Starting behind: more than half of young Australian kids living in adversity don’t have the skills they need to learn to read


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Sharon Goldfeld, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute; Hannah Bryson, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and Jodie Smith, La Trobe University

Around one in three (36%) Australian children grow up in families experiencing adversity. These include families where parents are unemployed, in financial stress, have relationship difficulties or experience poor mental or physical health.

Our recent study found one in four Australian children experiencing adversity had language difficulties and around one in two had pre-reading difficulties.

Language difficulties can include having a limited vocabulary, struggling to make sentences and finding it hard to understand what is being said. Pre-reading difficulties can include struggling to recognise alphabet letters and difficulties identifying sounds that make up words.

Learning to read is one of the most important skills for children. How easily a child learns to read largely depends on both their early oral language and pre-reading skills. Difficulties in these areas make learning to read more challenging and can affect general academic performance.

What are language and pre-reading difficulties?

International studies show children experiencing adversity are more likely to have language and pre-reading difficulties when they start school.

Language difficulties are usually identified using a standardised language assessment which compares an individual child’s language abilities to a general population of children of the same age.

Pre-reading difficulties are difficulties in the building blocks for learning to read. For example, by the age of five, most children can name at least ten letters and identify the first sound in simple words (e.g. “b” for “ball”).

Boy pointing out letters.
Most five year old children can name at least ten letters and identify the first sound in simple words.
Shutterstock

Children who have not developed these skills by the time they start school are likely to require extra support in learning to read.

1 in 4 children in adversity had language difficulties

We examined the language, pre-reading and non-verbal skills (such as attention and flexible thinking) of 201 five-year-old children experiencing adversity in Victoria and Tasmania.

We defined language difficulties as children having language skills in the lowest 10% compared to a representative population of Australian 5-year-olds. By this definition, we would expect one in ten children to have language difficulties.

But our rates were more than double this — one in four (24.9%) of the children in our sample had language difficulties.

More than half couldn’t name alphabet letters

Pre-reading difficulties were even more common: 58.6% of children could not name the expected number of alphabet letters and 43.8% could not identify first sounds in words.

By comparison, an Australian population study of four year olds (children one year younger than in our study) found 21% could not name any alphabet letters.

Again, our rates were more than double this.

Interestingly, we didn’t find these differences for children’s non-verbal skills. This suggests language and pre-literacy skills are particularly vulnerable to adversity.




Read more:
1 in 5 kids start school with health or emotional difficulties that challenge their learning


There are several reasons that could explain this. Early speech and language skills develop through interactions children have with their parents. These interactions can be different in families experiencing adversity, due to challenges such as family stress and having fewer social supports.

Families experiencing adversity may also have fewer resources (including time and books) to invest in their children’s early language and learning.

Why is this important?

It is really challenging for children starting school with language and pre-reading skills to catch up to their peers. They need to accelerate their learning to close the gap.

Teacher reading a book to young kids.
It is challenging for children entering school behind their peers to catch up.
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Put into context, if a child starts school six months behind their peers, they will need to make 18 months gain within a year to begin the next school year on par with their peers. This is not achievable for many children, even with extra support, and a tall order for many schools.

Early reading difficulties often continue throughout the primary school years and beyond. Sadly, we also know that the long-term impacts of language and pre-reading difficulties don’t just include poor reading skills, but problems which can carry into adulthood.

These can include struggling academically, difficulties gaining employment, antisocial behaviour and poor well-being.

What can we do?

These results should be concerning for us all. There are clear and extensive social costs that come with early language and pre-reading difficulties, including a higher burden on health and welfare costs and productivity losses.

These impacts are particularly worrying given the significant school disruptions experienced due to the COVID-19 lockdowns. School closures will have substantially reduced children’s access to additional support and learning opportunities, particularly for those experiencing adversity, further inhibiting opportunities to catch up.




Read more:
Victoria and NSW are funding extra tutors to help struggling students. Here’s what parents need to know about the schemes


Our best bet is to ensure as many children as possible start school with the language and pre-reading skills required to become competent early readers.

For example, ensuring all children have access to books at home has shown promise in supporting early language skills for children experiencing adversity.

