Amsterdam is an ancient storybook city, attracting a global base of tourists of various tastes.
But special education teacher and reading specialist Carolyn Peterson ’19, M.Ed., traveled to the Netherlands’ largest city earlier this year for a less typical reason than most who undertake the journey. Instead, she was invited to present her research in early October’s Dag van Dyslexie Conference, or Day of Dyslexia, an international event featuring speakers, workshops and other activities examining the learning disorder that affects people’s ability to read, write and, in some cases, speak and learn.
Her presentation, “Second Language Acquisition, Special Education, L2 Reading Disability Potential Risk Factors, and Neuroscience: A Multifaceted Relationship,” was a forerunner to a similar talk she gave later in the month in Norfolk, Va. “L2” is the designation for one’s second language.
“My research investigates children and adolescents who are learning English as a second/new language and are at risk for a potential reading disability in English, and therefore commonly placed in special education, which is not always the correct placement,” says Peterson, who studied in our Graduate School of Education.
Peterson adds that her research also examines the “difference between a language difference vs. a learning disability” and looks for the signs an English learner might exhibit that might help English as a Second Language (ESL) and special education teachers collaborate to meet the needs of the student.
Dr. Mary Ann Cappiello, professor of language and literacy, is enthusiastic that Peterson’s work in the classroom is receiving an international audience.
“She was inspired in one course to begin to explore what we know about English language learners with language-based learning disabilities, and what evolving neuroscience base has to tell us,” says Cappiello, “This research strand continued throughout several courses, including Research in Reading last fall, and now Carolyn has been taking what she’s learned from her work at Lesley on the road.”
“My passion for both teaching and research has led me down a very interesting path,” Peterson says.
Her passion for the research stemmed from her essential linguistics course with Lesley professor Dr. Laura Schall-Leckrone in fall 2017, titled “What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Language.”
“The key assignment was a literature review and I fell in love with my topic, English as a second language and neuroscience,” she recalls. “I continued to study the relationships between English as a second language, special education, L2 reading disability potential risk factors, and neuroscience throughout my coursework as appropriate to assignments and also on my own.”
Her love for writing led her to also write a scientific literature review on her own and share her findings with a few professors.
“In addition to Dr. Schall-Leckrone, I received tremendous support and guidance from (Professor Cappiello), Dr. Valerie Shinas, and Dr. Meg Burns throughout the program as I refined my research and prepared it for articles and presentations,” she says.
“All of my professors have been so supportive and helpful throughout my research and beyond, and none of this would have been possible without them,” Peterson says, adding that the conference presented some challenges and opportunities to her.
“Most of the conference was in Dutch and I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in another language and taking in the whole experience,” she says. “I met a presenter from Amsterdam who has similar interests and we're planning to collaborate over the next year. It was great fun to meet people from different countries and be included.”
Peterson is a 2019 graduate of the M.Ed. Specialist Teacher of Reading program. She is employed as a middle school reading specialist, working with the special education department at F.A. Day Middle School in Newton. She’s a special education teacher by background and previously worked as a middle school inclusion teacher in Arlington, Mass., where she worked with several ESL and native English-speaking students and families.
Peterson explains that her current research investigates strategies teachers can use and, further, “illuminates the neuroscience that centers on typical vs. atypical second language acquisition: clinical neurological imaging and specific identification of the impacted brain regions.”
Peterson also managed to fit some sightseeing into her trip, but it’s clear her pre-eminent passion was presenting her work.
“I look forward to continuing my research and plan to continue writing and, hopefully, presenting,” she says. “It was an experience I will never forget.”