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Alison Sparks

Research Associate

Departmental affiliation: Psychology

       My research explores the social origins of children's language and literacy development in families from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. I have conducted research in the United States and in Latin America using parent-child storytelling and shared book reading as a context for understanding the developmental precursors to literacy. Another line of my work focuses on the challenge of defining the role of language in neurodevelopmental disorders. I am currently working on a longitudinal intervention study, with families in San José, examining the impact of home conversations on children's social-emotional, language, and literacy skills (funded by the University of Costa Rica).  As part of my collaboration with the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst College students worked as interns in the Carle family literacy program and contributed to the program evaluation in Spring 2015 (funded by the Davis Foundation).



Ph.D., Clark University
M.A., University of Massachusetts, Amherst
M.A., Teachers College, Columbia University
B.A., Barnard College

Awards, Grants, and Other Professional Activities

2014 -  Consultant, Eric Carle Museum (funded by The Davis Foundation)                                  
2014 -  2016  Co-PI, Promoting Emergent Literacy Among Costa Rican Preschoolers: An Intervention
             Study (funded by The University of Costa Rica)

2011-  Editorial Board, Early Education and Development 
2010   Sage Author, most downloaded article 2009-2010, Journal of Early Childhood Literacy
1999   Honorary Attachment, Royal Free Hospital, London
1996 - 1998  NIH Graduate Research Fellow, UMASS, Amherst
1981 - 1982  Fulbright Scholar, Cairo, Egypt

Ad-hoc reviewer: American Journal of Speech Language Pathology; Child Development; Developmental Psychology; Early Childhood Research Quarterly; First Language; Journal of Child Language; Journal of Early Childhood Literacy; Journal of Experimental Child Psychology; Journal of Literacy Research; Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research; Learning and Individual Differences.


Norbury, C. F. & Sparks, A. (2015). Language variation within the autism spectrum: Causes and consequences. In  S. Robson & S. F. Quinn (Eds.). The Routledge International Handbook of Young Children's Thinking. London: Routledge.  

Carmiol A. & Sparks, A. (2014) Narrative development across cultural contexts: Finding the pragmatic in parent-child reminiscing. In D. Mathews (Ed.) Pragmatic Development: Trends in Language Acquisition Research. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Sparks, A., Carmiol, A. M., & Rios, M. (2013). High point narrative structure in mother-child conversations about the past and children’s emergent literacy skills in Costa Rica.  Actualidades en Psicología, 27, 49-67. http://www.revistas.ucr.ac.cr/index.php/actualidades/article/view/9868/11447

 Sparks, A. & Reese, E. (2013). From reminiscing to reading: Home contributions to children’s developing language and literacy in low-income families. First Language, 33, 89-110. doi:10.1177/0142723711433583

Norbury, C. & Sparks, A. (2013) Difference or disorder? Cultural issues in understanding neurodevelopmental disorders. Developmental Psychology, 49, 45-58. doi:10.1037/a0027446

Sparks, A. & Leyva, D. (2013). Child Language Acquisition. Oxford Bibliographies in Latino Studies. New York: Oxford University Press. http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/obo/page/latino-studies.

Carmiol A. & Sparks, A. (2013). La relación entre habilidades prelectoras y desarrollo narrativo en niños y niñas preescolares costarricenses: Aportes para un enfoque comprensivo de la alfabetización emergente. In A. A. Benavides and K. Hess (Eds.) ¿Qué me cuentas? Narraciones y desalloro narrative linguistico en niños hispanohablantes. Queretaro, MX: Universidad Autonoma de Queretaro.

Leyva, D., Sparks, A., & Reese, E. (2012). The link between preschooler’s phonological awareness and mother’s book-reading and reminiscing practices in low-income families. Journal of Literacy Research, 44, 426-447.doi:  10.1177/1086296X12460040.

 Reese, E., Sparks, A., & Suggate, S. (2011). Assessment of narrative skills. In E. Hoff (Ed.) Blackwell Guide to Research Methods in Child Language (pp. 133-148). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell.

Reese, E., Leyva, D., Sparks, A., & Grolnick, W. (2010) Maternal elaborative reminiscing increases low-income children’s narrative skills relative to dialogic reading. Early Education and Development, 21.doi:10.1080/10409289.2010.481552

Reese, E., Sparks, A., & Leyva, D. (2010). A review of parent interventions for  preschool children’s language and emergent literacy. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 10, 97-117. doi: 10.1177/1468798409356987. Reprinted in: K. Paul & J. Rowsell. (2011). Early Childhood Literacy. London: Sage Publications. The most downloaded article, 2009-2010, Journal of Early Childhood Literacy.

Sparks, A. (2008). Latino preschoolers talk about the past: Implications for language and literacy. In McCabe, A., Bailey, A., & Melzi G. (Eds.) Spanish-Language Narration and Literacy: Culture, Cognition, and Emotion (pp. 273-295). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sparks, A. (2002). Lectura en un voz alta. Vagon Literario, 1, Mexico City: Grupo Editorial Santillana.