Sept 2019 Australian Hearing Hub
Anne Castles has dedicated her life’s work to understanding how best to teach children to read.
The distinguished professor and scientific director at Macquarie University centre for reading conducts research that looks at the underlying cognitive processes children need to become avid bookworms. In the lab, the latest technology complements traditional observation practices.
“We’re doing some experiments to find out how children become fluent, independent readers,” Castles says. “We put a tracker, a dot, on their forehead as they read on their own and an infra-red camera takes a photo of their eyes. It's very non-invasive and means we can determine how long their eyes are spending on different words and what's leading them to slow down or get stuck.”
Distinguished professor of cognitive science, Anne Castles
As research chair in Macquarie’s department of cognitive science, Professor Castles is also studying children and adults who have dyslexia and the underlying problems that might lead to reading difficulties. The department links research, teaching and practice under one roof, with an attached reading clinic where patients are assessed and treated. “Our clinicians assess them using the latest research-based methods and then suggest interventions - many of them via Skype - so people don’t have to come back into the clinic,” Castles says.
Next year, a bachelor degree in cognitive and brain sciences will be offered for the first time at the university. It will be the first dedicated degree of its kind in Australia. Castles says Macquarie benchmarks itself by outstanding cognitive and brain sciences degrees around the world. “We'll train undergraduates to progress to postgraduate work in neuroscience or in cognitive science and give them excellent critical thinking and research skills,” she says. “They can transfer these skills into many other contexts, such as data science, journalism and science communication, or medical research.”
An individual unit - delusions and disorders of the mind and brain - offered this year has already attracted more than 1000 students. Castles says it’s a clear sign there is big demand for this degree. With hands-on tutorials and lab classes, technology will play a major role in the course. First-year students, for example, take measurements of their own brain responses using EMOTIV headsets, which were originally gaming headsets. The unit is taught in a flipped classroom model, meaning lectures are delivered online then followed up with face-to-face tutorials. “What's valuable is that we can get the very best world leaders in a particular area to record a lecture for us, giving students expertise that they wouldn't usually get,” she says.