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Reading boosts brain pathways, affects multiple disciplines

Pathways within the brain can be strengthened by reading and language exposure, researchers say

 

Children who have had more language exposure find reading easier.

 

Recent research shows that reading has a massive impact on brain function and can actually affect understanding in nearly all school subjects.

Neuroscientist Stanislaus Dehaene conducted research on the brain function of Portuguese-speaking Brazilian adults, both those who had learned to read and those who were illiterate. Dehaene chose Brazil because of its lack of compulsory education laws. Some of the population voluntarily forewent education, while others lacked access. The adults were matched for socio-economic status (SES) so the results would not be biased by educational or income level.

Martha Burns, an associate professor at Northwestern University and a speech and language pathologist, recently examined Dehaene’s studies in a blog post.

“A person who is a reader actually listens better,” said Burns. “They actually listen to speech and process speech faster and in more detail.”

Dehaene then proceeded to teach the illiterate adults to read, and found astonishing results, which Burns expanded on in her blog.

“Lo and behold, their brains changed dramatically in the same way the literate adults who had read their whole lives changed. Their visual perceptual skills improved, their auditory listening skills improved, and their ability to drive this whole left hemisphere symbolic problem-solving way of syncing changed,” Burns said.

This crux of the study has significant implications for educators.

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Comments:

  1. dcolavita

    May 3, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    The summer after my daughter’s first year in college she worked as a gate guard for a construction company. Her only responsibility was to check each truck as it came and went through the gate, leaving her lots of time on her hands and no one with whom to converse. She started reading and read about 34 books that summer. When she went back to college, she noticed that learning was easier and her grades improved. She attributed the improvement to reading. It is important to note that she wasn’t reading subject matter materials, just fiction of her choice!
    Thus, I’m not overly surprised with this research, but it is great to be able to point to it when necessary!

  2. dcolavita

    May 3, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    The summer after my daughter’s first year in college she worked as a gate guard for a construction company. Her only responsibility was to check each truck as it came and went through the gate, leaving her lots of time on her hands and no one with whom to converse. She started reading and read about 34 books that summer. When she went back to college, she noticed that learning was easier and her grades improved. She attributed the improvement to reading. It is important to note that she wasn’t reading subject matter materials, just fiction of her choice!
    Thus, I’m not overly surprised with this research, but it is great to be able to point to it when necessary!

  3. eburton

    May 3, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    We need to provide positive experiences to immerse our children in reading best practices. Parent involvement in early literacy is a necessary component and contributes to future high academic achievement- increased brain functioning.

    Erika Burton, Ph.D.
    Stepping Stones Together, Founder
    Empowering parental involvement in early literacy programs
    http://www.steppingstonestogether.com

  4. eburton

    May 3, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    We need to provide positive experiences to immerse our children in reading best practices. Parent involvement in early literacy is a necessary component and contributes to future high academic achievement- increased brain functioning.

    Erika Burton, Ph.D.
    Stepping Stones Together, Founder
    Empowering parental involvement in early literacy programs
    http://www.steppingstonestogether.com

  5. parebalo

    May 3, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    I teach in a low economic district where students are struggling to read in middle school. I can see how the lack of reading and talking at home impacts these children just as the study indicates. The sad thing I see in some of the more affluent homes is the lack of connecting with the children because of smart phones, facebook, etc. I see parents totally ignoring children as they drive and when at home. Children can call their name over and over, but no response because the parents are so deeply involved in their phones or computers. We may a problem with the children in these families soon.

  6. parebalo

    May 3, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    I teach in a low economic district where students are struggling to read in middle school. I can see how the lack of reading and talking at home impacts these children just as the study indicates. The sad thing I see in some of the more affluent homes is the lack of connecting with the children because of smart phones, facebook, etc. I see parents totally ignoring children as they drive and when at home. Children can call their name over and over, but no response because the parents are so deeply involved in their phones or computers. We may a problem with the children in these families soon.

