Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Building the Reading Brain

I've been wanting to share some of my research for a while. I love this book, as an educator and a parent. The research in this book is fascinating - at least it is to me, but then I spend every day searching for ways to improve literacy instruction. As someone with a background in middle-level literacy, I found the information on how the brain develops its capacity for language from preK-grade 3 invaluable as an educator and parent. If you are interested in reading the book, though, just remember it was written with educators in mind - not parents. I hope this doesn't bore you; some you probably already know. I've pretty much quoted some of the chapter 3 highlights directly from the authors...

The Language Explosion: 1 to 2 Years

From 1 year on, children develop language skills rapidly. At about 18 months, vocabulary explodes with children adding a new word to their vocabulary at the astounding rate of one word every two hours [!] or so (Koralek & Collins, 1997). Their receptive vocabulary - the words they understand - grows even more rapidly (Eliot, 1999)....This period of rapidly expanding language development coincides with the time when synapse formation and metabolic activity are at their highest in the cortex (Eliot,1999).

Talk, Talk, Talk

...children of the most talkative mothers had 33 more words in their vocabulary at 16 months than did the children of mothers who were the least talkative. At 20 months, the difference was 131 words, and at 24 months, 295. (Huttenlocher, Haight, Bryk, Seltzer, & Lyons, 1991).

The Single Most Important Intervention

...reading aloud to children is the single most important intervention for developing their literacy skills. The research is clear - children who are read to from an early age are more successful at learning to read....First, it increases their vocabulary and helps them become familiar with language patterns. Repetition increases the strength of neural connections. Reading the same book to children repeatedly - which they love - serves to reinforce familiar words. Children often become so familiar with the vocabulary of a favorite story they can "read" it with an adult or pretend to read it to a sibling or to one of their dolls or stuffed animals.

A second benefit of reading to children is that the child acquires familiarity with the reading process. The pre-reading child has much to learn about print....The benefit of reading to a child is further enhanced when the reader involves the child by asking him or her to point to or name pictures of persons or objects, points out objects in the story that are present in the child's own environment, encourages the child to retell the story, or otherwise involves the child in some type of discussion.

The Nursery Rhyme Effect

When two sounds are similar, they excite the same cells and their connections. As these sounds are heard repeatedly, the neural connections become stronger and the sounds become more easily recognized or familiar. In this way, the brain also begins to distinguish between sounds that are alike and those that are different. This is a process essential to phonemic awareness [conscious understanding that words are made of individual sounds from speech and that these sounds are representative of the alphabet]....The repetition of sounds set to rhythm is a common memory strategy nearly everyone uses, and one of the best ways to develop word processing skills in the young is through nursery rhymes and simple songs.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. In case you are interested...Wolfe, P. & Nevills, P. Building the Reading Brain, PreK-3. Corwin Press: Thousand Oaks, California. 2004.


Michelle said...

It is a good book. I could have saved you lots of reading time and told you everything you just typed. As an early childhood educator it was my job to teach phonemic awareness. The problem has always been introducing children to letters, sounds, words, books, literacy in general, in K-5 when they have absolutely no prior knowledge of any of it because they have never been read to, no one has ever pointed out the letters on a stop sign when stuck in traffic, and basically never talked to or interacted with their own child ( it really does happen). I look at Connor who, at a young five, is reading and writing and it amazes me because it all stared on day one. We talked, we read, we would sing songs, we did everything I knew to do as a parent and an early childhood teacher. It has all paid off. And what is more amazing, for those of you reading this who know Connor, he didn't talk until he was 2 1/2. But I was teaching and he was listening and it was all clicking on the inside. It is so simple to introduce your child to this wonderful world of literacy by just talking, singing, reading, taking the time to introduce them to new things. One doesn't need to be an educator but an aware parent who wants to build that foundation so their child can succeed later in life. I have always told my students reading makes you a better writer and writing makes you a better reader. Don't forget to put that crayon in their hand early and let them scribble. Want to see amazement??? Keep your child's artwork starting from six months to five years, it all comes full circle, as long as you give them the opportunity. Straight lines become circles, top to bottom, left to right, fist grip to finger grip, one large body with legs then ten body parts to beautiful works of art because you gave them the chance. It all works together. Read, read, read, talk, talk, talk, and model for them how to read, write and talk. It has always amazed me how one can tell the amount of reading time and talking time a child has had as a little one by the vocabulary they use. Reading allows a little one the chance to hear words they don't hear in everyday life. When you read a book on animals they may hear you say hippopotamus. How many other times in the last week have you said that word? What a cool word, and you shared it with them, because of a book. Literacy is great, it will be with you forever. That's is all I have to say. Can you tell I have been out of the classroom for a year and a half. I still have the passion, just not the ambition. I'm working on making better readers and writers of my own little ones for a while!!!

Lisa said...

I knew most of the "big ideas" already, too, and feel like I am doing what I need to do for the girls. But as a former middle school teacher this is the book that taught me the meaning of phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, segmenting, etc. - those things we secondary educators are never "taught."

Tracy said...

I haven't made the time to comment lately (though I have been reading!) but just had to thank you for this post. It definitely motivates me to schedule time every day to read to my kids...and gives me guidance on what and how to read and talk to them. Thanks!!!