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Prof. Balasubramaniam

CIS faculty Ramesh Balasubramaniam was awarded a Blum Center grant, to pursue research that may help gauge and improve reading ability through a surprising and very simple technique of gauging children’s rhythmic abilities. Prof. Balasubramaniam’s team will develop a smartphone application to conduct tests on hundreds of children in the Central Valley. The application will help train children on perceiving rhythmic sounds, even as simple as repetitive tones. There is evidence that improving such processing of rhythmic sounds may relate to something called “phonological awareness,” namely the ability of children to understand how words are spelled and pronounced in systematic ways. The project will support both Prof. Balasubramaniam and his incoming PhD student Butovens Mede during the 2014-2015 academic year. If successful, the work may offer an affordable and easy-to-use method of measuring and improving an important part of children’s reading ability. The abstract of their project is below.

Currently, over one in five American children live below the federal poverty line. For decades, it has been recognized that socioeconomic disadvantage in childhood can place children at risk for long-term negative cognitive and academic outcomes. The risk is greatest in children’s language development and reading ability, where differences in socioeconomic status (SES) influence children’s abilities in vocabulary and syntax more than any known cognitive or neural variable. Children in higher SES environments seem to have a natural advantage when it comes to reading abilities. Recently it has been shown that reading ability is linked to a range of rhythmic skills including the perception of rhythmic stimuli involved in music. A simple yet cost-effective way of improving reading abilities in low SES environments might be the usage of interventions that employ the use and development of rhythmic abilities. Five hundred children (pre-K to grade 5) from the San Joaquin valley and their families will be recruited to participate in this two-year study. Each participating child will receive two-sixth months of training with rhythmic stimuli (using a PC/tablet/smartphone app) developed by the PI’s group. It is hypothesized that the rhythmic training intervention will result in increased phonological awareness, a predictor of reading ability. It is expected that this simple cost-effective intervention could be applied at much larger scales, beyond. This work utilizes fundamental discoveries in neuroscience/cognitive science and translates them into meaningful economically relevant questions that benefit developing communities in the San Joaquin Valley and other areas.