The literate brain and mind
Spring Semester 2020
Instructor: Ken Pugh
Description: The development of reading and writing skills are essential for achieving success in the modern world, yet significant numbers of people from all languages and cultures fail to obtain adequate literacy outcomes. This seminar examines the neurobiological and cognitive foundations of reading and writing. The course is aimed at providing students an introduction to research on gene-brain-behavior analyses of typical and atypically developing readers. Topics covered include recent advances in our understanding of the relationship between speech perception/production and individual differences in literacy learning, systems level research on the distributed brain circuits that develop to support word reading, text comprehension, second language learning, and the neurobiology of acquired and developmental reading and writing disorders. We will draw heavily on ongoing developmental research from our team at Haskins focused on early neurocognitive studies of reading difficulties in contrastive languages (including English, Mandarin, Spanish, Finnish, and Dutch). Over the course of the semester students will be able to acquire basic familiarity with cognitive methods and new tools for human brain mapping, and we will critically examine both the promise and the limitations of the current approaches to understanding language and literacy.
The required readings consist of articles and chapters that will be made available on line. Students will be able to download the readings from a website made for the course by Week number (or in special cases may be responsible for photocopying an article or chapter). Each week we will have critical discussions of at least two primary articles. In addition, supplementary articles will be assigned as background for class discussions.
Evaluation of Student Performance
Each student will be responsible for leading class discussions of at least four of the primary articles over the course of the semester. The student leading a given discussion will be asked to write (and distribute one day before the class) a brief evaluation of the article highlighting major findings, and key strengths and weaknesses (this will also help prepare for leading the discussion). A final research proposal is required. This document, be 5-10 pages in length and written using standard grant writing format, will present the design of novel experiments related to one of the major topics covered in the course. Each student will present an oral overview of their written proposal (10 minutes each) at the end of the semester. Evaluation will be based on: 1) the research proposal and presentation (60%) and 2) class assignments and participation (40%).