As The Windward School’s research coordinator and an eighth-grade teacher, I regularly reflect upon how research informs my teaching. Understanding that our brain is malleable has profoundly impacted the way I teach my students. While I continue to learn about the research about our reading brain, I am excited about the future of neuroscience advancements in education. Specifically, neuroimaging technology has enabled researchers to understand the functions and neuroplasticity of our brains, providing stronger insights into how we learn to read.
As a key educational partner with Haskins Laboratories through the Haskins Global Literacy Hub, The Windward School is now contributing to the research scholarship by participating in a pioneering neuroimaging study, Predicting Literacy Outcomes at The Windward School. Through the Windward/Haskins Collaborative Project, we hope to better understand the plasticity of the reading brain in order to improve language and literacy outcomes for children at risk for reading difficulties locally and globally.
In preparation for the study, custom electroencephalography (EEG) laboratories were installed at the Manhattan and Westchester campuses this past June. EEG, a non-invasive, low stress method of neuroimaging, allows researchers to deeply understand our students’ brains at a granular level that may not be evident in traditional “pen and paper” behavioral assessments. Specifically, the Predicting Literacy Outcomes at The Windward School study will demonstrate changes in brain activity that are involved in reading.
As teacher training has been a hallmark of the instructional program at Windward, the School expanded upon its professional development offerings for faculty by offering this unique learning opportunity to participate in the study and engage deeply in the current research of educational neuroscience, alongside research experts in the field. In August, groups of volunteers including Windward teachers, guidance counselors, and speech-language pathologists, arrived at the Westchester Lower School and Manhattan campuses for training days in the foundations of educational neuroscience and EEG. Trey Avery, a senior research applications specialist at Philips, led a morning presentation about neuroscience and brain imaging measured used in research studies.
In addition to learning about brain measuring techniques, the faculty volunteers practiced applying EEG caps with the guidance from Mr. Avery and Vishakha Agrawal from Haskins Laboratories. The teachers precisely and deliberately measured their colleagues’ heads and ensured the electrodes on the EEG cap matched the brain signals they were trying to measure. Once the caps were positioned, many teachers commented on how comfortable the cap actually felt. After wearing the cap and participating in a test study, teachers gained a better sense of how they would explain the process to student participants during the school year. As a current Windward teacher, I know students will appreciate the opportunity to contribute to science and to learn more about how their brain works.
Throughout the school year, faculty volunteers will have an opportunity to participate further in the study by assisting Haskins researchers in data collection. Adding this element of participatory research will enable Windward teachers to experience the direct connection between research and practice. In addition to the research project, ongoing professional development, led by Haskins scientists, will continue throughout the school year so all Windward teachers will be equipped with an extensive understanding of how scientists and educators can further collaborate.
Incoming students in grades 1 through 6 have been invited to participate in phase one of the in-school research project, Predicting Literacy Outcomes at The Windward School. This research will examine the neurocognitive bases of individual responses to the well-established evidence-based interventions delivered at The Windward School. Using a variety of research techniques, the researchers and educators involved will gain new insights into how evidence-based academic intervention modulates brain organization for literacy, language learning, and remediation; and why some students respond to interventions more robustly than others with similar neurocognitive profiles. A better understanding of the underlying mechanisms of speech and print processing for children with language-based learning disabilities will help identify new biomarkers of response to intervention. This research represents a key step towards the development of comprehensive models of the neural basis of reading development in children who learn differently.
This project has the potential to contribute to much more than our school community but influence the field of education more broadly. The study will continue to leverage Haskins’s expertise to further the research-based practices that Windward teachers are expertly applying in their classrooms every day. The intersection between research and classroom at The Windward School is one step toward our larger vision: a world where every child with a language-based learning disability is empowered to achieve unlimited success.