Inside the brain of a struggling reader
There are many, many factors that when combined, tend to create successful readers. While home environment, access to books and social and economic factors each play a part in children’s literacy development, BRAIN DIFFERENCES also play a crucial role.
There are many parts to the human brain:
In struggling readers, this ‘part’ is often underdeveloped. It helps readers make the connection between letters, sounds or phonemes ( this is called phonological processing ).
The part of the brain that helps us understand what we see. While struggling readers may not have vision problems, differences in the occipital lobe can prevent them from understanding individual letters or words when they see them.
In a typical brain, this acts as a giant warehouse for vocabulary and sounds. For struggling readers, this area shows less activity and may even be inactive. This means that for some students, every word encountered is a new word, all the time.
This is usually associated with speaking words aloud. Students with phonological processing issues often show less activity in this region. It may be a no-brainer (sic), but speech, listening and reading are all interconnected.
difficulties also contribute to reading struggles.
Good News … The Brain is Plastic, It’s Fantastic.
New research is demonstrating the plasticity of the brain, or the ability for it to change over the course of a human’s life. Teachers understand this better than most. LEARNING can make a big impact on brain physiology. Three awesome examples are:
Learning Example 1
London bus drivers v taxi drivers. Your average taxi driver has a larger hippocampus than a bus driver, likely because they have to navigate all over the city, while bus drivers have set routes (Maquire, Woollet and Spiers, 2006).
What this means for your child: Sometimes, taking the ‘scenic route’ when learning can engage the brain in a completely different way.
Learning Example 2
Monolinguals v Bilinquals. It turns out learning more than one language literally expands your brain: Bilinguals have a bigger left inferior parietal cortex than monolinguals (Mechelli et al., 2004).
What this means for your child: Learn a language together. It might mean basic, everyday phrases to begin with.
Learning Example 3
Musician’s v Non-musicians. Musicians who practice at least one hour a day have been shown to have more grey matter than those who do not play an instrument (Gaser and Schlaug, 2003).
What this means for your child: Practise spelling, times tables etc daily for better results!
Food for thought as we ALL, try to make our world a more literal, compassionate place.