Dr. Tiffany Hogan to work with Center for Reading Research and the University of Virginia to convert discoveries into faster solutions for students, teachers, and parents

Research into children’s learning disabilities is occurring at an elevated level all over the country.  However, applying findings into impactful solutions can take years, much to the frustration of families and educators involved.

But a research effort by MGH Institute researcher Dr. Tiffany Hogan, Director of the SAiL Literacy Lab, and colleagues from the Florida Center for Reading Research and the University of Virginia, hopes to change that.

A five-year grant is behind the Learning Disabilities Translational Science Collective, a multi-site research center that will utilize $8,911,922 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development. The goal: translating discoveries from research into practical solutions.

“If you want to get research into practice, the best way to do that is through team science,” said Hogan, a professor in the Institute’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. “Research discoveries and solutions have the potential to change the lives of children with learning disabilities, but if it takes years to implement those findings into real world applications, the impact is limited. Our efforts are all about expediting translational research and making a difference for students, families, and teachers sooner than later.”

The Learning Disabilities Translational Science Collective (Collective) was designed to do just that. It will build upon the discoveries about the identification of children who have specific learning disabilities, but who have yet to receive the benefits of the treatment.

Hogan will lead the Collective with Dr. Sara Hart, a professor of Psychology at Florida State University, and member of the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR); Dr. Nicole Patton Terry, Director at FCRR; and Dr. Emily Solari, a professor at the University of Virginia and Director of the Virginia Literacy Partnerships at UVA. This multidisciplinary team will tackle an issue that affects the more than seven-million U.S. public school students who receive special education services, including more than a third who have learning disabilities like dyslexia and developmental language disorders.

“I think what makes the research collaborative unique, and what will help ultimately bridge this gap, is our engagement with our educators,” said Hogan, who has been with the IHP for ten years. “In the past, they haven’t been brought into the research endeavor at all, or very minimally. So, it’s that partnership that we have with our communities across the states that’s really going to make the difference.”

“Together, we are well positioned to make significant strides in learning disabilities research that benefits teachers, clinicians, children, and families across the nation,” noted Dr. Hart.

“This is a complex public health issue, not just for individual students, but also for their families and their teachers,” added Dr. Solari. “Learning disabilities are life-long conditions that impact all aspects of life, so it’s critically important that we are able to identify children early and provide and effective evidence-based resources to teachers, families, and students. The translation of what we know about the identification and remediation of learning disabilities into everyday practice is critical.”

“Despite all that we have learned over the years, far too many children are not receiving appropriate supports and services in school and far too many teachers and parents experience frustration with getting their needs met, especially for the most vulnerable amongst us,” said Dr. Patton Terry. “That’s why this Collective’s focus on translation is so important. Each research project will have meaningful and robust engagement with teachers, families, and communities from the beginning. We will work alongside them to make sure the public is benefiting from our discoveries.”

8 people standing and smiling
Research Collaborative Team: Kate Radville, Speech and Language (SAiL) Literacy Lab doctoral student; KaRynn Sheranian, SAiL Literacy Lab doctoral student; Tiffany Hogan, Director of the SAiL Literacy Lab; Margaret Goldberg, Co-creator of the Right to Read Project and Nystrom Elementary School (Richmond, CA) Literacy Coach; Kenni Adlen, Co-creator of the Right to Read Project, writer, and parent advocate; Mary Rasner, SAiL Literacy Lab Manager; Norma Hancock, SAiL Literacy Lab Post-Doctoral Project Manager; and Natalie King-Shaw, SAiL Literacy Lab Doctoral Student.

From Research into the Classroom

The Collective hopes to accelerate the uptake and use of foundational scientific discoveries in practical, real-world settings, especially for groups and communities underrepresented in research.

It will tackle several projects during the five-year grant, including identifying poor readers and identifying the risk of reading problems. Hogan will lead the way by creating a guide and a tool kit to help educators identify children who have reading problems. When complete, the guide will cull together all the best research on teaching children with reading challenges and synchronize it with the best ways that adults can learn it.

“We have to integrate case scenarios, put it into bite-size chunks, and beta test it by asking educators, ‘Does this fit what you know? How do you like this? Does this make sense? Are you learning the material?’” said Hogan. “Teachers need the knowledge to actually help children, but they don't have the time to be searching the web for materials or vetting materials. We, as the scientists, are vetting all the materials that have been created for teachers and then we're going to work with them to make sure that it's the material that they really need.

“It needs to be packaged in a way that is co-created with the teachers who are going to use it in a format that they would appreciate.”

The tool kit will allow a school to determine more effectively children who have reading problems. This tool will be the product of extensive collaboration with principals, special educators, teachers, parent educators - any person in the school that's directly interacting with the child – who will share strengths and weaknesses in their own districts. Determining common themes and pain points will then inform the online assessment.

“If I’m an educator,” said Hogan, “I’m going to take this questionnaire and answer questions like, ‘How many kids do you see? What's your curriculum? What testing cycle do you use? How often do you look at data? How big are the classrooms? How much budget do you have for materials?’”

Educators will then fill out an assessment which will tell them of the good and not so good occurring within their school.

“The assessment will tell them, ‘Hey, you're doing this really well. Good job,” said Hogan. “And it will say, ‘Hey - wait! This is not good. Your class sizes are too large, or you don't have high-quality materials. So, then they'll get that the printout and then they'll also get ways they can remedy this problem.”

Fixing a problem is one thing, but making sure it’s done in a culturally sensitive way is another -- a focal point of Hogan’s work.

“Let's say you have a school and 70% of the children in that school speak English as a second language, and then you have test materials that are only English-language appropriate,” offers Hogan in a hypothetical example. “One strategy would be to buy a new test, but that's not a culturally sensitive strategy. A culturally sensitive strategy would be to buy a new assessment that matches the language of instruction or matches the linguistic variability in your population.”

That kind of solution fits into the research’s strong focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion.  Hogan and the team are using the latest tools to ensure that the population of educators and children is representative of the population of the United States.

“The guide and tool kit are being created to narrow the gap between what we know in research and what happens in practice because, unfortunately, we actually know a lot but we're not doing a good job of getting into the hands of educators,” said Hogan. “Nor are we creating something that's user friendly to educators, that they benefit from. I mean creating a website is not good enough. This Collective will change all of that. It’s about time.”

Do you have a story the Office of Strategic Communications should know about? If so, email us at ihposc [at] mghihp.edu.

2 people at a table
KaRynn Sheranian, SAiL Literacy Lab doctoral student (left) and Hogan discussing tactics and strategies to apply toward the Learning Disabilities Translational Science Collective, a research grant involving the IHP, Florida Center for Reading Research, and the University of Virginia. The goal: translating discoveries from learning disabilities research into practical solutions.