For refugee children, displacement and migration often corresponds to a period of interrupted schooling and limited literacy instruction. As refugee children resettle in Canada, they resume learning to read at school. However, refugee children significantly lag behind their peers, both native English-speaking students as well as other newcomers to Canada and English language learners (ELLs), in reading. Crucially, this reading achievement gap is wider for children who arrived in Canada at an older age—suggesting that there may be an optimal period for reading instruction. While interrupted schooling clearly has a negative impact on literacy, little is known about the specific effects of interrupted schooling across the developmental trajectory for reading, and even less is known about the neurobiological mechanisms by which interrupted schooling impacts the neural systems that support reading. By leveraging the latest tools of educational neuroscience (functional neuroimaging tools, specifically functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy; fNIRS)—we can examine the neural systems that support reading development for children who have experienced periods of interrupted schooling at different ages and who have resumed schooling, and learning to read, at an older age. We test specific hypotheses concerning the age at which children receive literacy instruction in relation to neural activation in left-hemisphere frontal and temporoparietal brain language regions that form the neural reading network.
70 Syrian refugee children between the ages of 10-16 complete a behavioral battery of language and literacy assessments in both English and Arabic, as well as a neuroimaging task measuring spoken and written language processing. The neuroimaging task is designed to elicit patterns of neural activation for spoken and written language processing as well as semantic, phonological, and orthographic processing involved in reading. Participants will hear/see English word stimuli presented in a block-design paradigm with conditions (2×3 design) contrasting modality (speech, print) and lexicality (word, pseudoword, falsefont/vocoded speech). Data collection is ongoing.
To date, the mechanisms by which the rich functional specialization for reading develops remain poorly understood. An important theoretical advance would be to test how the brain’s reading network is changed through education or lack thereof. The resettlement of refugee children allows us the opportunity to address these outstanding issues, and gain new insights that may ultimately guide education practice to best support newcomer refugee children in Canada.
Monday, June 20, 2022
11:35 PDT, 12:35 MDT, 15:35 ADT, 19:35 BST