Episode 56 - Nature, Nurture, and Reading Development with Sara Hart, PhD

About Sara Hart, PhD

Sara A. Hart is the Canadian Excellence Research Chair in Developmental Science and Professor of Psychology at the University of Waterloo, Canada. Broadly, her substantive research relates to understanding how and why people differ in their cognitive development, particularly focused on reading and math development. Most of her work to date has focused on using twin and genomic methods to understand the "nature" and "nurture" of child development. She examines the role of an individual’s genetic variants and contexts in predicting school achievement and intervention response. She also contributes to the field of meta-science, understanding how scientists do science, with a particular interest in supporting rigorous and reproducible educational and developmental science. With colleagues, she built a data repository, LDbase, to support the data sharing and data access needs of scientists working in fields of developmental science related to education. Beyond her research, Sara is passionate about mentorship, dissemination of research, and advocating for women and otherwise minoritized individuals in science.

Episode Summary

Sara Hart, PhD, joins READ to discuss the role of genes and the environment on reading development and disabilities. Throughout her career, Dr. Hart has investigated child development through an interdisciplinary lens. In this episode, you will learn about Dr. Hart’s 

  • studies with twins to understand individual development in reading and math with the goal to inform approaches to education and equity. 
  • role as co-PI of The Learning Disabilities Translational Science Collective, focused on translating research, scaling up scientific studies, bringing more stakeholders into the research process, and expanding data sharing practices. 
  • commitment to elevating other researchers, citing POWER, an organization dedicated to advocating for researchers who identify as women and non-binary in education and child development 

This episode is packed with research, insights, and entertaining stories that will resonate with educators, researchers, and advocate everywhere! 

Top READ Bookmarks
Each episode, host Dr. Danielle Gomez identifies key takeaways or “READ bookmarks.”

1. The Role of Nature and Nurture: The Interplay between Genes and Environment 
Listen to 7:30 – 26:00 to learn more.  

Dr. Hart studies twins to understand the ways in which individuals develop and the relationship between genes and environment. 

“Twin research allows you to disentangle kind of genetic and environmental influences.” 

She discusses the interplay of a collection of genes and environmental factors that collectively may influence reading achievement.  

“An individual doesn't just move around in the world without the world kind of responding to them.” 

Research shows that family history is a key risk factor for the development of a reading disability, exemplifying the role of genetics. Dr. Hart discusses the implications of this research to inform pediatricians, families, and schools for early screening and intervention.   

“If we know things like genetics and environments matter and they work together, what does that mean for that individual child in the classroom?” 

2. The Learning Disabilities Translational Science Collective 
Listen to 26:00 – 33:00 to learn more 

Dr. Hart is the co-PI of The Learning Disabilities Translational Science Collective with Dr. Tiffany Hogan, Dr. Emily Solari, and Dr. Nicole Patton Terry, funded by the NIH, that seeks to better understand the classification, identification, and intervention of learning disabilities through a multi-faceted approach.  

“We are a collective of investigators working on different projects [focused on] how we best translate our data into the public after we've collected it and how we engage stakeholders as a part of our research process.” 

The Collective addresses key areas and processes of translation science including scaling up and translating scientific studies and interventions to better inform education settings and policy areas. There is also an aspect of data management and sharing to deepen and broaden the scope of research questions and investigation. 


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READ Podcast is produced by The Windward School and The Windward Institute. READ is hosted by Danielle Gomez.

About READ: READ, the Research Education ADvocacy Podcast connects you with prominent researchers, thought leaders, and educators who share their work, insights, and expertise about current research and best practices in fields of education and child development.

Note: All information and insights shared demonstrate the expertise and views of our guests and does not constitute an endorsement by The Windward Institute or The Windward School.