We know which children are at greatest risk of struggling with their early language and pre-reading skills. We now need to embed this evidence into existing health and education services, and invest in supports for young children and families to address these unequal outcomes.The Conversation

Sharon Goldfeld, Director, Center for Community Child Health Royal Children’s Hospital; Professor, Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne; Theme Director Population Health, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute; Hannah Bryson, Postdoctoral Researcher, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and Jodie Smith, Research Fellow, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

After a year of digital learning and virtual teaching, let’s hear it for the joy of real books


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Kathryn MacCallum, University of Canterbury

We know COVID-19 and its associated changes to our work and learning habits caused a marked increase in the use of technology. More surprising, perhaps, is the impact these lockdowns have had on children’s and young people’s self-reported enjoyment of books and the overall positive impact this has made on reading rates.

A recent survey from the UK, for example, showed children were spending 34.5% more time reading than they were before lockdown. Their perceived enjoyment of reading had increased by 8%.

This seems logical — locked down with less to do means more time for other activities. But with the increase in other distractions, especially the digital kind, it’s encouraging to see many young people still gravitate towards reading, given the opportunity.

In general, most children still read physical books, but the survey showed a small increase in their use of audiobooks and digital devices. Audiobooks were particularly popular with boys and contributed to an overall increase in their interest in reading and writing.

There is no doubt, however, that digital texts are becoming more commonplace in schools, and there is a growing body of research exploring their influence. One such study showed no direct relationship between how often teachers used digital reading instruction and activities and their students’ actual engagement or reading confidence.




Read more:
There’s more than one good way to teach kids how to read


What the study did show, however, was a direct, negative relationship between how often teachers had their students use computers or tablets for reading activities and how much the students liked reading.

These findings suggest physical books continue to play a critical role in fostering young children’s love of reading and learning. At a time when technology is clearly influencing reading habits and teaching practices, can we really expect the love of reading to be fostered by sitting alone on a digital device?

young boy using touch screen tablet
Reading alone on a digital device is no substitute for the real thing.
http://www.shutterstock.com

The limitations of eBooks

In schools and homes we often see eBooks being used to support independent reading. As teachers and parents, we have started to rely on these tools to support our emerging readers. But over-reliance has meant losing the potential for engagement and conversation.

Studies have shown children perform better when reading with an adult, and this is often a richer experience with a print book than with an eBook.

Reading when we’re young is still a communal experience. My own seven-year-old is at the age when reading to me at night is a crucial part of his development as a reader. Relying on him to sit on his own and read from his device will never work.




Read more:
Has the print book trumped digital? Beware of glib conclusions


This is not to deny the usefulness of eBooks. Their adoption in schools has been led by the desire to better support learners. They provide teachers with an extensive library of titles and features designed to entice and motivate.

These embedded features provide new ways of helping children decode language and also offer vital support for children with special needs, such as dyslexia and impaired vision.

The research, however, suggests caution rather than a wholesale adoption of eBooks. Studies have shown the extra features of eBooks, such as pop-ups, animation and sound, can actually distract the learner, detracting from the reading experience and reducing comprehension of the text.

The book as object

Captain Underpants book cover

Real books may lack these interactive features but their visual and tactile nature plays a strong role in engaging the reader.

Because books exist in the same physical space as their readers — scattered and found objects rather than apps on a screen — they introduce the role of choice, one of the big influences on engagement.

While generally a reluctant reader, my child loves to flick through books and look at the pictures. He might not necessarily read every word, but books such as Dog Man, Captain Underpants and Bad Guys have provided a fantastic opportunity to engage him.

We have even managed to link reading with our children’s favourite online games. Their Minecraft manuals have become valuable resources and are even taken to friends’ houses on play-dates.

Many of our books are not in the best shape, evidence they are lived with and loved. Second hand shops and school fairs provide a cheap option for adding variety, and libraries are also valuable for supplementing the home shelves.

Keeping it real

But cuts to library budgets and collections, such as have been announced recently by Wellington Central Library, threaten to further undermine the role of the physical book in children’s lives.

School libraries, too, are often the first space to be sacrificed when budgets and space restrictions tighten. This encourages the uptake of digital books and further reinforces a reliance on technological alternatives.




Read more:
Do we really own our digital possessions?


Of course, digital technology plays an important role in supporting children to engage and learn, often in powerful new ways that would otherwise be impossible.

But in our haste to adopt and rely on “digital solutions” without clear justification or consideration of their effective use, we risk undervaluing the power of objects made from paper and ink.

As we emerge from a pandemic that has accelerated digital progress, we can’t let these developments obscure the place of real books in real — as opposed to virtual — lives.The Conversation

Kathryn MacCallum, Associate Professor, University of Canterbury

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The New ‘Read Along’ App


The links below are to articles that takes a look at Google’s new ‘Read Along’ app, designed to assist kids learning to read.

