What Science Can’t Explain About Reading
It may come as a surprise to many who are naturally used to reading books, labels, road signs, etc. on a daily basis that reading is not a natural occurrence our brains are wired to know. In fact, our brains are designed for talking and not reading, which is why it takes extra effort to learn how. Those who are not exposed to reading techniques at a young age can struggle as they get older which is why schools are so focused on closing the gap and teaching students how to read proficiently early on.
Everyone has the potential to learn how to read regardless of background, especially if their instruction is based on science and prevention of reading failure rather than the experiences of the teacher. This way, students are less likely to fall behind in their reading and learning and will develop the literacy skills that become important for their futures.
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What Is the Science of Reading?
The science behind reading has been debated and researched by experts for over two decades. It is based on the knowledge of reading experts and cognitive scientists who have studied how humans learn to read and how this is developed over time. This evidence-based research on reading strategies has made its way into the curriculum and, in some states, are even required to be implemented by law to ensure that schools are doing what they need to ensure students are learning effective reading skills. For example, elementary education license holders may need to show proficiency in scientific reading instruction and school districts may need to provide continuous training in evidence-based reading and curriculum evaluations to prove that the content is effective.
How We Learn to Read
There are multiple aspects that contribute to how we learn to read and multiple approaches that researchers have used to explain the learning process. Reading skills develop from a very young age and building blocks needed to grow these skills affect how children read later on. This is why it is so important that educators have solid foundations in teaching reading abilities.
Factors that play into how we learn to read include developing awareness of phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary skills, and reading comprehension. A major approach that has been used to explain the science behind reading includes the phonics approach.
Reading Through Phonics
The National Reading Panel Report released in 2000 emphasized the importance of phonemic awareness instruction. Results from this research showed that this way of teaching reading skills was significantly better than alternative forms of reading training. Phonemic instruction is based on phonemes which are the smallest units of the spoken language. A lot of this involves teaching children how to sound out words and manipulate, categorize, and delete sounds to form words.
Besides being able to sound out words to read, there are also critical cognitive and linguistic processes that play into the science of reading. Working memory and auditory processing are two very important components that contribute to reading comprehension and the development of reading skills.
In the past, many believed that repetition and memorization played a key factor in how people learned to read. This, obviously, did not end up being the case. But, working memory differs greatly from straight memorization. Practicing phonetic skills taps into working memory. Using your working memory exercises the prefrontal cortex. This region of the brain contributes to many executive functions like processing information, receiving input, and focusing. The working memory, in partnership with learning phonics, is largely what contributes to developing language skills. It has been shown that those with underdeveloped phonological working memory also have developmental language problems.
Auditory processing helps readers distinguish between the details in words. Those that struggle with this critical component of reading have a difficult time learning phonics. Being unable to differentiate between sounds slows down the reader’s ability to process information and words at the quick rate that people usually read at.
Reading failure is a risk for many vulnerable students. When it is caught at an early age, an intervention can be implemented and strong reading skills can still be developed. This is why education is demanding that phonological awareness is incorporated into curriculum and teacher training. These fundamental components of reading instruction become a vital skill for all beginners.
Benefits of Reading
There is a large benefit to effective reading skills. Those that read not only have lower stress levels, they also receive many mental health benefits. Depression is experienced by almost 300 million people in the world. Those that read report feeling more optimistic after reading and there is a joy and exploration that reading offers those who suffer alone that other forms of entertainment can’t.
Unlike listening to books, reading is an active process. It requires your brain to think and engage. Listening is easy to tune out and can become a passive activity that does not require much attention. Exercising the brain through reading also exercises important cognitive skills such as problem-solving, analyzing, and decoding. Practicing these functions have proven to be especially effective in the elderly who experience higher rates of mental decline and memory problems. This effective brain activity has been proven through MRIs which show that reading taps into our brain’s language center and helps us build dozens of new connections.
Using Your Public Library to Read
Public libraries play an important role in developing critical thinking and reading skills from a young age as well as helping English learners or those picking up books for the first time form important connections. These institutions build these skills in a variety of ways. Public libraries spend endless amounts of time, resources, and funding into developing educational programs that place emphasis on developing reading skills. From early literacy programs like storytime to those aimed at school-aged children like summer reading, libraries are focused on enveloping their communities in the world of books.
Librarians are also effective at curating and sourcing materials that help develop strong literacy skills while also catering to the interests and needs of the reader. They not only provide support in the learning process, they understand that this is a lifelong skill that is worth investing in. This is why, in addition to reading programming, libraries also host a variety of authors and events that excite and engage their community. These events let library patrons connect with their passions as well as learn new skills.
Libraries have the tools to grow readers and model positive reading behaviors. They not only benefit early readers but their families as well. Parents and caregivers can take after the example that public libraries and librarians set and learn important tools to help contribute to the growth of their readers. It is easy to connect with your local public library. Not only are locations open and welcoming to people of all backgrounds, but their websites are also great for accessing information and learning about programming that connects you to reading, listening, and viewing.
While humans aren’t “wired” to read from a young age, it is an important part of development as they evolve throughout life. These reading skills translate to comprehension, analysis, and problem-solving. Reading helps humans understand the world around them and live at a higher potential.