based on statistical genetics and molecular biology and also different kinds of brain imaging before and after instructional intervention. In the future we hope to develop evidence-based curricula that support differentiated instruction and RTI during instruction to inform instructional decision making.
We try to keep current on new developments for data analyses and apply them. We are not trying to develop new data analysis approaches. We are planning to integrate randomized control experiments with single subject design methods to evaluate What Works for Whom.
Many over the years that are cited in publications and in interventions and assessment under development.
See CV for Virginia Berninger also see books listed at end of research program.
see Description of Research Program at end of which books are listed
For assessments that are based on our research see PAL II User Guide (a full length book on CD).
For interventions that are based on our research see PAL II User Guide (a full length book on CD) and books listed at end of our research program.
For consultation guidelines that are based on our research see PAL II User Guide (a full length book on CD).
Assessment
School-based prevention of academic problems
Teacher professional development
Intervention
Assessment, Reading
Assessment, Writing
Intervention, Reading
Intervention, Writing


Announcements

  • Congratulations to new SSSP members Amity Noltemeyer, Erica Lembke, Renee Hawkins, and Stefen Dombrowski! View the SSSP Membership
  • Congratulations to President-Elect, Elect – Scott Ardoin!
  • Thank you to the following members for their contributions: Chris Skinner (Membership Chair), Wendy Reinke (Early Career Award Chair), Tom Kubiszyn (Dissertation Award Chair), and Bryn Harris (SPRCC Chair)! View all award winners