This is your brain on reading

Jan 11, 2013
In honor of the children of the Class of 2025, who have just begun their educational journeys this fall, Scholastic has commissioned a five-part series of articles called “Closing the Gap Before it Begins.” Join 10 leaders, scholars, and researchers in education as they confront one of the most critical issues in America: disparity in academic achievement. The fifth and last installment of the five part series is brought to you by Dr. Anne Cunningham & Dr. David Rose, who will discuss “This Is Your Brain on Reading” Continue the conversation with us on Twitter at #classof2025. How is knowledge acquired and built, and what role does reading play? It’s free reading time in a busy second-grade classroom and Michael is sitting on the rug burning through his third Magic Tree House book of the week. He laps up the pages at a solid pace and comes away with a strong comprehension of the text and a desire to read the next one. Michael’s friend Marc is sitting next to him, with a beginning reader in his hands. Marc looks at the words and slowly decodes one word after another, but after a page or two of struggle, he loses the thread of the story, becomes frustrated, and puts the book down. If we were to peek into their classroom, we’d see two seven-year-old boys that are a lot alike—both wearing jeans and sneakers, both reading books. If we were to look at what is going on inside the boys’ brains as they read, we’d learn two very different stories. Imaging Technology Is a Window Into the Human Brain Imaging technology is helping reading researchers and educators augment their understanding of the complex process of reading development better than ever before. These MRIs tell a vivid and visual story that suggests struggling readers and strong readers show very different activity patterns in their brains both in the visual system (related to letters and printed words) and in systems important for language and sounding out new words. Why and how do these patterns differ? How can we encourage the brains of struggling readers to respond more like those of strong readers? These are the questions brain researchers are asking, and the answers may revolutionize the way we teach reading. There are millions of students like Marc in our classrooms—kids who struggle with reading. The latest NAEP scores tell us that a full two thirds of our fourth graders nationwide (68%) are below-proficient readers. If we want all our children to succeed as learners and to graduate from high school ready for college and career, we need to harness the power of research and turn this around. The Brain of a Good Reader vs. The Brain of a Struggling Reader While reading as a process is consistent, no two brains look exactly the same during reading. However, the patterns that emerge when we study the brains of strong readers tell us that reading and language are in a reciprocal relationship.Continue reading…