The Brain Learns to Read October 27, 2011 Sue Pearson, Co-Director The Center for Effective Learning Webinar Series
WEBINAR GOALS TO: • Promote deeper understanding of reading process • Provide strategies to use with both “traditional” students and ELL students
The “Bad” News • No one method or program has triumphed! • Nearly two-thirds of low-income 4th graders cannot read at the proficient level • Grade 8 no gains in the past decade • Grade 12 scores have declined (NAEP, 2003)
The “Good” News New Technologies: • Brain’s internal structure -CAT Scan, MRI • How brain works (EEG, MEG, PET, fMRI, FMRS)
The “Good” News • EEG, MEG-How quickly something occurs in the brain • PET-Observes brain functions • fMRI-pinpoints brain areas of greater and lesser activity • fMRS-records levels of chemicals in brain while subject is thinking
STUDIES SHOW: • Novice readers use different cerebral pathways than proficient readers • People with reading difficulties use different brain regions to decode written text than do typical readers • The brains of people with reading problems work harder than those of skilled readers • Even though dyslexia is a brain disorder, it is treatable. • Brains of young struggling and dyslexic readers can be rewired to more closely resemble those used by typical readers How the Brain Learns to Read, David Sousa, p. 4-5
AS A RESULT. . . It is now possible to: • identify with a high degree of accuracy those children who are at greatest risk of reading problems • diagnose the problems accurately • manage the problems with effective and proven treatment programs. Shaywitz, S. E. Overcoming Dyslexia: A new and complete science-based program for reading problems at any level. New York: Knopf, 2003
SPOKEN LANGUAGE • A single human voice can pronounce all the hundreds of vowel and consonant sounds that allow it to speak any of the estimated 6,500 languages that exist today.
PROCESSING SPOKEN LANGUAGE • Brain uses Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas • Also uses other neural networks in the left hemisphere • Ability to acquire spoken language is encoded in our genes • Diminishes around 10-12 years of age
GENDER DIFFERENCES • Males-left hemisphere • Females-BOTH hemispheres • Corpus callosum allows communication between hemispheres • Larger and thicker in females than in males • Function follows form-information traveling between the two hemispheres is more efficient in females than in males
LEARNING PHONEMES • Units of sounds • Combine to form syllables • Infant’s brain can respond to all • Only those that are repeated get attention • By age one, neural networks focus on sounds in the infant’s environment
VOCABULARY w/Toddlers • Vocabulary from parents/caregivers • Frequent adult-to-toddler conversations lead to greater vocabulary development • Incremental effect grows exponentially and can lead to huge word gaps in early years
Study Results (Hart & Risley, 2003) Two-Part Longitudinal Study PART ONE • 42 toddlers • Based on family occupation • Welfare child (525) • Middle/low SES (749 words • Upper SES (1,116 words) PART TWO • Six years later • Early scores strong predictor of scores at age 9-10 in vocabulary, listening, speaking, syntax, and semantics *SES: Socio-economic status
SYNTAX AND SEMANTICS • Recognize hierarchy of language-nouns, verbs rules of grammar • Phonemes-sounds • Morphemes-word parts • Vocabulary-level • Sentence-level (grammar) • Speaking/Understanding (explicit/inferred
“Why is it that the hardest thing children are ever asked to do is the first thing they’re asked to do!?” Merryl Pischa, Reading Specialist
Relatively NEW phenomena • Genes have not incorporated reading into their coded structure • If reading were a natural ability, everyone would be doing it • BUT nearly 40 million adults (in US) are functionally illiterate. LEARNING TO READ
LEARNING TO READ • Right now, your mind is performing an astonishing feat. Photons are bouncing off these black squiggles and lines -- the letters in this sentence -- and colliding with a thin wall of flesh at the back of your eyeball..
LEARNING TO READ • The photons contain just enough energy to activate sensory neurons, each of which is responsible for a particular plot of visual space on the page. The end result is that, as you stare at the letters, they become more than mere marks on a page. You've begun to read.
LEARNING TO READ • Seeing the letters, of course, is just the start of the reading process • Although our eyes are focused on the letters, we quickly learn to ignore them. Instead, we perceive whole words, chunks of meaning.
LEARNING TO READ • (The irregularities of English require such flexibility. As George Bernard Shaw once pointed out, the word "fish" could also be spelled ghoti, assuming that we used the gh from "enough," the o from "women," and the ti from "lotion.")
LEARNING TO READ • In fact, once we become proficient at reading, the precise shape of the letters -- not to mention the arbitrariness of the spelling -- doesn't even matter, which is why we read word, WORD, and WoRd the same way.
