RESEARCH


Colleagues of our department have diversified research interests. In the following you will find examples of our ongoing research projects. For more details about the research areas and published works of individual colleagues, you are cordially invited to visit our personal links.

We endeavor to explore!

  1. Early reading intervention in Chinese for first graders at-risk for reading difficulties
  2. Understanding effects of curriculum reform on classroom practice and student learning
  3. Teacher Interventions in Engaging Students with Dialogic Classroom Discourse for Rich Learning Opportunity in Mathematics Classrooms
  4. Continuity and discontinuity from whole numbers to fraction and rational numbers in numerical cognition
  5. The beneficial role of gesture on spatial reasoning
  6. Promoting nonverbal communication skills among children with Autism Spectrum Disorders through online social robotics
  7. Facing rejection: The role of peer processes in children’s developing regulation of emotional expression
  8. What enables orthographic fast-mapping in Chinese?
  9. Chinese Lexicon Project: A database of normed lexical decision performance
  10. A genealogy of fundamental psychological concepts in Chinese culture

 

1. Early reading intervention in Chinese for first graders at-risk for reading difficulties

Principal investigator: Cheng, Pui-wan
Co-investigator: Shiu, Ling-po

Project Summary
     Reading research has shown that children who have a poor start in reading are very likely to continue to be poor readers in subsequent schooling years. This longitudinal research investigated the effectiveness of a school-based model of early reading intervention in Chinese for improving student outcomes. In particular, two supplemental instruction conditions, differing in terms of program intensity (25 hours vs. 50 hours of intervention), were examined.
     With regard to the immediate effect of the intervention program, we found that our intervention program was more effective if it was conducted in a more intensive mode. Moderate effect sizes (Cohen’s d, from 0.46 to 0.77) were obtained for the 50-hour intervention group. Furthermore, we made use of the individual growth modeling technique to examine intervention effects. The initial growth modeling analyses indicated large variation in growth across schools and students. Observed variation was positively related to individuals’ age and character identification performance prior to intervention. Thus, group comparisons of inter-person level models were run controlling for the effect of age, initial character identification performance and school difference. The results confirmed that the 50-hour intervention group outperformed the at-risk control group at post-intervention on both of the standardized measure and the curriculum-based measure of character identification, and on curriculum-based character dictation.
     For the long-term impact of the intervention program, however, we found that program effectiveness diminished without continuous support offered to students. Moreover, the literacy performance of these three groups of students were significantly lower than that of the average comparison group, indicating that maintenance of program effectiveness would be a major concern for intervention research. 

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2. Understanding effects of curriculum reform on classroom practice and student learning

Principal Investigator: Ni, Yujing

Project Summary
     Funded by Research Grant Council of Hong Kong and Ministry of Education of People’s Republic of China, the purpose of the longitudinal study is twofold. Firstly, the study is to determine whether or not the curriculum reform initiative has reached classroom and influenced classroom practice and student learning. Four types of evidence for change as a result of the curriculum reform are being investigated. These include the beliefs of teachers about teaching and learning, the cognitive features of the learning tasks that are being implemented, the characteristics of teacher-student interactions, and consequently student learning outcomes. Secondly, the study is to establish the relationship of classroom inputs (instructional tasks) as well as processes (classroom interaction) with student learning outcomes. A total of 180 videotaped class sessions are being collected from 60 fifth-grade math classrooms, half of the classrooms have implemented the reform curriculum for several years and the other half adopted the original curriculum. Student mathematics achievements in both cognitive and affective domains are being measured at three data points. Both quantitative and qualitative analyses are being carried to determine whether the curriculum reform has brought about the desired changes in classroom practice and student learning, and to understand the relationships among curriculum, teacher/ classroom practice (instructional tasks and classroom discourse), and student learning outcomes.

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3. Teacher Interventions in Engaging Students with Dialogic Classroom Discourse for Rich Learning Opportunity in Mathematics Classrooms

Principal Investigator: Ni, Yujing

Project Summary
      The project funded by Hong Kong Research Grant Council will address the apparent lack of teacher interventions in engaging students with rich classroom discourse for rich learning opportunity, and consequently the apparent lack of systematic investigations of the links of such teacher interventions to the changes in teachers’ beliefs and classroom discourse behaviors, and then in turn to student learning. Therefore, the study has three objectives. Firstly, it will design an intervention programme in this regard which will be built on the current understanding of the roles of teachers in classroom discourse that support and extend student learning opportunity as well as on the effective teacher professional learning with the opportunity to engage with authentic classroom teaching and to apply tools to help their everyday teaching. Secondly, the study will implement the intervention involving one group of fourth-grade mathematics teachers. A matched sample method will be used to form one non-intervention control group. Thirdly, the study will evaluate the efficacy of the intervention by examining its immediate and long-term influence in terms of measured changes in the teachers’ perceived efficacy in engaging students in classroom discourse, observed teachers’ classroom discourse behaviors, observed students’ classroom discourse behaviors, and the students’ perceived interest and attitude towards learning mathematics.

