By Nancy Cushen White, Ed.D.
According to Stanford researchers investigating how the brain responds to different types of reading instruction, beginning readers who focus on letter-sound relationships, in contrast to memorizing whole words, increase activity in the area of their brains most efficiently wired for reading. More significantly, those taught to attend to letter-sound patterns, or phonics, were able to read new words never seen before. In contrast, when the same participants were taught to memorize whole words, they learned to recognize those particular words on the reading test, but they were unable to read new words not previously memorized.
Words learned through letter-sound association instruction elicited neural activity biased toward the left hemisphere of the brain; words learned via whole-word association showed activity biased toward right hemisphere processing. Study Co-Author Bruce McCandliss noted that this strong left hemisphere engagement during early word recognition is a hallmark of skilled readers, and is characteristically lacking in children and adults who are struggling with reading.
This study provides further support for a Structured Literacy approach to reading instruction. The study, published in Brain and Language, can be found here.
Nancy Cushen White, Ed.D., is the Editor of the eXaminer; a Learning Specialist; Clinical Professor, University California San Francisco; and Past IDA National Board Member.
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