Tag Archive for Shusterman

Wesleyan Students Help Local Preschoolers Get a Kickstart on Kindergarten


Stephanie Blumenstock ’16 works with children in the Kindergarten Kickstart program on July 14 at Bielefield School in Middletown. The program, which is taught by Wesleyan students and local teachers, is celebrating its fifth year this summer. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Kindergarten Kickstart, a research-based, summer pre-K program for children in Middletown created by Associate Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman and her students, is celebrating its fifth year. It’s marking the occasion with an event July 20 at the Middletown Roller Skating Rink (free for any current or past Kickstart family, 4 to 6 p.m.) and using a new grant to further develop student innovation in the program.


At left, Megan Dolan ’17 and Stephanie Blumenstock ’16 help Kindergarden Kickstart students during outdoor playtime.

Shusterman and three of her students first launched Kindergarten Kickstart in summer 2012 as a pilot program with 15 children at MacDonough School. They designed the curriculum and taught the program together with a MacDonough teacher. Today, this five-week program serves 35 children at Bielefield and Farm Hill schools (who will be entering kindergarten at those schools plus MacDonough), with six Wesleyan undergraduates and recent alumni leading the classes and developing the curriculum. A certified teacher continues to work at each site. Funding comes from a variety of sources, including a small budget from Wesleyan’s Provost, the Foundation for Greater Hartford, Safe Schools/Healthy Students, and a seed grant from Wesleyan’s Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship.

The program is intended for children who could benefit from an extra pre-school experience before beginning kindergarten in the fall. Through a partnership between university-based research labs, Middletown Public Schools and local community organizations, Kindergarten Kickstart aims to bridge the research-to-practice gap and improve participants’ school readiness skills through a short-term, high-impact, low-cost preschool program.

According to Shusterman, children in low-income neighborhoods start kindergarten with academic skills up to two years behind their peers. Research shows that quality early childhood education makes a huge difference in helping to shrink this achievement gap. In fact, economists estimate a $7 return for every $1 invested in early childhood education, resulting from lower spending on school remediation, incarceration, unemployment and other programs that become necessary when children do not start out on the right foot.

Shusterman said Kindergarten Kickstart was started as a way to put early childhood research into practice.

Faculty, Students, Alumni Present Research at Society for Research in Child Development Meeting

Jessica Taggart, former lab coordinator, presenting work done with Jillian Roberts '15, current lab coordinator Lonnie Bass, and Associate Professor of Psychology Hilary Barth, titled, "Minimal group membership and children's ideas of equality." This project is Robert's thesis.

Jessica Taggart, former lab coordinator, presenting work done with Jillian Roberts ’15, current lab coordinator Lonnie Bass, and Associate Professor of Psychology Hilary Barth, titled, “Minimal group membership and children’s ideas of equality.” This project is Robert’s thesis.

Wesleyan was strongly represented by faculty, undergraduates and alumni at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, the major conference in the field. The meeting was held in Philadelphia, Pa. March 19-21.

Members of the Cognitive Development Labs, co-directed by Associate Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman and Associate Professor of Psychology Hilary Barth, presented research at the conference. Former lab coordinator Jessica Taggart presented work done with Jillian Roberts ’15, current lab coordinator Lonnie Bass, and Barth titled, “Minimal group membership and children’s ideas of equality.” This is Roberts’ senior thesis project.

Andrew Ribner ’14 presented his senior thesis, “Preschool indicators of primary school math ability” with Shusterman and former postdoc Emily Slusser. And Barth presented “A non-Bayesian explanation of adults’ and children’s biased spatial estimates” with Ellen Lesser ’15, Sheri Reichelson ’16, Anna Schwab ’16, Taggart, Slusser and Bass.

In addition, numerous presentations were made at the conference by alumni who did undergraduate work in Wesleyan’s Cognitive Development Labs. They included: Christian Hoyos ’11, Julia Leonard ’11, Jessica Sullivan ’08, Ariel Starr ’07, Nick DeWind ’06, Joanna Schiffman ’11,  Margaret Gullick ’07, Elise Herrig ’10, Kyle MacDonald ’10, Dominic Gibson ’10 and Samantha Melvin ’13. Former Shusterman lab coordinator Talia Berkowitz and former postdoc Mariah Schug also presented work at the conference. Learn more about all these presentations, and what these individuals are doing now, in this post on the Cognitive Development Labs blog.

Shusterman, Feld ’11 Article Published on Student Stress in College Prep High Schools

A paper co-authored by Lauren Feld ’11 and Associate Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman was recently published in the Journal of Adolescence. Titled, “Into the Pressure Cooker: Student Stress in College Preparatory High Schools,” the paper was Feld’s senior thesis at Wesleyan.

