What Reading Does for Learning and the Brain

This webpage provides:

§  How reading has consequences on the brain - Stanislas Dehaene

§  Learning from reading may be different from learning from speech - Michael Platt

§  The “Matthew effects” of reading and the “Interdependence of Reading and Learning” - Marilyn Jager Adams


How reading has consequences on the brain - Stanislas Dehaene


The insight into how literacy changes the brain is profoundly transforming our vision of education and learning disabilities. (p. 2)


Why is Homo sapiens the only species that actively teaches itself? (p. 3)


[L]earning to read clearly improves verbal memory…. Education inoculates us with the reading virus. It spreads quickly to our language system and enhances our verbal memory. When children learn to read, they return from school “literally changed.” Their brains will never be the same again. (p. 210)


There is no doubt that the main effect of literacy is positive: learning to read induces massive cognitive gains.” (p. 210)


Even in the adult brain, learning can still drastically alter neuronal connections. (p. 211) [bold added]


Stanislas Dehaene – Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention



Stanislas Dehaene


Viking Press

URL: www.readinginthebrain.com – an interesting site but his book is much more useful and practical for teachers


Viking Press identifies Dehaene in this way: He “was trained as a mathematician and psychologist before becoming one of the word’s most active researchers on the cognitive neuroscience of language and number processing in the human brain.


Learning from reading may be different from learning from speech - Michael Platt

Scientists have assumed that reading relies on the same brain circuits involved in spoken language, but now they are considering a more complicated explanation, thanks to six baboons who took part in an unusual experiment….

Michael Platt, who directs the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, says he was surprised by what the baboons were able to do…. Platt says when you think about it, the finding makes sense, given what's known about human and animal brains.

"Brains are always looking for patterns," he says. "They are always looking to make some statistical pattern analysis of the features and events that are in the environment. And this would just be one of those."

Platt says that's a big departure from the idea that reading is a direct extension of spoken language.

"It's a very different way of thinking about what reading and writing really are, and it could have some implications, for example, for thinking about how we might improve education in reading and writing for young children," he says.

Take children with dyslexia; the baboon study suggests their problem might be in parts of the brain that identify objects, not the ones that process language. [bold added]

Jon Hamilton – The (Monkey) Business Of Recognizing Words



Jon Hamilton

April 12, 2012

KUHF Houston Public Radio

URL: http://app1.kuhf.org/print-articles/npr1334266143-The-Monkey-Business-Of-Recognizing-Words.html


“The new research appears in the journal Science.”

The “Matthew effects” of reading and the “Interdependence of Reading and Learning” - Marilyn Jager Adams

This difference between the wording of oral and written language must lie at the crux of the advanced literacy challenge, as it points to a profound dilemma. On the one hand, the extent of this disparity implies that the great majority of words needed for understanding written language is likely to only be encountered—and thus can only be learned—through experience with written text. On the other hand, research has taught us that written text is accessible—and thus permits learning—only if the reader or listener already knows the vast majority of words from which it is constructed. Indeed, research indicates that reading with comprehension depends on understanding at least 95 percent of the words of a text. (p. 5-6)


… words are really nothing more than labels for interrelated bundles of knowledge.... (p. 8)


Another way to state the larger point here is that words are not just words. They are the nexus—the interface—between communication and thought. When we read, it is through words that we build, refine, and modify our knowledge. What makes vocabulary valuable and important is not the words themselves so much as the understandings they afford. (p. 8)


Even when students are told the meaning of a new word, their prior vocabulary strength predicts the likelihood that they will retain it. (These are known as “Matthew effects,” referring to the notion that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.) (p. 8)


There may one day be modes and methods of information delivery that are as efficient and powerful as text, but for now there is no contest. (p. 9)


There follows the popularity of so-called high-low texts intended to offer high interest or information alongside low demands on vocabulary and reading skill.      It was in this spirit, through earnest efforts to ensure full curricular access to all, that the complexity of schoolbooks came to be relaxed…. [I]t did not solve the access problem but made it worse…. [M]aking the textbooks easier is an approach that ultimately denies students the very language, information, and modes of thought they need most in order to move up and on. (p. 9) [She covers  approaches to solve this “dilemma.” (pp. 9-11]


Marilyn Jager Adams – “Advancing Our Students Language and Literacy: The Challenge of Complex Texts”



Marilyn Jager Adams

Winter 2010-2011

American Educator

URL: http://www.aft.org/pdfs/americaneducator/winter1011/Adams.pdf  - This article includes a beautiful collection of references.


“This article is adapted with the permission of the Guilford Press from “The Challenge of Advanced Texts: The Interdependence of Reading and Learning,” which Adams wrote for Reading More, Reading Better, edited by Elfrieda H. Hiebert, copyright 2009 by Guilford Press.”





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Last Updated:

2012 – 06/04

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