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Dissertation defense for Diana Andriola

  • Date: July 18, 2019
  • Time: 10:30 AM
  • Location: College Hall Lyceum (room 318)

To:      Students, Faculty and Staff

From:  Gaurav Mathur, Ph.D., Dean of the Graduate School

Re:       Dissertation Defense for Diana Andriola

It is my pleasure to announce that Diana Lynn Andriola, a Ph.D. candidate in the Ph.D. in Educational Neuroscience (PEN) Program, will defend her dissertation on “The neurobiological correlates of phonological awareness and reading outcomes in deaf childrenr” on Thursday, July 18 at 10:30 a.m. in the College Hall Lyceum (room 318). The first forty minutes of the dissertation defense are open to the Gallaudet community.

Phonological awareness (PA) is the ability to identify and manipulate the phonological structure of words and is an important predictor of reading outcomes in hearing children. For deaf children, it has been assumed that to achieve reading success, they too must use spoken language phonological information. However, evidence from many successful deaf readers does not support this assumption. Researchers have repeatedly found strong correlations between sign language proficiency and reading outcomes in deaf signing readers. It remains unclear exactly which aspects of sign language proficiency contribute to reading outcomes, and more generally, it is still not well understood which linguistic and cognitive skills deaf readers use in reading. Ms. Andriola’s study investigated the neural basis of PA for American Sign Language (ASL) and English, testing different hypotheses about the role of PA in deaf children’s reading development. The spoken language phonology dependent hypothesis holds that spoken language phonological development in deaf children is delayed rather than abnormal. Abstract phonological representations are assembled from auditory cues (spoken English) and visual articulatory cues (mouth movements). Though delayed, these phonological representations form the basis of PA and reading in deaf children. According to the modality-independent hypothesis, abstract phonological representations are not tied to speech, but are modality-independent. When children have early, natural exposure to language, regardless of modality, they automatically develop strong phonological representations. These amodal phonological representations then can be exploited to form the basis of deaf children’s PA and reading development. To test these hypotheses, the PA skills of deaf signing children and hearing English-speaking children enrolled in kindergarten through sixth grade were assessed. The study employed a picture-matching PA paradigm while children underwent fNIRS neuroimaging in order to assess PA-related neural activity. Results showed recruitment of the left inferior frontal cortex for both ASL and English PA tasks, and positive correlations were found between ASL and English PA skills, supporting the modality-independent hypothesis. These findings advance our understanding of how different early-life language experiences contribute to PA and reading development, and, crucially, suggest that educational approaches for literacy instruction with deaf children do not need to be wholly dependent on spoken language phonological awareness.

The members of Ms. Andriola’s dissertation committee are Dr. Clifton Langdon, Ph.D. Program in Educational Neuroscience, chair of the dissertation committee; Dr. Lorna Quandt, Ph.D. Program in Educational Neuroscience; Dr. Gaurav Mathur, Department of Linguistics; and Professor Guinevere Eden, Department of Pediatrics, Georgetown University.

Ms. Andriola entered the Ph.D. in Educational Neuroscience Program in 2014 and has been a graduate research assistant in Dr. Clifton Langdon’s Language and Educational Neuroscience (LENS) Laboratory, as well as a student-scholar of the Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2) Science of Learning Center. Ms. Andriola’s research focuses on the neurocognitive mechanisms that support reading development in childhood, especially among deaf children. Certified in functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), with additional experience in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Ms. Andriola has co-authored one journal publication and has presented original research at numerous national and international scientific conferences. She also has been actively involved in science policy, outreach, and communication throughout her doctoral studies, having received support to attend prestigious national workshops, including the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering workshop in Washington, D.C., and Harvard University’s ComSciCon in San Diego, C.A. Ms. Andriola received support for her research and training from a National Science Foundation grant to the Visual Language and Visual Learning Science of Learning Center, the National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (Langdon, PI,  BCS-1823495), and Gallaudet University’s Research Support and International Affairs office.

Please join me in extending best wishes to Diana Andriola for her dissertation defense. 

Posted by Elizabeth Gibbons | Posted June 28, 2019 at 1:36 PM


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800 Florida Avenue NE
Washington, DC 20002