Early Intervention

At TCU’s Davies School of Communication Sciences & Disorders, professors help struggling young readers correct course.

by Rachel Stowe Master

Emily Lund (left) and Danielle Brimo are colleagues in the Davies School of Communication Sciences & Disorders.
- photo by: Carolyn Cruz

Listening and learning have long been linked, but improving children’s ability to do the former doesn’t always help the latter.

Hearing problems — even when corrected — can put students at a disadvantage. Young children with cochlear implants often still read at levels below their peers in high school.

Emily Lund, assistant professor at the Davies School of Communication Sciences & Disorders, is exploring whether a lack of phonological awareness — the understanding of how sounds make up words — is related to vocabulary knowledge in children with cochlear implants.

To conduct the research, Lund received a $282,807 grant from the National Institutes of Health. Her study aims to improve the understanding of early literacy development in children with cochlear implants to better treat literacy delays.

With undergraduate assistants, Lund studied the differences between children with cochlear implants and those with normal hearing, in terms of their understanding of the sonic components of words. She wanted to determine if children with cochlear implants knew fewer dense words, which sound similar to other words. She also investigated whether children connected similar sounds in different words and performed worse on phonological awareness tasks.

Lund explored an early literacy deficit in once-deaf children that does not directly result from their speech-perception limitations. “The findings could indicate that giving children who were deaf access to sound through a cochlear implant isn’t sufficient to help a child develop literacy skills organically,” she said. “We also need to consider how we teach these skills to children who aren’t used to learning through listening.”

Kids with perfect hearing also can have trouble learning to read. Danielle Brimo, assistant professor at the Davies School, researched the effectiveness of current grammar-based methods for teaching children who display below-average language or reading comprehension.

“Unfortunately, there is limited research in our field that supports effective grammar interventions for school-age children,” she said. “The goal of this study is to provide practitioners with an effective intervention they can use.”

Brimo examined whether children improve grammatical knowledge more after receiving explicit instruction — traditional methods emphasizing language forms and grammar rules — or implicit grammar instruction, which focuses on meaning rather than rules or form.

Brimo also studied whether aspiring educators and speech practitioners have the language skills necessary to teach grammar deficient children effectively. The professor and Tina Melamed, who has since received a master’s degree in speech pathology, completed a pilot study with students in education and speech-language pathology at TCU. The researchers also surveyed pre-professional students at Abilene Christian University and the University of Virginia.

The pilot survey indicated students who took language-development courses did not have any advantages over students who did not have such coursework, Brimo said. “These findings suggest that the language development coursework that prepares students for clinical practice needs to be revised.”

Emily Lund’s research interests include spoken and written-word learning in children with hearing loss, with particular emphasis on how parent-training affects language learning.

Danielle Brimo’s research examines the language and literacy skills of children with and without language and reading impairments. She is interested in how morphological awareness and syntactic awareness affect children’s spelling, word-level reading and reading comprehension.

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