Jacobs Foundation Research Fellow, LEAP Fellow

Nadine Gaab

Harvard Graduate School of Education

Nadine’s work focuses on typical/atypical learning trajectories from infancy to adolescence, with a special emphasis on language/reading development and the role of the environment in shaping these trajectories. Her work is at the intersection of developmental psychology, learning sciences, neuroscience, EdTech, and educational policy within a learning disability framework. Her research laboratory employs longitudinal behavioral and neuroimaging studies to characterize differences in learning as a complex outcome of cumulative risk and protective factors interacting within and across genetic, neurobiological, cognitive, and environmental levels from infancy to adolescence. Her theoretical work focuses on multifactorial frameworks of learning differences with an emphasis on early identification and ‘preventive education’. One important key aspect of her work is the translation of research findings to address contemporary challenges in educational practice and policy.

She is the 2019 recipient of the Learning Disabilities Association America Award for her work on learning disabilities and has received the Norman Geschwind Memorial lecture 2020 and the Alice Garside Award from the International Dyslexia Association for outstanding leadership in advancing the science and advocacy of dyslexia. Outside of her academic work, she is the co-founder of EarlyBird Education, a gamified platform system for identifying children at-risk for language-based learning disabilities.

Research Focus

Nadine Gaab focuses on the intersection of cognitive neuroscience, developmental and educational psychology, and policy with a special focus on typical and atypical language and literacy development in young children. Specifically, she (a) employs behavioral and neuroimaging methods to characterize typical and atypical learning trajectories longitudinally (b) aims to disentangle nature versus nurture within a neuroscientific and learning context (c) develops screening tools that enable the early identification of children at risk for learning differences including dyslexia; (d) examines resiliency and the development of compensatory mechanisms and (e) scales innovative tools and preventive practices by shaping educational policy and through strong advocacy.

My plans for the fellowship period

Reading is a fundamental skill that not only gives access to knowledge and alternative points of view but also provides the foundation for academic and vocational success. Every child has the right to learn to read well, but many countries have unacceptably low literacy levels. In this fellowship period, I aim to reduce low literacy levels globally through several research studies and cross-cultural initiatives. The goal is to move from a deficit-driven to a preventive literacy model that enables the early identification of children at-risk for developing difficulties with learning to read and provide scalable solutions. During the fellowship, my lab will continue to develop reliable, accessible, low-cost screening tools for early literacy milestones globally. Furthermore, we are planning to utilize the fellowship for expanding our longitudinal neuroimaging studies that examine typical and atypical language and reading development from infancy to adolescence. We will further utilize the fellowship to increase global network collaborations and develop and support initiatives and programs related to early childhood education worldwide, the science of learning, and more specifically, initiatives targeting early literacy globally. Most importantly, we aim to provide mentorship for young researchers with a special focus on the scalability of innovations, global impact, and advocacy/policy.

How will my work change children’s and youth’s lives?

Our work will have a measurable positive impact on the many children who struggle with literacy worldwide, will contribute to culturally sensitive pedagogies, will be scalable to other geographical regions, and will ensure greater access to literacy resources. We aim to maximize children’s intellectual potential, stimulate their psychosocial development, and allow children to experience the joy of learning to read. Understanding the etiology and neurobiology of typical and atypical reading development is essential to underpin the training of educators so that they can reliably recognize and optimize the learning contexts for each learner. More specifically, we aim to develop a scalable solution for the early identification of children at risk and to provide practical next steps to address individualized learning needs. Most importantly, we will do this cross-culturally in geographically and socio-economically diverse populations and include key environmental variables, which will be essential for addressing low literacy rates globally. The development of pre-literacy skills is one of the primary goals of early education and our research program will advance knowledge of how children learn to read, the underlying neurobiological etiologies of reading difficulty, and specific environmental factors that are essential to address, so that learning can be successful and, most importantly, joyful.