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4. Continuity and discontinuity from whole numbers to fraction and rational numbers in numerical cognition

Principal Investigator: Ni, Yujing

Project Summary
     Learning fractions and rational numbers continues to be challenging for children and adults. The challenge that students experience in learning them provides a unique and valuable opportunity to investigate the problem of learning in general, that is the development and origin of knowledge in individuals, and the cognitive and neural mechanisms responsible for learning fractions and rational numbers in particular. Funded by the Direct Grant of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the study is to search for converging evidence at the behavioral level on the question of whether and how cognitive representation of fraction numbers is mapped on the hypothesized mental number line by employing the key metrics for modeling the representation of numerical quantity. It further looks into the dynamic relationship between biologically-prepared learning and culturally-prepared learning of numbers with an interdisciplinary approach. The approach integrates psychology, education, and neuroscience to examine the cognitive and neural basis for understanding fraction and rational numbers and how the cognitive and neural processes are mutually constrained with each other.

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5. The beneficial role of gesture on spatial reasoning

Principal Investigator: Catherine So

Project Summary
     When we navigate in an environment, we form a spatial representation regarding relation between locations, objects, and paths. Therefore, developing techniques to improve spatial relation learning and memory is crucial. This research asks whether producing embodied movements, specifically hand gestures, enhance memory for spatial relation. Gestures are spontaneous hand movements, e.g., right hand swipes horizontally that represents a movement to the right. They are produced in space, and thus, are inherently spatial.
     However, little research investigates whether gestures improve spatial relation learning and memory. Recently, Prof. Catherine So has conducted the first study discovering gesturing while thinking silently (co-thought gestures) is an effective embodied technique in enhancing recall accuracy of steps in a navigation task (So, Ching, Lim, Chen, & Ip, 2014). However, there are three critical issues remain unaddressed. First, it is uncharted whether gestures accompanying spatial language (co-speech gestures) result in the same facilitating effect on memory for spatial relation as co-thought gestures. Co-speech gestures in fact are produced more often than co-thought gestures. Second, it is unknown whether spatial language is as effective as co-thought and co-speech gestures in improving memory for spatial relation, yet spatial language is commonly used among majority of learners. Third, it is unclear whether the beneficial effects of co-thought and co-speech gestures vary with task complexity, gesture frequency, and levels of spatial skills.
     As a result, the present study aims to examine the impact of embodied movements, i.e., spontaneous hand movements, on learning and remembering spatial relation; to investigate whether gesturing while thinking silently (i.e., co-thought gestures) and gesturing while producing spatial language (i.e., co-speech gestures) would yield the same facilitating effect on learning and remembering spatial relation; to compare the effectiveness of gestures on learning and remembering spatial relation to that of spatial language; and to illustrate the moderating effects of gesture frequency, task complexity, and individual differences in spatial skills on learning and remembering spatial relation.

Note: This project is funded by the Research Grant Council of Hong Kong.

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6. Promoting nonverbal communication skills among children with Autism Spectrum Disorders through online social robotics

Principal Investigator: Catherine So
Co-investigators: Chan, Yuen-yan (Department of Information Engineering, CUHK)
  Qian, Huihuan (Department of Mechanical and Automation Engineering, CUHK)

Project Summary
     Children gesture when they talk. Gestures are spontaneous hand movements that co-occur speech. As opposed to typically developing children, children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have slow understanding and development of gestures. Gesture deficits may still be found among school-aged children with ASD. The present study aims to develop an online gestural intervention program for helping six- to twelve-year-old low-functioning children with ASD to learn conventional gestures that are commonly used in daily lives, e.g., THUMB-UP, OKAY, and COME. We teach children with ASD gestures through a social robot since they tend to have low interest towards other humans. In this intervention program, gestures are produced by an animated robot character, NAO. NAO resembles a human to some extent, and thus allowing children with ASD to transfer the learned skills from human-robot interactions to human-human interactions. Yet, it does not have all human features, such as facial features and expressions, thus avoiding sensory overstimulation and distractions among children with ASD. Children with low-functioning ASD will be trained to recognize 20 conventional-interactive gestures in Phase I, and produce them in an isolated manner in Phase II and in an appropriate social context in Phase III, using an online platform. We expect that children with ASD would have their understanding and production of conventional-interactive gestures improve over time. The results of the proposed research may offer clinicians and parents an additional tool for intervention of communication among school-aged children with ASD.

