The Child Language and Literacy Lab explores questions like "How do children learn words?", "Why is word learning easier for some children than others?", and "What learning conditions make word learning easier, especially for children who need more words to succeed academically and socially?". We are grateful for the participation of children and families in our research, which take place in schools, in person in the lab, and online (currently, all sessions are online). Work in the lab has been funded by the National Institutes of Health ( R01DC017156-01 and UL1TR001857), and the University of Pittsburgh Competitive Medical Research and Development Fund and Central Research Development Funds. The lab is located in Forbes Tower in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
Dawna Duff, PhD, Reg. CASLPO, SAC(SLP)
Lab Director, Assistant Professor
Dawna Duff is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Science and Disorders and directs the Child Language and Literacy Lab. Her primary research interest is understanding individual differences in vocabulary learning and its relationship to reading. Her particular focus is the semantic aspects of incidental word learning while reading text, a process that is critical to vocabulary growth. This individual differences approach includes research with typical learners, as well as those with a range disorders affecting language and communication, including developmental language disorder (DLD), dyslexia, and Down syndrome. The group in the Child Language and Literacy Lab uses a combination of approaches, including experimental approaches, analyses of longitudinal data, and both language measures, and eye movement studies.
Dr. Duff earned her B.Sc. in Physiology and Linguistics from McGill University in Montreal, and her Master of Health Science in Speech Language Pathology from the University of Toronto. She has clinical experience with children in both school and hospital settings. She earned her PhD in Speech and Hearing Science from the University of Iowa before joining the University of Pittsburgh Department of Communication Science and Disorders in 2016.
Maalavika Ragunathan, M.S, MEd
Malavika Ragunathan is a project coordinator in the Child Language and Literacy Lab. She manages the research study called Project WORD: Word Learning and Reading Development. Ragunathan graduated from Boston University first with her Masters in Anatomy and Neurobiology, and later in Special Education. She is a certified special educator who has worked in both public and private school settings and has been involved in education research for the last six years.
Duff, D., Hendricks, A., Fitton, L., Adlof, S. (2021) Reading and math achievement in children with dyslexia, developmental language disorder, or typical development: Achievement gaps persist from second through fourth grades” Under review, archived at edarxiv.org
Duff, D., & Brydon, M. (2020). Estimates of individual differences in vocabulary size in English: how many words are needed to ‘close the vocabulary gap’?. Journal of Research in Reading, 43(4), 454-481.
Duff, D. (2019). The effect of vocabulary intervention on text comprehension: who benefits?. Language, speech, and hearing services in schools, 50(4), 562-578.
Duff, D. (2019). Has vocabulary intervention had an effect? A valid, reliable, and (fairly) quick outcome measure for semantic knowledge. Language, speech, and hearing services in schools, 50(4), 506-517.
Duff, D., Tomblin, J. B., & Catts, H. (2015). The influence of reading on vocabulary growth: A case for a Matthew effect. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 58(3), 853-864.
Duff, D., Kohut, K., Norberg, K. (under review) "Short Sentences and Simple Words Aren’t Enough: The Importance of Cohesion in Patient Education Materials".
McGregor, K. K., Oleson, J., Bahnsen, A., & Duff, D. (2013). Children with developmental language impairment have vocabulary deficits characterized by limited breadth and depth. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 48(3), 307-319.
McGregor, K. K., Berns, A. J., Owen, A. J., Michels, S. A., Duff, D., Bahnsen, A. J., & Lloyd, M. (2012). Associations between syntax and the lexicon among children with or without ASD and language impairment. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 42(1), 35-47.