DS0803 - Éducation et apprentissages

The interaction between spelling and motor processes in writing : Behavioural, developmental and brain imaging studies – ECRIRE

The interaction between spelling and motor processes in writing

Writing proficiency is crucial for a successful education. To survive in a society that is more and more dependent on written language, children have to learn quickly how to write and render spelling and motor processes automatic. Understanding how spelling and motor processes interact in writing acquisition is therefore a key issue to improve teaching methods at school.

Writing: From behavior to neural substrates

Written proficiency is essential to academic success and survival in our society. With the arrival of emails, chat and texting, many of us spend more time writing than talking. To live in a society increasingly dependent on written language, children must learn to write very fast. The automation of spelling retrieval as well as the motor processes that allow letter tracing is essential. Despite the importance of writing in our society, very few studies are devoted to how we retrieve the spelling of a word, and how we produce the movements to form letters. Understanding the behavioral and neurophysiological processes that mediate orthographic and motor processes is therefore a key issue for improving educational methods in schools and the therapy of written language pathologies.

The Marseille team used fMRI experiments to investigate the neural substrates of the central and peripheral processes that are involved in writing in adults and children. The Poitiers team studied writing by synchronizing digitizer data with the participants’ electrophysiological activity with EEG recordings before and while writing a word. The experiments examined the electrophysiological correlates of writing arising from various input modalities (picture naming, dictation, copying) and output modalities (handwriting, oral spelling, typing). The Grenoble team investigated writing development. They designed a series of experiments examining the spelling/motor interaction arising from lexical and phonological processes as well as the specificities of certain movements that depend on motor development, mostly in the context of handwriting.

Our fMRI studies support the account of interacting orthographic and motor processes. The neural handwriting network is sensitive to orthographic irregularity. The handwriting network is organized between ages 8-11, but differs from adults. The EEG studies revealed that the articulation between central and peripheral processes is modulated by the task (picture naming, oral spelling, typing). The spelling-motor interactions depend on the degree of automation of these processes. When the automation of motor processes is not fully achieved, we do not observe interactions.

The global outcome of the ECRIRE project constitutes a clear theoretical and methodological contribution that will directly impact teaching methods in schools as well as diagnosis and therapy for writing pathologies in medical contexts. The results of this project will in addition give us more understanding on writing processes for the improvement of tablets and smartphones.

The ECRIRE project represents a significant progress in the scientific knowledge of writing. We published 12 peer-reviewed articles and 9 book chapters. This work has also been presented at several international and national conferences as well as invited

Writing is one of the most important communicational tools. With the arrival of internet, tablets and smartphones many people spend more time writing than speaking (email, chat, SMS, etc.). Despite the importance of writing in our society, the studies investigating written language production are scarce. How do we recall a word’s spelling and how do we produce the movements to form letters? Researchers investigated writing either from a central point of view (i.e., spelling processing) or from a peripheral approach (i.e., motor production) without questioning their relation. Our studies revealed however that letter production does not merely depend on its shape –and its specifications for stroke order and direction– but also on the way we encode it orthographically. For example, the movements to produce letters PAR in the orthographically irregular word PARFUM (perfume) are different than in the regular word PARDON (pardon) because spelling processes spread into motor execution. This functional interaction between central and peripheral processing provides evidence that these processes cannot be investigated independently. ECRIRE is a multi-disciplinary project aiming at investigating writing processes in a developmental and neurophysiological perspective. We will use highly innovative technological instruments. The Grenoble team will investigate how the interaction between central and peripheral processing builds up during writing acquisition with fine-grained digitiser data collected with children. Children learn word spelling simultaneously to motor production. With practice, the child generates sensory-motor maps that progressively become more and more stable. The child will therefore have cognitive and attentional resources for the other kinds of processes involved for writing proficiency such as spelling or text planning. What do we know about the interaction between spelling and motor processes during writing acquisition? Are these two processes independent during the acquisition process? When do they get to interact in an adult-like fashion? These questions are of high educational relevance since children spend at least 50% of their school time writing and 15% of the children experience writing difficulties in their everyday life. The Poitiers team will explore the time course of spelling and motor components with EEG recordings synchronized with a digitiser. The idea is to attempt an association of each component with one or several specific electrophysiological topography/topographies. The EEG/ERP studies will characterize two time periods. We will specify the activation of central and peripheral representations before starting to write (i.e., the period related to orthographic activation and motor preparation) and during movement execution. The Marseille team elaborated a special MRI compatible digitizer to record writing movements simultaneously to brain activity. There are only a few writing studies using fMRI and they were all designed with a strong a priori dissociation between central and peripheral processes. We will conduct fMRI studies to further characterize the global spelling/motor network through the measure of the behavioral performance on the digitizer. The direct statistical trial by trial correlation between behavior and brain signals is a very innovative feature of our work, which is mandatory to understand the neural basis of the interaction between central and peripheral aspects of writing. The brain imaging studies will be first conducted with adults, and then, in line with the data acquired in Grenoble, they will be adapted to children. Overall, we expect a clear theoretical and methodological advance that will directly impact teaching methods in schools as well as diagnosis and therapy for writing pathologies in medical contexts. The outcome of the ECRIRE project will in addition give us more understanding on writing processes for the improvement of tablets and smartphones.

Project coordinator

Madame Sonia Kandel (Laboratoire de Psychologie et NeuroCognition)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.

Partner

CERCA - CNRS Centre de Recherches sur la Cognition et l'Apprentissage
LPNC - UPMF Laboratoire de Psychologie et NeuroCognition
LNC - UMR 7291 CNRS DR12 _ LNC Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique Délégation Provence Corse _Laboratoire Neurosciences Cognitives

Help of the ANR 387,576 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: September 2014 - 48 Months

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