Broadly, my research program is aimed at cultivating a scientific ethos in our education system—a spirit of collaboration, acceptance of unsettled knowledge, susceptibility to revision, the pursuit of objectivity. I study the capacities revealed in students from different backgrounds in the course of their learning and development, examining how skills like social perspective-taking can be brought to bear on their academic work, especially in language and literacy tasks. Such skills are critical to students' long-term success as they grow into full participants in our democracy, and I work to understand and show how these understudied capacities can contribute to students' skills in reading, writing, collaboration, and reasoning as well as those longer-term goals.
Growing up bilingual in the United States is often associated with weaker academic outcomes, but on an array of strictly cognitive measures bilingual children meet or outperform their monolingual peers in early childhood and adolescence. A large branch of my research program uses student writing and experimental data to investigate the ways in which these (socio)cognitive advantages, particularly around theory of mind, social perspective-taking, and executive functions may extend into the classroom, where bilingual children's high-level experience managing tools for communication in everyday life could compensate for weaknesses in lexical and syntactic development in the language of schooling.
Educators rightly place a high value on students' ability to articulate and defend an opinion they hold, as a criterion for effective participation in a democratic society. Recently developed curricula like Word Generation have shown that students benefit in a variety of ways from structured exposure to and engagement with discussion of contentious, topical issues. Together with Catherine Snow and other colleagues at HGSE, I focus on outcomes for English learners within this particular curriculum, with a view toward developing further supports to be implemented in US classrooms.
It is critical for educators and applied developmentalists to know and understand 'what works' when trying to improve student outcomes. But even when interventions 'work', there is often a lot of variation in those outcomes, and I am currently working to understand why. Several current studies are exploring variation in treatment effects from the randomized controlled trial of Word Generation, looking to factors like implementation fidelity, curriculum and assessment exposure, and proximal vs. distal outcome measures.
Bilingual individuals easily switch between their two languages, and although even bilingual children seem to act as if those two languages' rules and regularities were isolated from one another, psycholinguistic and developmental data suggest otherwise. Focusing on evidence from Spanish-English bilingualism, I have argued for an integrated picture of bilingual grammatical architecture, documenting both facilitatory and interfering effects of acquiring two languages simultaneously. I am currently extending this work in collaboration with a group of former students and colleagues, exploring the cognitive underpinnings of language learning and management in older second-language learners.
Data that inform theories of first-language acquisition tend to be drawn from corpora of spontaneous child speech or, more commonly today, from elicitation tasks and other psycholinguistic experimental methods. Often the conclusions drawn from such experiments neglect to take into account the possibility that children have a conception of the tasks which is not shared by adults, or that extralinguistic cognitive factors could interfere with linguistic performance. The agreement study below allows addressing these possibilities explicitly by shifting the focus to task effects, grapopppling with the relationship between what we see children doing — the data — and the way we build our understanding of it — the theory — for the purpose of developing clear and applicable interpretations of cognition from early childhood through young adulthood.
The languages of the world realize subject-verb agreement in various ways, some of which are hypothesized to be harder to acquire than others. A diverse group of colleagues in the United Kingdom, France, and the United States is conducting a systematic investigation of this piece of morphosyntactic development, toward the goal of identifying the linguistic features that contribute to earlier or later mastery of agreement, which could in turn enrich our understanding of developmental disorders and possible interventions.