Monday, February 23, 2009

Building a Reading Brain: I

This is the first of many posts on the brain and reading. There is so much information out there it's overwhelming! Here's what I've learned so far reading Brain Literacy for Educators and Psychologists by Virginia W. Berninger and Todd L. Richards.

First of all, lets start off with why we need to know about the brain. This book brings up an interesting point by saying that teachers educate minds EVERY DAY yet learn nothing about the brain. The viewpoint of the authors is that "educational practice might also become more effective if grounded in a scientifically supported conceptual framework integrating neural, cognitive, linguistic, and developmental science rather than atheoretical pedagogical procedures."

I'd have to agree with them and express my frustration at the fact that the only place in the US to study more on this issue is Harvard which is very expensive and not accessible to all teachers. I feel that at least a very basic overview of cognitive neuroscience should be taught in every teacher prep program throughout the US. I guess the only option for those not able to go to Harvard is to teach themselves which brings me to this blog entry...

Reading and the Brain
With experience, dendrites grow and branch off forming new connections and creating a web of communication in the brain. Early intervention for reading is needed because 1) there is less emotional interference due to repeated failure and 2) it's easier to create new connections in younger children.

Different brain structures are specialized for different tasks however they all interact and have more than one job. When we teach students to read we are using brain structures that already have a purpose and training them for another job. This is great, but students must have the structures already developed and working properly at the first job before they can be cross-trained for another task. Another way to look at this is that teachers "remodel" the brains of their students.

As stated above, different brain structures are specialized for various tasks. During reading the auditory, visual, and vestibular senses interact and are re-trained for reading. Take vision for example; most children are adept at extracting visual features from things they see but when they learn to read they are taking this and creating a new job description- Written Word Visual Extracting Specialist. They now must use their visual skills for a new purpose.

Large print is often used for beginning readers not just to prevent them from being overwhelmed but physically, it helps eyes better track the words on the paper. Blue transparent overlays may also help in this area.

Finally, the most interesting thing I've read so far was the possibility that the vestibular sense may be frequently impaired in students with dyslexia. It was suggested by the book's authors that possibly pairing motion sickness medication with intense reading intervention may help a student's eye movements across a page of print and help with their reading difficulties. How fascinating!

Check back later for more information on reading and the brain. I'm trying to keep myself from being overwhelmed by the amount of information out there!

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