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The Brain Learns to Read

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1 The Brain Learns to Read
October 27, 2011 Sue Pearson, Co-Director The Center for Effective Learning Webinar Series

2 WEBINAR GOALS TO: Promote deeper understanding of reading process
Provide strategies to use with both “traditional” students and ELL students


4 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)

5 The “Good” News New Technologies: Brain’s internal structure
-CAT Scan, MRI How brain works (EEG, MEG, PET, fMRI, FMRS)

6 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

7 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

8 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

9 Spoken language

10 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.

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 years of age

12 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

13 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

14 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

15 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

16 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


18 “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

19 LEARNING TO READ 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.

20 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..

21 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.

22 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.

23 ghoti

24 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.")

25 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.

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

27 TERMS Phonemes-distinct unit of sounds
Phonological Awareness-oral language can be divided into smaller components-eg. sentences-words-syllables-phonemes

28 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

29 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

30 Sounds to Letters 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! 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

31 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

32 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

33 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

34 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

35 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

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

37 Consolidated Alphabetic Phase
Vocabulary Growth (Mental Lexicon) Consolidated Alphabetic Phase Full Alphabetic Phase Partial-Alphabetic Phase Pre-Alphabetic Phase

38 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

39 READING COMPREHENSION: Words to sentences
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.

40 Dealing with differences in Syntax
Word order Minimum-Distance Principle Analysis of conjoined clauses Passive Voice Negation Embedding

41 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


43 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

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.

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

46 Intelligence is a function of experience.
HET PRINCIPLE Intelligence is a function of experience.

47 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

48 HET PRINCIPLE Learning is a two-step process: Step One: Making meaning through pattern-seeking

49 HET PRINCIPLE Step Two: Developing a mental program for using what we understand and wiring it into long-term memory

50 Pattern of Reading Aa Aa Aa Aa Aa Aa Aa Aa Aa Aa Aa Aa Aa Aa Aa Aa Aa Aa Aa Aa Aa Aa Aa Aa Aa Aa Aa Aa

51 More Patterns of Reading
Left-to-right Front to back Top-to-bottom Working vs. long-term memory Decoding Morpehemes Syntax/Comprehnsion Fluency

52 There once was a beautiful bear who sat on a seat near to breaking and read by the hearth about how the earth was created. She smiled beautifully, full of ideas for the realm of her winter dreams.

53 There once was a beautiful bear who sat on a seat near to breaking and read by the hearth about how the earth was created. She smiled beautifully, full of ideas for the realm of her winter dreams.

54 Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteers be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe."

“When one realizes that children have to learn about 88,700 written words during their school years and that at least 9,000 of these words need to be learned by the end of grade 3, the huge importance of a child’s development of vocabulary becomes crystal-clear.” Proust and the Squid, Maryanne Wolf, p. 123

56 Learning Words and Morphemes
Front Image-Loaded Words Verbal (Abstract) Words Learning Words and Morphemes Parents slip into a different speech pattern Studies show that image-laden words produce more activity in frontal lobe (visual imagery) Abstract words produce ERPs in parietal/occipital areas ERPs (Event-related potentials)

Use concrete images when presenting an abstract or multi-meaning word. justice

58 STRATEGIES ~ Comprehension
Comprehension Monitoring Using graphic (visual organizers) and semantic (spider web) organizers cow human whale cat sheep dog Where does difficulty occur What is the difficulty Restating in own words Looking back through text Looking ahead in text Grapgic –visual tools Mammal

59 STRATEGIES ~ Comprehension
Generating/Answering questions Recognizing story structure Summarizing Mental Imagery (exposure to technology provides images-students need to have directions for how to do this) Paraphrasing THEMING* (when varied classroom activities center around a theme, students can more easily comprehend their related readings) Where does difficulty occur What is the difficulty Restating in own words Looking back through text Looking ahead in text Grapgic –visual tools *How the Brain Learns to Read-Sousa, p.101-NIFL, 2001

Previewing Contextualizing (own experiences) Questioning to Understand and Remember Challenges to Students’ Beliefs and Values Evaluating an Argument Outlining and Summarizing Compare and Contrast Related Readings *How the Brain Learns to Read-Sousa, p.106-NIFL, 2001

61 ESL Students & Reading

62 Reading before speaking?
It is generally counterproductive to hasten young non-English-speaking children into reading English without adequate preparation in speaking English *How the Brain Learns to Read-Sousa, p

63 Speaking Before Reading!!!
Reading in any language requires a solid, mental lexicon of spoken vocabulary Learning to speak English should be the first priority!

64 Ideal Situation Taught to read in native language first
If can’t be done, then learn to speak English FIRST! Other option? Bilingual approach-lesson in native tongue, then in English Cooperative Learning increases ELL student achievement *How the Brain Learns to Read-Sousa, p , BCIRC-15 steps

65 Resources Maryanne Wolf Stanislas Dehaene David A. Sousa
Article: Dyslexia:

66 “I feel certain that if I could read my way back, analytically, through the books of my childhood. The clues to everything could be found. The child lives in the book; but just as much the book lives in the child.” ~Elizabeth Bowen~


68 WEBINAR GOALS TO: Promote deeper understanding of reading process
Provide strategies to use with both “traditional” students and ELL students

69 NEXT STEPS Identify 3 steps you can take to further your understanding of the reading process. How will you apply this information? Which strategies will you try? Who would you like to share this information with?

70 Schools Exceeding Expectations
“Making a Difference in the World” Excellence in Education April 26-28, 2011 Site: Lone Tree, CO On-Site District: Lone Tree Elementary School Select Lone Tree Visit:

71 “OPEN” Model Teaching Week
June 18-22, 2011 OPEN to all Inexpensive way for a school district to introduce model Huntington County Community Schools Corporation-SEE 2010 Chuck Grable and Adam Drummond Choose “Events”, then MTW

72 HET SUMMER INSTITUTE July 15-18, 2012 All levels of HET model
Granlibakken Conference Center, Lake Tahoe, CA Appropriate for ALL educators 4 days of interactive sessions in pristine environment Choose “Events”, then Summer Inst.

73 The Center for Effective Learning
Sue Pearson The Center for Effective Learning

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