For more visit:
https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2020/05/googles-new-read-along-app-can-help-elementary-school-kids-improve-their-reading-skills/
https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/google-read-along-teach-kids-how-to-read/
https://goodereader.com/blog/spotlight-on-android/google-read-along-helps-kids-read-books-during-the-pandemic

Learning music early can make your child a better reader



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As we look to improve the reading outcomes of our young children, more music education in our preschools and primary schools could be the answer.
http://www.shutterstock.com

Anita Collins, University of Canberra and Misty Adoniou, University of Canberra

Neuroscience has found a clear relationship between music and language acquisition. Put simply, learning music in the early years of schooling can help children learn to read.

Music, language and the brain

Music processing and language development share an overlapping network in the brain. From an evolutionary perspective, the human brain developed music processing well before language and then used that processing to create and learn language.

At birth, babies understand language as if it was music.
They respond to the rhythm and melody of language before they understand what the words mean.

Babies and young children mimic the language they hear using those elements of rhythm and melody, and this is the sing-song style of speech we know and love in toddlers.

Musically trained children are better readers

The foundation of reading is speech and to learn how to speak, children must first be able to distinguish speech from all other sounds. Music helps them do this.

Reading is ultimately about making meaning from the words on the page. A number of skills combine to help us make those meanings, including the ability to distinguish between the sounds in words, and fluency of reading.




Read more:
How do we learn to read?


Fluency includes the ability to adjust the the patterns of stress and intonation of a phrase, such as from angry to happy and the ability the choose the correct inflection, such as a question or an exclamation. These highly developed auditory processing skills are enhanced by musical training.

Musically trained children also have better reading comprehension skills.

Music can also give us clues about a child’s struggles with reading.
Research has found three- and four-year-old children who could keep a steady musical beat were more reading-ready at the age of five, than those who couldn’t keep a beat.

Children should be taught to read music as well, which reinforces the symbol to sound connection crucial for learning to read.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

What parents and teachers can do

Language learning starts from day one of life with parents talking and singing to their babies. Babies bond with their parents and community primarily through their voice, so singing to your baby both forms a bond with them and engages their auditory processing network.

Taking toddlers to a well-structured, high quality music class each week will build the musical skills that have been found to be so effective in learning to read. It is vital to look for classes that include movement activities, singing, and responding to both sound and silence. They should use good quality music-making toys and instruments.

As they head into preschool, a crucial time for language development, look for the same well-structured music learning programs delivered daily by qualified educators. The songs, rhymes and rhythm activities our children do in preschool and daycare are actually preparing them for reading.




Read more:
Does your child struggle with spelling? This might help


Music programs should build skills sequentially. They should encourage children to work to sing in tune, use instruments and move in improvised and structured ways to music.

Children should also be taught to read musical notation and symbols when learning music. This reinforces the symbol to sound connection which is also crucial in reading words.

Importantly, active music learning is the key. Having loud music on in the background does little for their language development and could actually impede their ability to distinguish speech from all the other noise.

Parents should look for good quality music programs for their toddlers.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

This isn’t to say children need silence to learn. In fact, the opposite is true. They need a variety of sound environments and the ability to choose what their brains need in terms of auditory stimulation. Some students need noise to focus, some students need silence and each preference is affected by the type of learning they are being challenged to do.

Sound environments are more than just how loud the class is getting. It’s about the quality of the sounds. Squeaky brakes every three minutes, loud air-conditioning, background music that works for some and not others and irregular bangs and crashes all impact on a child’s ability to learn.

Teachers can allow students to get excited in their lessons and make noise appropriately, but keep some muffled headphones in your classroom for when students want to screen out sound.

Music for all

Our auditory processing network is the first and largest information gathering system in our brains. Music can enhance the biological building blocks for language. Music both prepares children for learning to read, and supports them as they continue their reading journey.

Unfortunately, it’s disadvantaged students who are least likely to have music learning in their schools. Yet research shows they could benefit the most from music learning.

As we look to ways to improve the reading outcomes of our young children, more music education in our preschools and primary schools may be one way clear way forward.The Conversation

Anita Collins, Adjunct assistant professor, University of Canberra and Misty Adoniou, Associate Professor in Language, Literacy and TESL, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Schools can’t tackle child literacy levels alone – it takes a village



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More than half of children under two and nearly half of children aged three to five are not being read to every day at home.
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Catherine Wade, Parenting Research Centre

The recently released NAPLAN 2017 results and findings from the latest Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) have got Australia talking again about how our children are faring when it comes to literacy.


