This blog reflects my 40 years of experience with reading research, from neuroscience labs to classrooms. Seriously concerned about the problem that 2/3 of America’s children still are struggling to read, we have applied and received grants from the National Institute of Child Health & Development to develop and do research with software to help children learn to read. Our mission has been to provide instructional materials that implement what science has found about how children become skilled readers.
One thing Talking Fingers has emphasized over the last 30 years is the importance of speech and a speech-to-print approach to learning to read. I’ll talk more about this in blogs to come. But here are two quotes to start out this conversation about the importance of speech:
“The process of learning to read must be understood as a reorganization of the management of oral speech, its transformation from an automatic process (dealing with whole words) to a voluntary, consciously regulated process (segmenting words into individual sounds), which then becomes automatic with practice.” D. B. Elkonin
“Learning an alphabetic code is like acquiring a virus [that] infects all speech processing, as now whole word sounds are automatically broken up into sound constituents. Language is never the same again.” Uta Frith
Consciously noticing that your mouth makes different sounds when you say a word is what Elkonin describes as a “reorganization of the management of oral speech.” You must add a new group of pathways and connections in your brain’s speech center. What you have always thought of as whole words must now be also thought of as a string of sounds. It is not an easy task, and phoneme awareness is the skill that is most frequently missing in children who struggle to read. It is the organization of these pathways, and the habitual use of them that enables us to instantly recognize words and decode new words.