By Katherine Ouellette
A vocabulary difference of 30 million words may sound like an insurmountable barrier between children of different socioeconomic backgrounds — but what if the solution to close that gap was as simple as encouraging dialogue between parent and child? A 2018 study co-authored by John Gabrieli, director of the MIT Integrated Learning Initiative (MITili) and Dr. Rachel Romeo, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, found that increasing the number of back-and-forth conversations adults had with children ages 4 to 6 resulted in more improvements in brain physiology and language skills than addressing the quantity of words. Funded by a MITili grant, this research proliferated MITili’s mission to transform learning through research and applied practice at the learner level. Since then, Gabrieli and Romeo’s transformative learning intervention for literacy has been connected to new studies that elevate from the learner level to the instruction level. The impact of this foundational work has manifested in new research as varied as evaluating the brain regions of preschool-aged children and creating new technologies to supplement and reinforce the learning provided by teachers and parents.