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Campus Currents May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

Problems with Reading

A UCSD professor’s new project helps children with reading problems.

When students have trouble reading, parents and teachers often do not know what the exact problem is—or how best to help. Reading problems in schools are not minor: 65 percent of 12th graders never reach reading proficiency, according to a 2007 assessment from the U.S. Department of Education.

A new project led by computer science professor Gary Cottrell is aimed at helping parents and educators determine the best ways to assist individual children with their reading.

The project will document how well San Diego second graders respond to a pair of reading programs. One program, already used in San Diego schools, is focused on the child’s ability to hear closely spaced sounds (Fast ForWord). The second program exercises the child’s vision system (Path To Reading).

Second graders who are having trouble reading will go through either one or both of the programs. Results from the group exposed to both programs could be particularly interesting.

“We want to know whether the two reading remediation programs … can be combined to yield even greater benefit,” says Cottrell who recently won a four-year, $2.3M grant from the U.S. Department of Education to fund the project.

Cottrell hypothesizes that speeding up and synchronizing the vision and hearing systems in children who are having trouble reading will lead to big jumps in reading abilities. The idea is that visual and auditory brain systems will communicate better if they are on a similar temporal rhythm. This improved communication within the brain, the hypothesis goes, will help children with their reading.

UC San Diego undergraduates will teach the kids to use Fast ForWord and/or Path To Reading. With data on which programs helped which kids, along with how each child performed on a series of cognitive and literacy tests, the researchers hope to create pre-tests that help educators and parents decide which intervention will most benefit any individual child.

“It would be great to be able to give a child a short test and understand if they need a particular reading intervention, or if they simply need more practice reading,” says Cottrell.

The project is being performed in partnership with William Jenkins of Scientific Learning Corporation and Teri Lawton of the Perception Dynamics Institute, the originators of Fast ForWord and Path To Reading respectively.

—Daniel Kane