Read more: NAPLAN 2017: results have largely flat-lined, and patterns of inequality continue


We know from PIRLS, while most Australian children are meeting international benchmarks for reading at year 4, nearly one in five are not meeting these benchmarks. Australia has one of the largest proportions of students who fall below the “intermediate” benchmark into the “low” or “below low” categories, compared to other English-speaking countries, including the US, Canada, and England.

Despite the range of steps that have been taken to address literacy levels across Australia, a large proportion of children are still not meeting international standards for reading. So what other approaches could we try?

Parents: an untapped resource

New research from the Parenting Research Centre highlights an area ripe for intervention: better supporting parents in reading to their children.

Our findings from a study of 2,600 parents showed more than half of children under two and nearly half of children aged three to five are not being read to every day.


https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/ciPKO/1/


We found, while most children were being read to by an adult in the household four to five days a week, a concerning proportion were not being read to at all or very infrequently. Specifically, 13% of 0–2-year-olds and 4% of 3–5-year-olds were not read to at all by an adult at home in the previous week.

Our research also looked at how important parents’ educational values and aspirations for their children were and how they felt about their interactions with their children’s educators. The survey has national relevance, as most of the findings relate to broader parenting issues.

Why early reading is vital

We know from decades of international research that what parents do at home with their children has a profound effect on children’s learning outcomes. Children who experience enriched, cognitively stimulating home environments are at an advantage in the learning process because they have had exposure to many more words.

The evidence in support of providing a language-rich environment to children is vast. Children with language delays at school entry are at greater risk for academic difficulties. With flow-on effects to later academic and socio-emotional challenges, the imperative to tackle language and literacy problems early is paramount.

Sitting together, opening a book, and reading and pointing to words can be incredibly helpful in building the foundations of good literacy.
Shutterstock

A number of high-quality reviews of the scientific literature show good evidence for the benefits of parental shared reading for children’s literacy.

And while older children typically need less input from parents when it comes to actually looking at words on the page, that doesn’t mean the parents’ role in supporting reading diminishes. Creating a home environment that encourages time and space for books is key.


Read more: Research shows the importance of parents reading with children – even after children can read


If we know reading works, why don’t we do it?

The message that simply sitting together, opening a book, and reading and pointing to words can be incredibly helpful in building the foundations of good literacy has certainly cut through with many parents of young children.

But there are many reasons parents don’t read at home. As we know from sectors such as health, simply telling people what needs to be done – such as exercising more – does not take their personal context into consideration. Alone, it’s not enough to motivate people to adopt new patterns of behaviour.

Considering how best to support parents to read more often to their children is an important question and will depend on a thorough understanding of the barriers that are preventing them from doing so. Family and work pressures and parental confidence around reading books are some possible factors that could be further explored as barriers.

A shared concern

Children’s literacy is not the sole responsibility of parents, but it’s clearly an area where parents and schools can work together. This parent-educator partnership featured in our survey, which explored parents’ views about their interactions with kindergarten, child care and school teachers.


https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/1bDZe/3/


Most parents (92%) felt comfortable communicating with their children’s teachers. Although 21% did not think or were unsure if their child’s teacher understood their child.


https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/rK1uG/2/


Also, 20% did not agree they were able to participate in decisions that affected their child at kinder or school.

Of note, fathers tended to feel less comfortable talking with their child’s teachers than mothers did.

While 82% of parents felt their opinions were valued in discussions with their child’s educators, 11% had mixed feelings about this and 7% felt their opinions weren’t valued.


https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/ILYt4/1/


Given what we know from research about the value of parents being connected with their children’s educational settings, it follows that parent-teacher partnerships are important for children’s educational outcomes.

Consequently, it’s important issues like literacy are looked at holistically. Literacy is not just as an education system issue, and not just a parenting issue. It’s a societal issue.

Parents are ready to engage

We found the vast majority of parents (93%) see their own contribution to their children’s learning in the early years as important. This supports the view that today’s parents are generally well placed for taking on information about how to improve their children’s literacy and educational outcomes.

It’s encouraging that most children are being read to at home – even if not every day. But in the context of concerns about Australia’s position in international literacy rankings there’s more to be done.

