Multiple cognitive processes are related to academic outcomes in learning disabilities (LDs), but how processes influence academic skill, and whether academic skill learning changes cognitive processes is unclear1-7. Studies relating academic outcomes and cognitive processes are often not informed by theories that specify the nature of their relations. The focus of Project 2 is on attention because: (1) cognitive attention is a ?hub? ability that fosters development of higher cognitive functions, making it an important target to study in children with learning difficulties8; (2) behavioral attention difficulties often co-occur with academic difficulties. Their presence increases the severity of the learning problem9; (3) attention may have both ?state-like? and ?trait-like? properties, but little research has tested these ideas in individuals with learning difficulties; (4) (visual) attention has been implicated in theories of word reading10-12, and internal control over attention has been implicated in reading comprehension; however, the nature and size of these relations in children with reading difficulties is unclear; (5) research on attention has a rich theoretical and empirical base that are rarely employed for studying the relation of attention and academic performance; (6) attention is a potential candidate skill that may be advantaged in individuals who are proficient at multiple languages, thereby making Project 2 (Attention) particularly relevant. Consistent with the RFA, we focus on a group with persistent reading difficulties that is historically underserved ? middle-school aged current or former English learners with a range of language proficiencies, and where Spanish is a home language. Project 2 builds on findings from the previous 5 years that focused on executive function and its relation with academic skill. Project 2 intersects with each of other projects in this Center, with three aims that address the relation of attention, reading, and reading difficulties.
Aim 1 examines how attention interacts with academic skills over time by assessing both longitudinally, for different types of attention, different components of reading and math, and for students with and without reading difficulties (n = 424 to 1044).
Aim 2 is focused on parsing the contribution of two aspects of attention to reading: visual attention and internal control over attention conceptualized as ?mind wandering? (total n = 270). We focus on these aspects of attention because of theories that specifically relate them to word reading and fluency and to reading comprehension, seeking to understand the conditions under which these aspects of attention can be manipulated to impact reading and reading difficulties.
Aim 3 uses the Aim 1 sample (n = 424) in a measurement study to address the structure of attentional constructs to one another, and to closely related constructs (processing speed, working memory). Because the aspects of attention we study are chosen from known theory, and situated within a generalized taxonomy of attention13, Project 2 (Attention) will clarify the role of attention for reading in the context of several other reading predictors (e.g., language).

Public Health Relevance

Project 2 will inform models relating attention to different components of reading (and math) in English learner adolescents with and without reading difficulties. It will clarify how cognitive and behavioral attention can influence or be influenced by reading, over time, including whether manipulating attention during reading results in changes to reading performance. The research will also more clearly characterize the conditions under which such influences occur, including how they manifest for different academic outcomes (e.g., reading and math), in different populations (e.g., children with different levels of English proficiency, and reading ability), and in the context of other cognitive functions known to relate to reading (e.g., processing speed, language).

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Specialized Center (P50)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZHD1)
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University of Houston
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