The article will appear in Volume 41, June 2015 of the journal. It can be read online here.

In the study, Feld and Shusterman assess stress and related behaviors in high-achieving high school students. Specifically, they explored symptoms, sleep and eating, attitudes and coping behaviors related to stress. They found that students reported high rates of physical and psychological correlates of stress, as well as unhealthy behaviors in response to stress. Feld and Shusterman write that these findings indicate areas of vulnerability in high-achieving student populations.

Feld is now completing medical school at Mount Sinai, and just matched for a residency in internal medicine at the University of Chicago.


NSF Grant Supports Shusterman’s Study on Number Word Learning

Anna Shusterman

Anna Shusterman

Associate Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman has received a major grant from the National Science Foundation to study language structure and number word learning in children. The research is a collaboration with David Barner at the University of California-San Diego. The total grant is $1,496,636, of which $724,128 will go to Wesleyan.

According to Shusterman, the project explores how the structure of a language affects children’s acquisition of word meanings for abstract concepts. Specifically, they will consider how the pace of children’s number acquisition is affected by the presence of a “dual marker” — that is, grammatical marking to specify a precise quantity of two, rather than simply singular versus plural—in their native language. The researchers will study dialects of  Slovenian and Saudi Arabic. The study has broader implications related to understanding how aspects of language, such as syntax, facilitate conceptual development, such as mathematics.

At Wesleyan, the grant will fund a full-time project manager and post-doc, who will mentor and interact with students, for all three years of the study. Students working on the study will get exposure to cross-cultural and cross-linguistic research.

Cognitive Development Lab Designs Games for Family Math Night

Wesleyan’s Cognitive Development Labs hosted Family Math Night at Edna Stevens Elementary School in Cromwell, Conn. on April 9. The event was full of games and activities for preschool children to play and get them excited about math while showing families activities that they can do at home to prepare their children for kindergarten. Assistant Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman’s students designed the math games as part of a research methods class.

Students of Anna Shusterman designed math games for Edna Stevens Elementary School’s Family Math Night. Pictured here are (top from left) Elissa Palmer ’16, Tawni Stoop ’15, Jess Taggart, Anna Shusterman, Max, Alison Denzer-King ’16, Davey Bales ’15, Olivia Mason 15, Julia Vermeulen ’15, Maddy Oswald ’14, Maddy Kidd ’14, and Reuben. Taggart is the lab coordinator for the Cognitive Development Lab’s and Max and Reuben are Professor Shusterman’s sons.

Students of Anna Shusterman designed math games for Edna Stevens Elementary School’s Family Math Night. Pictured here are (top from left) Elissa Palmer ’16, Tawni Stoop ’15, Jess Taggart, Anna Shusterman, Max, Alison Denzer-King ’16, Davey Bales ’15, Olivia Mason 15, Julia Vermeulen ’15, Maddy Oswald ’14, Maddy Kidd ’14, and Reuben. Taggart is the lab coordinator for the Cognitive Development Lab’s and Max and Reuben are Professor Shusterman’s sons.

Cohen, Hornstein, Nakamura, Shusterman Awarded Tenure

Newly tenured faculty are, from left, Lisa Cohen, Abigail Hornstein, Miri Nakamura and Anna Shusterman.

Newly tenured faculty are, from left, Lisa Cohen, Abigail Hornstein, Miri Nakamura and Anna Shusterman.

The Board of Trustees recently conferred tenure to four Wesleyan faculty. Their promotions take effect July 1.

They are: Lisa Cohen, associate professor of English; Abigail Hornstein, associate professor of economics; Miri Nakamura, associate professor of Asian languages and literatures; and Anna Shusterman, associate professor of psychology. Other tenure announcements may be released after the Board’s May meeting.

“Please join us in congratulating them on their impressive records of accomplishment,” said Wesleyan President Michael Roth.

Brief descriptions of their areas of research and teaching are below:

Lisa Cohen joined the English Department’s creative writing faculty in Fall 2007. Her courses are focused on nonfiction writing, the literature of fact, modernism, and gender and sexuality studies. She has published a wide range of essays and the critically acclaimed book, All We Know: Three Lives (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2012). In this work, she presents the biographies of three 20th-century women whose significance in modernist culture in England and the United States is equaled only by their absence from previous historical investigations. Critics have widely recognized the stylistic achievement of her writing, as well as the innovations of her archival project and her reframing of the genre of biography.