The ConversationThe message to parents is clearly “read early and read often”. The message for policy makers and professionals is “support parents to better engage with their children’s learning”. This could take many forms and is dependent on context. It could include strategies such as building literacy messages and materials into existing parenting support services and promoting online resources for parents, given our survey found 79% of parents look for answers online about parenting issues.

Catherine Wade, Principal Research Specialist, Parenting Research Centre

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The enduring power of print for learning in a digital world



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PHOTO FUN

Patricia A. Alexander, University of Maryland and Lauren M. Singer, University of Maryland

Today’s students see themselves as digital natives, the first generation to grow up surrounded by technology like smartphones, tablets and e-readers.

Teachers, parents and policymakers certainly acknowledge the growing influence of technology and have responded in kind. We’ve seen more investment in classroom technologies, with students now equipped with school-issued iPads and access to e-textbooks. In 2009, California passed a law requiring that all college textbooks be available in electronic form by 2020; in 2011, Florida lawmakers passed legislation requiring public schools to convert their textbooks to digital versions.

Given this trend, teachers, students, parents and policymakers might assume that students’ familiarity and preference for technology translates into better learning outcomes. But we’ve found that’s not necessarily true.

As researchers in learning and text comprehension, our recent work has focused on the differences between reading print and digital media. While new forms of classroom technology like digital textbooks are more accessible and portable, it would be wrong to assume that students will automatically be better served by digital reading simply because they prefer it.

Speed – at a cost

Our work has revealed a significant discrepancy. Students said they preferred and performed better when reading on screens. But their actual performance tended to suffer.

For example, from our review of research done since 1992, we found that students were able to better comprehend information in print for texts that were more than a page in length. This appears to be related to the disruptive effect that scrolling has on comprehension. We were also surprised to learn that few researchers tested different levels of comprehension or documented reading time in their studies of printed and digital texts.

To explore these patterns further, we conducted three studies that explored college students’ ability to comprehend information on paper and from screens.

Students first rated their medium preferences. After reading two passages, one online and one in print, these students then completed three tasks: Describe the main idea of the texts, list key points covered in the readings and provide any other relevant content they could recall. When they were done, we asked them to judge their comprehension performance.

Across the studies, the texts differed in length, and we collected varying data (e.g., reading time). Nonetheless, some key findings emerged that shed new light on the differences between reading printed and digital content:

  • Students overwhelming preferred to read digitally.

  • Reading was significantly faster online than in print.

  • Students judged their comprehension as better online than in print.

  • Paradoxically, overall comprehension was better for print versus
    digital reading.

  • The medium didn’t matter for general questions (like understanding the main idea of the text).

  • But when it came to specific questions, comprehension was significantly better when participants read printed texts.

Placing print in perspective

From these findings, there are some lessons that can be conveyed to policymakers, teachers, parents and students about print’s place in an increasingly digital world.

1. Consider the purpose

We all read for many reasons. Sometimes we’re looking for an answer to a very specific question. Other times, we want to browse a newspaper for today’s headlines.

As we’re about to pick up an article or text in a printed or digital format, we should keep in mind why we’re reading. There’s likely to be a difference in which medium works best for which purpose.

In other words, there’s no “one medium fits all” approach.

2. Analyze the task

One of the most consistent findings from our research is that, for some tasks, medium doesn’t seem to matter. If all students are being asked to do is to understand and remember the big idea or gist of what they’re reading, there’s no benefit in selecting one medium over another.

But when the reading assignment demands more engagement or deeper comprehension, students may be better off reading print. Teachers could make students aware that their ability to comprehend the assignment may be influenced by the medium they choose. This awareness could lessen the discrepancy we witnessed in students’ judgments of their performance vis-à-vis how they actually performed.

3. Slow it down

In our third experiment, we were able to create meaningful profiles of college students based on the way they read and comprehended from printed and digital texts.

Among those profiles, we found a select group of undergraduates who actually comprehended better when they moved from print to digital. What distinguished this atypical group was that they actually read slower when the text was on the computer than when it was in a book. In other words, they didn’t take the ease of engaging with the digital text for granted. Using this select group as a model, students could possibly be taught or directed to fight the tendency to glide through online texts.

4. Something that can’t be measured

There may be economic and environmental reasons to go paperless. But there’s clearly something important that would be lost with print’s demise.

