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Reading and the Brain: Why is Reading Easy for Some Children and Not for Others?

Posted by Kim Schlauch on Feb 20, 2016 6:00:00 AM

reading and the brain

Consider this.  Children who read for 5 minutes a day are exposed to 182,000 words in a year.  Children who read for 20 minutes a day are exposed to 2 million words in a year.  The bottom line is that the more children read, the better they read, and the more they learn.

Unfortunately, in many cases, getting children to read for 20 minutes a day is easier said than done.  Some children simply lack the motivation to spend time reading and need parental encouragement in order to do so.  However, other reluctant readers may not like or want to read as a result of difficulties beyond basic motivation.

At a recent Liberty Christian School Coffee & Conversation, Mrs. Joan Collins, SpellRead Director, shared insights on how people learn to read, predictors of success in reading, reading difficulties and intervention.  Here is some of what she had to share with those who attended this informative session.

Oral Language vs. Reading Skills Development

When it comes to language development, while some aspects are innate, others must be taught.  For example, oral language, which includes receptive language, or the ability to listen to and make sense of English speech, as well as expressive verbal language, or the ability to speak and make oneself understood in English are natural and are developed in children in their early years.  On the other hand, reading and writing must be explicitly learned through conscious, applied effort.  In other words, reading and writing must be taught.

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7 Essential Skills of Reading

There are seven sequential steps as it relates to developing the skills to read.  They are:

  1. Phonemic Awareness: Hearing the Sounds.  Phonemes, or individual sounds, are the building blocks of language.  Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify and manipulate the individual sounds within words.

  2. Phonics: Spelling the Sounds.  Phonics is the system by which 26 letters (graphemes), alone and in combination, combine in ways to encode words and meanings.  Instruction in phonics helps students gain knowledge of letter-sound correspondence

  3. Decoding.  This invloves the ability to attach sounds to letters that spell a printed word.

  4. Word Identification.  This is the ability to read a word at the level of automaticity.

  5. Fluency.  This is the ability to read text quickly and accurately.

  6. Vocabulary.  This is the knowledge of word meanings.

  7. Comprehension.  This is ability to construct meaning from text.

The first three skills, phonemic awareness, phonics, and decoding, form the foundation of the learning process and offer the greatest predictor of success in reading.  Furthermore, struggles at the foundation will have a trickle up effect.

Brain Function and Reading Struggles

In many cases, struggles with these foundational skills and the resulting poor reading performance may not stem from learning disabilities, but rather from dyslexia, a disorder resulting from a disconnect in the brain’s processing of graphic symbols.

Symptoms of this condition may include:

  • Delayed speech
  • Trouble recognizing rhyming words
  • Mispronouncing words
  • Directional confusion (left vs. right)
  • Multiple ear infections
  • Slow to acquire reading skills
  • Recognizes a word on one page but does not recognize the same word on the next page
  • Slow choppy oral reading
  • Letter reversals due to left-right confusion (i.e. b and d)
  • Difficulty completing reading or writing assignments independently

The presence of multiple symptoms may indicate a need for assessment and reading intervention.

Liberty Christian School currently works in partnership with Mrs. Collins and SpellRead to provide assessment and intervention options for families in our community who may be in need of these services.  For more information regarding this topic, please visit the SpellRead website.

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About the Author

Kim is the blog content manager at Liberty Christian School. She has professional experience in the fields of business and education and hands-on experience as the mother of two school-age children. She enjoys reading, writing, spending time with her family, and anything chocolate.