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Influence of enhanced perceptual features on development of neural specialization for Arabic print in early readers

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Poster B122 in Poster Session B, Tuesday, October 24, 3:30 - 5:15 pm CEST, Espace Vieux-Port
This poster is part of the Sandbox Series.

Roaa AlSulaiman1, Tracy Centanni2; 1King Saud University, 2Texas Christian University

Introduction: Arabic is the most widely spoken Semitic language in the world and is spoken by more than 250 million people as their first language in the Middle East (Watson, 2007). Despite its wide usage, learning to read in Arabic remains difficult for many. The complexity of Arabic orthography, along with other reasons, makes it challenging for reading learners. This has led to many efforts to improve reading instruction in the Middle East. To improve Arabic reading fluency, a textbook (IQRA) was designed to enhance the visual characteristics of Arabic, and thus, help children recognize the Arabic orthography (Wilson et al., 2020). 345 first year pupils in the UAE were tested to evaluate IQRA training effects. The students were able to accurately identify more letters compared to a matched control. However, it is unknown whether improvement is associated with accelerated development of the brain’s reading network, which develops over a long trajectory. Thus, the goal of this study was to measure brain responses to Arabic print in early readers enrolled in IQRA instruction. We hypothesized that we would observe a greater N1 amplitude in IQRA children compared to a matching-control group. Methods: EEG responses were collected from 49 first grade children in the UAE (N = 27 IQRA treatment, N = 22 control) at the end of the school year. Children viewed images on a screen and completed a vigilance task in which they pressed a button when a picture of a cat appeared (10% of trials). A test block consisted of common objects while the researcher provided instruction and feedback, followed by test blocks containing connected Arabic words and disconnected Arabic false font strings. Children also completed letter identification and fluency tests. Results: At the O1 electrode, there was a marginally significant group difference in the P1 response to Arabic words such that control children exhibited a stronger response (t(40) = 1.73, p = 0.046) but no difference in the response to Arabic false font strings (p = 0.16). With respect to the N1 response to words, a significant difference was observed in electrode M1 (t (40) = 2.29, p = 0.014) such that IQRA children exhibited a stronger response than control children. Behavioral measures of word identification revealed a slight improvement for IQRA children compared to their peers in control classrooms. Discussion: Overall, the study aimed to evaluating whether one year of participation in the IQRA curriculum would improve neural responses to Arabic words in first grade children. EEG responses suggest improved familiarity with Arabic in IQRA children as well as increased print-specific response, though the latter finding did not survive correction for multiple comparisons. These findings suggest a modest effect of the IQRA curriculum on neural responses to print in young readers. Future work is needed to understand the long-term impact of IQRA on the reading brain

Topic Areas: Reading, Disorders: Developmental

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