In our academic lives, we have books and articles that we regularly return to. The dog-eared pages of these treasured readings contain lines of text etched with questions or reflections. It’s difficult to imagine a similar level of engagement with a digital text. There should probably always be a place for print in students’ academic lives – no matter how technologically savvy they become.

Of course, we realize that the march toward online reading will continue unabated. And we don’t want to downplay the many conveniences of online texts, which include breadth and speed of access.

The ConversationRather, our goal is simply to remind today’s digital natives – and those who shape their educational experiences – that there are significant costs and consequences to discounting the printed word’s value for learning and academic development.

Patricia A. Alexander, Professor of Psychology, University of Maryland and Lauren M. Singer, Ph.D. Candidate in Educational Psychology, University of Maryland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Explainer: how the brain changes when we learn to read



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Learning to read is not actually that easy.
from shutterstock.com

Nicola Bell, The University of Queensland

Right now, you are reading these words without much thought or conscious effort. In lightning-fast bursts, your eyes are darting from left to right across your screen, somehow making meaning from what would otherwise be a series of black squiggles. The Conversation

Reading for you is not just easy – it’s automatic. Looking at a word and not reading it is almost impossible, because the cogs of written language processing are set in motion as soon as skilled readers see print.

And yet, as tempting as it is to think of reading as hard-wired into us, don’t be fooled. Learning to read is not easy. It’s not even natural.

The first examples of written language date back to about 5,000 years ago, which is a small fraction of the 60,000 years or more that humans have spent using spoken language.

This means our species hasn’t had enough time to evolve brain networks that predispose us to learn literacy. It is only through years of practice and instruction that we have forged those connections for ourselves.

How the brain learns to read

Brains are constantly reorganising themselves. Any time we learn a new skill, connections between neurons that allow us to perform that skill become stronger. This flexibility is heightened during childhood, which is why so much learning gets crammed in before adolescence.

As a child becomes literate, there is no “reading centre” that magically materialises in the brain. Instead, a network of connections develops to link existing areas that weren’t previously linked. Reading becomes a way of accessing language by sight, which means it builds on architecture that is already used for recognising visual patterns and understanding spoken language.

Words and letters are initailly stored in the brain as symbols.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

The journey of a word

When a skilled reader encounters a printed word, that information travels from their eyes to their occipital lobe (at the back of the brain), where it is processed like any other visual stimulus.

From there, it travels to the left fusiform gyrus, otherwise known as the brain’s “letterbox”. This is where the black squiggles are recognised as letters in a word. The letterbox is a special stopover on the word’s journey because it only develops as the result of learning to read. It doesn’t exist in very young children or illiterate adults, and it’s activated less in people with dyslexia, who have a biological difference in the way their brains process written text.

Words and letters are stored in the letterbox – not as individually memorised shapes or patterns, but as symbols. This is why a skilled reader can recognise a word quickly, regardless of font, cAsE, or typeface.

Information then travels from the letterbox to the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, to work out word meaning and pronunciation. These same areas are activated when we hear a word, so they are specialised for language, rather than just reading and writing.

Because information can travel so quickly across the skilled reader’s synaptic highways, the entire journey takes less than half a second.

But what happens in the brain of a five-year-old child, whose highways are still under construction?

Learning to read takes a lot of effort.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

The growing brain

For young children, the process of getting from print to meaning is slow and effortful. This is partly because beginning readers have not yet built up a store of familiar words that they can recognise by sight, so they must instead “sound out” each letter or letter sequence.

Every time children practise decoding words, they forge new connections between the visual and spoken language areas of the brain, gradually adding new letters and words to the brain’s all-important letterbox.

Remember, when a practised reader recognises a word by sight, they process the letters in that word, rather than its shape.

Literacy instruction can therefore support children’s learning by highlighting the symbolic nature of letters – in other words, by drawing attention to the relationships between letters and speech sounds.

Here, evidence from brain imaging research and educational research converge to show that early phonics instruction can help construct an efficient reading network in the brain.

What might the future hold for literacy development?

As technology evolves, so too must our definition of what it means to be “literate”. Young brains now need to adapt not only to written language, but also to the fast-paced media through which written language is presented.

Only time will tell how this affects the development of that mysterious beige sponge between our ears.

Nicola Bell, PhD student, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Article: Learning to Enjoy Reading


The link below is an article written in response to a person asking the question, ‘how can I learn to enjoy reading?’ What do you think – any ideas?

For more visit:
http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2012/12/ask-lh-how-can-i-learn-to-enjoy-reading/