BLOG > Reading Effectively Is A Well-Orchestrated Process

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Learning to read is very challenging. In fact, reading is one of the most complicating enterprises in which humans engage. Humans do many things that are very complicated, but many of those other complicated things that we do are neurologically pre-programmed. The ability to acquire speech and language skills is akin to having firmware already pre-wired into our brains. This potential is already present at birth. The inability of children to acquire speech is extremely rare resulting from neurological damage, or even more rare, when a child has not been exposed to language. Acquiring speech and language skills is a natural act requiring mere exposure to language. There is evidence that the brain responds to speech in the same way for infants as well as adults even before the infant understands that he or she is listening to speech. The brain is already processing that information even prior to acquiring speech.

Learning to read is a much different process and requires that individuals use areas of their brains that were not necessarily developed for reading. In a sense, these areas of the brain are being usurped to learn to read. As an example, prior to learning to read, the left fusiform gyrus is involved in facial, object and design recognition. As the individual learns to read, there is evidence that recognition of letters, letter strings and words occurs in this area and pushes facial recognition to an analogous area in the right fusiform gyrus. As a result, the left fusiform gyrus is referred to as the Visual Word Form Area (VWFA) as that particular part of the brain very carefully processes and analyzes the visual aspects of words. It takes a considerable amount of effort to train the VWFA to recognize the orientations of the letters and letter strings.

It is also important that the letters that are processed and analyzed by the VWFA acquire meaning. This is accomplished by connecting the letters and letter strings analyzed by the VWFA to the sounds that those letters represent. This happens by sending and connecting that information to the part of the brain that evaluates speech sounds; the planum temporale also known as Wernicke’s Area. The beginning reader learns to connect print and sound, to decode the letters that comprise words into their respective sounds and then connect or blend those sounds into words. This is why vocabulary is so important. For a beginning reader to know if he or she correctly read a word, it is useful for the beginning reader to recognize the word. The meaning of words involves different parts of the brain beginning with Broca’s and surrounding areas. Obviously, learning to read is complicated and involves a well-orchestrated process of analyzing letters, connecting them to sound, decoding and synthesizing words and then comprehending what one is reading. This involves many areas of the brain and not only requires enormous effort, but developing efficiencies in neurological processing.

Learning to read is most definitely NOT a natural act. It takes an enormous amount of effort and a brain that has all of the parts mentioned above working in concert. Evidence from fMRI studies indicate that for individuals with dyslexia/reading difficulties, those areas function differently than the same areas of good readers.

David P. Hurford, Ph.D., is a research scientist and professor of psychology and counseling at Pittsburg State University, and a Boon Education Board member. His research includes dyslexia, reading difficulties, attentional difficulties. Dr. Hurford directs the Center for Research, Evaluation and Awareness of Dyslexia and is the founder and manager of the Center for the Assessment and Remediation of Reading Difficulties a nonprofit dedicated to assisting individuals with dyslexia and reading difficulties become competent readers. To learn more about Dr. Hurford, go to http://boonphilanthropy.org/eb-david-p-hurford.php