EARLY STAGES OF READING • Awareness that speech is composed of sounds (phonemes) • Recognition that written spellings represent sounds (alphabetic principle) • Understanding that phonemes can be manipulated • Phonemic awareness strong predictor of reading success in later grades
TERMS • Phonemes-distinct unit of sounds • Phonological Awareness-oral language can be divided into smaller components-eg. sentences-words-syllables-phonemes
TERMS • Phonemic Awareness-understanding that words are made up of individual sounds and can be manipulated to create new words • Graphemes-symbols that correspond to sounds
Strategies • “Same or different” game-generating pairs of words that are identical or differ in some subtle way (e.g. glow-grow) • Provide sentences with key word missing-child supplies words; link sentences together
Sounds to Letters • Brain must memorize a set of squiggles (alphabet) • Rules of spelling called orthography • Shallow orthography-close correspondence between letters and sounds • Deep orthography-poor correspondence between how a word is pronounced and spelled Guess which orthography category English falls into? You’re right! Deep orthography-our alphabet does NOT have an ideal one-to-one correspondence between its phonemes and graphemes!
Alphabetic Principle Learning the alphabetic principle is NOT easy! • The letters are abstract and unfamiliar to the new reader • There are about 44 English phonemes but only 26 letters-each phoneme is not coded with a unique letter. • There are over a dozen vowel sounds but only five letters-a,e,i,o,u- to represent them
Alphabetic Principle • The reader needs to recognize that how a letter is pronounced depends on the letters that surround it-e.g.-the letter “e” in dead, deed, dike • Then there are consonant digraphs-combinations of two consonants (ch, sh, ph) • Also trigraphs-tch, thr
Poem by Anonymous I take it you already know Of touch and bough and cough and dough? Others may stumble, but not you On hiccough, thorough, slough, and through? Well done! And now you wish, perhaps, To learn of less familiar traps? Beware of heard, a dreadful word That looks like beard and sounds like bird. And dread; it’s said like bed, not bead; Watch out for meat and great and threat. (They rhyme with suite and straight and debt). A moth is not a moth in mother, Nor both in bother, broth in brother. Proust and the Squid, Maryanne Wolf, p. 121-122
Poem by Anonymous And here is not a match for there, And dear and fear and bear and pear, And then there’s dose and rose and lose— Just look them up --- and goose and choose, And cork and work and card and ward, and font and front and word and sword, And do and go, then thwart and cart. Come, come, I’ve hardly made a start. A dreadful language? Why, man alive, I’d learned to talk it when I was five And yet to read it, the more it tried, I hadn’t learned it at fifty-five! Proust and the Squid, Maryanne Wolf, p. 121-122
A Common Mantra • In the first three grades, a child learns to read while in the next grades a child reads to learn • Unfortunately most 4th grade teachers do not take a course in teaching reading to children who have not acquired fluency* *Recommendation-grade 4 and above teachers take fluency course
LETTERS TO WORDS-DECODING • Research* indicates that a child must be able to decode with accuracy and fluency in order to read proficiently. • Learn letter names vs. sounds; research is mixed *Moats, Furry, and Brownell, 1998
Vocabulary Growth (Mental Lexicon) Consolidated Alphabetic Phase Full Alphabetic Phase Partial-Alphabetic Phase Pre-Alphabetic Phase
MORPHEMES • Smallest word elements that can change a word’s meaning dog=1,dog+s=2, doggedly=? • Break words apart; hate-ful • Begins to surpass phonemic awareness by grade 3 in developing decoding skills • Helpful in decoding/meaning/ grammar dog+ed+ly=3
Syntax and comprehension • Simple-”The boy rowed the boat.” • Compound-”The boy rowed the boat while his mother watched.” • Complex-”The boy who rowed the boat waved to his mother. READING COMPREHENSION:Words to sentences
Dealing with differences in Syntax • Word order • Minimum-Distance Principle • Analysis of conjoined clauses • Passive Voice • Negation • Embedding
Morphology and Comprehension Morphology-how words are put together from pieces and how these pieces can change the meaning of words OR create new ones. • Meaning • Syntactic properties • Phonological properties • Relational properties
MEMORY TWO TEMPORARY MEMORIES IMMEDIATE-holds data for about 30 seconds; subconscious WORKING-conscious; captures our focus; minutes to days. -few items at a time
WORKING MEMORY HELPS COMPREHENSION • Understanding complex structure; working memory holds the first part while the visual cortex processes the rest. • Preserving syntax (word order)E.g. The driver of the blue car, not the red car, honked his horn.
WORKING MEMORY HELPS COMPREHENSION • As reading progresses, the meaning of each sentence must be held in memory so they can be associated with each other to determine meaning of paragraph • Working memory must then link paragraphs together. • Practice leads to more comprehension
HET PRINCIPLE Intelligence is a function of experience.
Theory of Temporary and Permanent Memories Incoming Information (from our senses*) Immediate Memory (seconds) Working Memory (minutes to days) Long-Term Storage Sites (years) * HET: Being There and Pathways to Understanding
HET PRINCIPLE Learning is a two-step process: Step One: Making meaning through pattern-seeking
HET PRINCIPLE Step Two: Developing a mental program for using what we understand and wiring it into long-term memory
Pattern of Reading AaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAa