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Educational Neuroscience Speaker Series: How Language Variation Contributes to Reading Difficulties and Achievement Gaps

Friday, April 06, 2018,
  • Location: Hobbs Hall • 1818 Horton Ave • Nashville, TN 37212
  • Room: Room 105

Educational Neuroscience Speaker Series: How Language Variation Contributes to Reading Difficulties and Achievement Gaps

  Speaker: Mark S. Seidenberg
Vilas Professor and Donald O. Hebb Professor
Department of Psychology
University of Wisconsin - Madison


Children’s progress in learning to read is affected by many factors. Characteristics of the child, home, community, and school all matter. One major factor is their experience with spoken language. Much attention is now focused on variability in the amount and complexity of language used in the home, and whether gaps in areas such as vocabulary can be ameliorated.  However, we also need to look closely at linguistic differences between the language used in the home and in school.  Children who speak a non-mainstream dialect of English (such as African American English) have to accommodate the mainstream dialect used in school—in the books they are learning to read, for example.  This additional linguistic demand does not arise for speakers of the mainstream (“standard”) dialect. Children are nonetheless given the same amount of time to reach achievement goals.  Achievement gaps are hard to eliminate because they are due—in part—to these sociolinguistic circumstances. Like inequalities in educational opportunity, inequalities in educational demands place children at high risk for failure, and need to be addressed.  I will discuss a couple of strategies for reducing this risk.

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