Virginia Wise Berninger (Ph.D. Psychology, Johns Hopkins University; APA-approved predoctoral and postdoctoral clinical psychology training, Boston Children’s Hospital) taught in general education and special education programs in public schools prior to working in multidisciplinary clinics in hospital settings and becoming involved in teaching, research, and service activities as a faculty member at Harvard Medical School (1981-1983), Tufts New England Medical School (1983-1986), and University of Washington (1986-2016, now Professor Emerita). She was Principal Investigator on research funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD at NIH): Literacy Trek (developmental studies of language by ear, by mouth, by eye, and by hand and related instructional studies for low achieving readers and writers), 1989-2008; and a Multidisciplinary Learning Disabilities Research Center (diagnostic assessment and instruction, genetics, brain imaging), 1995-2006, 2011-2016.
Research will be presented showing that specific writing disabilities involve impairments in different levels of language: Dysgraphia (impaired subword handwriting), Dyslexia (impaired word spelling), or Oral and Written Language Learning Disability/OWL LD (Impaired morpho-syntax). Research will also be presented showing that, for students with or at risk for specific writing disabilities, instruction aimed at all relevant levels of language close in time is effective. For students with Dysgraphia or at risk for Dysgraphia, effective instruction includes subword handwritingàword spellingàtext composing. For students with Dyslexia or at risk for Dyslexia, effective instruction includes subword phonological and orthographic awareness and subword phonological-orthographic connectionsàword-specific spellingsàtext composing. For students with OWL LD or at risk for OWL LD, effective instruction includes subword morphological, phonological, and orthographic awarenessà morphophonemic-orthographic spelling correspondences and spelling function and structure wordsà syntactic construction and discourse organization. Finally, results of brain imaging studies showing connectivity across cascading levels of language of increasing size will be presented. Compared to typical controls, students with Dysgraphia were under-connected and those with Dyslexia were over-connected. All students showed brain response to multi-leveled writing instruction.