Note: This project is supported by the Knowledge Transfer Fund (ICON).

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7. Facing rejection: The role of peer processes in children’s developing regulation of emotional expression

Principal investigator: Skyler T. Hawk

Project Summary
     A major developmental challenge for children and adolescents is to master their regulation of emotional expression – flexibly suppressing, amplifying, and/or substituting emotional displays as required by social contexts. Extensive research has documented emotion regulation aimed at minimizing personal pain and maximizing pleasure, but has less often acknowledged that expressions of emotion must also be regulated in the service of interpersonal goals. This project will address key shortfalls in research about youth’s emotion expression regulation and its links with social relationships. A combination of longitudinal and experimental methods, utilizing self-report and objective measures, will investigate developmental, relational, and cognitive processes that hinder or promote children’s flexible use of different strategies to regulate emotion expression.
     Whereas prior research has mostly focused on effects of (dys)regulation upon peer (age-mate) relationships, peer influences on youth’s expressive regulation are understudied. Children gradually shift from parent to peer interactions, however, meaning that peers likely operate as a socializing force affecting children’s regulatory abilities. Experiences of peer rejection may be an especially disruptive force upon children’s control over their emotional behavior, as rejection tends to evoke strong negative feelings, reduced self-control, and temporary cognitive impairments. Understanding the ways in which peers interfere with youths’ ability to regulate their expressive behavior in order to achieve social goals thus represents a major gap in knowledge, and has critical implications for interventions at various ages.
      I propose a model of reciprocal influence, in which experiences of peer rejection or acceptance affect youths’ abilities to flexibly switch between different emotion-regulatory behaviors as required by the social context. Failures and successes in regulation, in turn, affect the quality of children’s peer relationships. Perceived rejection might especially lead to dysregulation and rigidity in patterns of emotional behavior, which subsequently create further social difficulties. I further propose that child personality characteristics can account for different patterns of dysregulated behavior in the face of peer rejection.  
     This project examines children’s regulation of emotional expression in face-to-face interactions with peers. Insights gleaned from this research will be shared with educators, practitioners, and families through activities aimed at promoting flexibility in youths’ context-appropriate regulation of emotional behavior. Whether to help youths maintain friendships or cope with rejection, examining how youths control their emotional expressions in peer contexts can address crucial gaps in knowledge about children’s social lives and positive adjustment. 

Note: This project is funded by the Research Grant Council of Hong Kong.

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8. What enables orthographic fast-mapping in Chinese?

Principal Investigator: Shiu, Ling-po

Project Summary
    This project is an attempt to investigate learning of word-specific orthographic representations by skilled, developing, and at-risk Chinese readers. A word-specific orthographic representation may be formed in a reader’s memory after the reader has encountered a new printed word repeatedly (Holmes and Davis, 2002). With this orthographic representation, the reader will be able to recognize this word easily, or even automatically, when it appears again.
    Previous research on speakers of alphabetic languages has shown that children at the age of 7-9 are able to learn orthographic representations of new words incidentally while reading short texts, with each new word appearing only a few times (Share, 1999). Obviously, such ability of orthographic fast-mapping (OFM) is important to the development of reading. Researchers have also found that the ability to decode new words, and the opportunity to do so while reading, are crucial to OFM (Cunningham, Perry, Stanovich, & Share, 2002). In addition, knowledge about orthographic patterns, word meaning, and spelling practices have also been found to contribute to OFM.
    Despite the many advances in understanding OFM in alphabetic languages, to date, there are few studies of OFM in Chinese. Although previous studies have shown that general orthographic knowledge about the structure of Chinese characters correlates with reading development (e.g., Ho, Yau, & Au, 2003), they did not address word-specific orthographic learning. Liu and I (Liu & Shiu, 2011) were able to adapt the OFM paradigm developed by Share (1995) with Chinese materials and found evidence of OFM in Chinese in 8-year-old children. We also found that OFM of phono-semantic Chinese characters can occur even when there is minimal opportunity for phonological recoding.
    The goals of this project are to further investigate whether or not orthographic, semantic and ortho-semantic factors, and word context contribute to OFM in Chinese; and whether or not these factors would affect skilled, developing and at-risk Chinese readers differently.

Note: This project is funded by the Research Grant Council of Hong Kong.