  7. patoney

    May 4, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    Raising A Reader’s mission is to close the achievement gap before it appears by engaging limited-income families in daily book-sharing with their young children, thereby fostering healthy brain development, family-child bonding, and the early literacy skills essential for school success. Learn more about how you can help at rarbayarea.org

  8. patoney

    May 4, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    Raising A Reader’s mission is to close the achievement gap before it appears by engaging limited-income families in daily book-sharing with their young children, thereby fostering healthy brain development, family-child bonding, and the early literacy skills essential for school success. Learn more about how you can help at rarbayarea.org

  9. martha_murphy

    May 9, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    I’m glad to hear about this research. It breaks my heart when people, and especially when teachers, tell me reading is not important any more.

    Of course, illiterate people develop special skills as well. It would be interesting to see research on the parts of the brain that are well developed in people who must rely on their hearing and memories for information.

  10. martha_murphy

    May 9, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    I’m glad to hear about this research. It breaks my heart when people, and especially when teachers, tell me reading is not important any more.

    Of course, illiterate people develop special skills as well. It would be interesting to see research on the parts of the brain that are well developed in people who must rely on their hearing and memories for information.

  11. ppetrino

    May 11, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    The importance of strong, early language acquisition and development is vital to becoming a successful student, both in reading and across all content areas. It’s great to see that research is showing the evidence for the importance of parents talking to their children from birth on. I agree with parebalo’s comments above. There will be repercussions due to the lack of actual conversational speech in families, with all the texting, social networking, etc. I’m not against any of the technology, as long as it doesn’t supplant face to face conversation.

  12. ppetrino

    May 11, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    The importance of strong, early language acquisition and development is vital to becoming a successful student, both in reading and across all content areas. It’s great to see that research is showing the evidence for the importance of parents talking to their children from birth on. I agree with parebalo’s comments above. There will be repercussions due to the lack of actual conversational speech in families, with all the texting, social networking, etc. I’m not against any of the technology, as long as it doesn’t supplant face to face conversation.

  13. Karen

    May 28, 2011 at 9:49 am

    With the explosion of technology, reading skills have never been so important as they are today. We must teach all children to read, reflect and analyze what they read so that they can be an informed citizen in society. Learning changes the brain physiologically. That fact has been known by neuroscientists for some time now so this news is just more evidence of that impact. Like all physical activities, reading is a “participation sport.” You have to READ to get better at reading. Low income children get behind in reading during the preschool years. The Hart and Risley study showed that children who come from high poverty backgrounds may as as much as a 30 million word gap by age 3. We know that once children get behind, it is difficult for them to ever catch up. The answer is helping all children (and families) learn the importance of early literacy and reading.

    Karen Tankersley
    Author of: Threads of Reading (ASCD, 2003)
    Weaving Reading Threads (ASCD, 2005)
    Tests That Teach (ASCD, 2007)
    Coaching the Threads of Reading (Little John Pub., 2011)
    http://www.threadsofreading.com

  14. Karen

    May 28, 2011 at 9:49 am

    With the explosion of technology, reading skills have never been so important as they are today. We must teach all children to read, reflect and analyze what they read so that they can be an informed citizen in society. Learning changes the brain physiologically. That fact has been known by neuroscientists for some time now so this news is just more evidence of that impact. Like all physical activities, reading is a “participation sport.” You have to READ to get better at reading. Low income children get behind in reading during the preschool years. The Hart and Risley study showed that children who come from high poverty backgrounds may as as much as a 30 million word gap by age 3. We know that once children get behind, it is difficult for them to ever catch up. The answer is helping all children (and families) learn the importance of early literacy and reading.

    Karen Tankersley
    Author of: Threads of Reading (ASCD, 2003)
    Weaving Reading Threads (ASCD, 2005)
    Tests That Teach (ASCD, 2007)
    Coaching the Threads of Reading (Little John Pub., 2011)
    http://www.threadsofreading.com