Abigail Hornstein teaches courses in a variety of areas, including corporate finance, investment finance, and econometrics. She has a particular interest in multinational strategy and China, and her work addresses such questions as how corporate characteristics affect the quality of corporate capital budgeting decisions, and how corporate and country-level governance mechanisms affect both foreign direct investment in China and the stock listing patterns abroad of Chinese firms.

Miri Nakamura teaches courses on literary and filmic approaches to Japanese modernity. More particularly, she works on Japanese literature from the Meiji era to the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937 – with a focus on fantastic fiction, including robot literature and gender theory. In her forthcoming book, Monstrous Bodies: The Rise of the Uncanny in Modern Japan, she brings methodologies from literary studies, cultural history, and critical theory to bear on understanding the link between monstrosity and femininity in the modern Japanese imagination.

Anna Shusterman offers courses in developmental psychology and on relations between language and thought. Always interested in building bridges between laboratory-based findings and real-world interventions, she focuses on the cognitive development of young children and that of populations with varied linguistic backgrounds. Her research has shown multiple ways that humans become more effective at spatial and numerical reasoning once they master the relevant language, such as “left” and “right” in the domain of space or the natural numbers in the domain of mathematics.

Shusterman’s Op-Ed on Pre-K Program in Courant

Assistant Professor of Psychology Anna Shusterman had an op-ed published in The Hartford Courant about a low-cost, intensive, and effective pre-K program piloted in Middletown last summer, which she argues could be a model for the nation. Pre-kindergarten preparation programs are critical to narrowing the achievement gap between low-income students starting kindergarten and their wealthier peers, she writes. Kindergarten Kickstart, a short-term summer program in which Wesleyan students taught alongside experienced teachers using research-based methods and curriculum, showed measurable improvements in kindergarten readiness after just five weeks.
Read the op-ed here.

Psychology Department Hosts Undergraduate Research Conference

The Psychology Department's Cognitive Development Lab members hosted an undergraduate research conference June 29. Students from Wesleyan, Wellesley College and Barnard College attended. Pictured, from left, are research assistant Rebecca Lange '13 and Anna Shusterman, assistant professor of psychology and co-director of the Cognitive Development Lab. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Mattel Supports Cognitive Development Study

Anna Shusterman, assistant professor of psychology; Hilary Barth, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior; and Emily Slusser, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology, received a grant worth $25,000 from Mattel Philanthropy Programs. The grant was awarded on March 24.

The grant allows the group to explore children’s ability to learn from independent play with toys. Children will receive one of four kinds of toys for a period of two months, and their parents will be asked to bring the toys out daily. At the beginning and end of the study, children will participate in a series of brief measures, many of which have been developed or refined at Wesleyan’s Cognitive Development Laboratory.

“Our goal is to find out if different kinds of toys, like dolls or blocks, have specific measurable benefits in distinct cognitive domains, like social or spatial reasoning,” Shusterman explains.

A Wesleyan undergraduate research assistant will help implement the study, and Slusser will be invited to present the results of the study at the Mattel/Fisher-Price Toy Labs.

Shusterman Authors Article on Number Acquisition

Anna Shusterman, assistant professor of psychology, is the co-author of the article, “Early acquisition of the word ‘two’,” published in The Proceedings of the 2009 Boston University Conference on Language Development, by Cascadilla Press, 2010.

Shusterman’s Study Featured in National Academy of Sciences Publication

Anna Shusterman is the co-author of a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Nicaraguan Sign Language, developed only 30 years ago by Deaf children in Nicaragua needing a way to communicate, offers insight to ways an adapted language affects thought processes.

In a new study, which was published June 25 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, co-author Anna Shusterman, assistant professor of psychology explains how human spatial cognition depends on the acquisition of specific aspects of spatial language.

The article, titled “Evidence from an emerging sign language reveals that language supports spatial cognition,” is co-authored by Jennie Pyers (Wellesley), Ann Senghas (Barnard College), Elizabeth Spelke (Harvard) and Karen Emmorey (San Diego State University).

“The reason we chose to look at navigation was that my colleague Ann Senghas had discovered that older NSL signers had difficulty systematically communicating about the spatial concepts left and right,” Shusterman says. “In our PNAS study, we discovered that they also had trouble with navigation.”

Previous research has suggested that left-right language is related to spatial reasoning and navigation, but there were always reasons to be skeptical.

“In children, language and thought tend to develop together, but it’s hard to know the causal direction,” she says. “In people who speak different languages, we might see corresponding differences in habits of thought, but they might actually be related to culture, not language. The NSL population allowed us to conclude much more forcefully that language supports thought.”