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9. Chinese Lexicon Project: A database of normed lexical decision performance for Chinese two-character compound words

Principal Investigator: Tse, Chi-shing
Co-investigators: Melvin J. Yap (National University of Singapore)
  Lin, Dan (Hong Kong Institute of Education)

Project Summary
     The goal of this project is to examine how word-level and character-level lexical variables influence skilled readers’ recognition of two-character Chinese compound words. Understanding basic lexical processes is a critical perquisite for an in-depth investigation of higher-order lexical activities, e.g., reading. Following the procedures adopted in Balota et al.’s (2007) English Lexicon Project, we will obtain norms for participants’ lexical decision performance using a large amount of two-character words (in traditional Chinese characters) varying on various lexical variables, e.g., word frequency. In the lexical decision task, one of the gold standards for testing lexical processing models, participants decide whether two characters form a Chinese word, e.g., 朋友 (friend), or a non-word, e.g., 形忌. Words’ mean reaction times and accuracies will be analyzed via item-level regression models and participants’ reaction-time distributions will be analyzed by fitting their trial-level data to the ex-Gaussian distribution.
     This project will make three major contributions to the literature.
     First, performing item-level multiple regression analyses of reaction-time and accuracy data will shed light on the main effects of various lexical variables and their potential interactions. These goals are difficult to accomplish within factorial-design studies due to the difficulty in matching correlated extraneous lexical variables. The normed data based on a much larger word pool, relative to those in factorial-design studies, will clarify some ambiguities in the literature, particularly those involving higher-order interactions between variables.
     Second, a fine-grained analysis of the effects of lexical variables on the characteristics of participants’ reaction-time distribution, which has rarely been examined in the literature, will provide additional insights into effects that cannot be observed when only mean reaction-time data are examined, e.g., the nature of morphological decomposition.
     Third, a spreadsheet will be created to provide normed lexical decision reaction-time and accuracy and descriptive statistics of lexical variables for Chinese compound words. By comparing this database with those in other languages, e.g., English, psycholinguists may better understand cross-linguistic differences in lexical processing, e.g., whether morphological decomposition is language-specific vs. language-universal in compound word processing. The normed data can also be used to run virtual experiments to test whether some findings derived from factorial-design studies can be replicated using different sets of stimuli.
     Overall, the Chinese Lexicon Project will further our knowledge of Chinese word recognition processes and provide the research community with a spreadsheet of lexical variables and normed lexical-decision performance that will make a significant contribution to psycholinguistic research.

Note: This project is funded by the Research Grant Council of Hong Kong.

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10. A genealogy of fundamental psychological concepts in Chinese culture

Principal Investigator: Wong, Wan-chi

Project Summary
     What are the meanings of fundamental psychological concepts such as "awareness", "emotion", "intention", "intelligence", "morality", "beauty", and "self" as they have evolved and changed in traditional and contemporary China? This seemingly simple question carries profound implications when seen in the light of a neglected Vygotskian thesis — that "the meaningful word is a microcosm of human consciousness". This long-term project embarks on a genealogical analysis of the aforementioned psychological concepts. The study is genealogical in the sense that it takes a critical stand on the origin and development of word meanings, echoing the groundbreaking works of Nietzsche and Foucault. It also goes beyond an understanding of collective consciousness to the reconstruction of real human practices.
     The research project consists of three distinct but related phases. In the first phase, the development of the meanings of the words that characterize the selected concepts are examined by way of etymological and semantic analyses. In the second phase, clusters of related signs (including words) are further identified and analyzed. For the analysis of the most important signs identified, the route mapped out by Benjamin in his Arcades Project serves as the methodological guide. The results of these two phases would provide clues for tracing relevant effective statements and the formation of discourses in a great variety of Chinese texts; this constitutes the Foucauldian genealogical study in the third phase. The significance of the study lies in its implications for cultural studies in general and for understanding Chinese culture in particular. Furthermore, it would help to build a sounder basis for cultural-historical psychology, and to provide resources and stimulation for pedagogical endeavors.
     Knowledge about the role of concepts in human development sheds further light on the value of this study. Concepts, which first took shape in human beings’ making sense of the immediate environment and in their need to communicate, have evolved into a highly complex system throughout human history. Each concept is related with other concepts and images. Old concepts can turn dormant, giving way to the emergence of new ones. Such a system, which could either facilitate or confine human development in a subtle and persuasive sense, is often transmitted in a piecemeal way. Considering the dialectical relations between experiences and concepts, a genealogical analysis of fundamental psychological concepts is a significant key to unlocking a better cultural-historical understanding of human experiences.

Note: The initial phases of this project have been funded by the Research Grant Council of Hong Kong.

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