THE GOOD NEWS—Many Reading Problems Can Be Prevented!

I’m getting on a plane tomorrow to fly from San Francisco to Boston for a week.  I’m attending a conference where I’ll have a chance to talk to many friends and colleagues who have, like me, decided to spend their lives trying to understand why some children have difficulty learning to read and what we might be able to do about it.

It’s the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Reading, a gathering of over 300 researchers from around the world who study everything about reading — brain structure and function, related cognitive and behavioral issues, and instruction and intervention techniques. You can find abstracts of the talks on the SSSR web site.  I look forward to learning new things to add to the knowledge I have accumulated from my own research over the last 37 years.

I plan to post to this blog juicy tidbits of new information (and provide links to sources) that I get from conferences like this, plus my own thoughts about the progress of reading research.  The great news is that today we know a lot more about the role of good instruction and early intervention for children who may be at-risk for reading difficulties than we did when I began studying the link between the brain and learning in 1972. We know now how to avoid the struggles, the discouragement, and the loss of self-esteem for many children who might have experienced these difficulties in the past!

One big secret is to teach reading correctly in the first place, whether it happens at home or at school.  Parents and teachers need to understand the importance of phoneme awareness (understanding that the mouth must make several different sounds to say a word) and phonics (learning the letters that stand for those sounds). These two skills, built upon a strong base of conversation and vocabulary, are the foundation of reading and they are the skills that are hardest to master for children who struggle to read. It turns out from recent neuroscience research that they are essential for building efficient reading pathways in the brain.

Now that we know this, the critical tasks ahead, besides continuing the research, are to develop excellent research-based learning materials that children will love to use to help them on their way, and to communicate this new knowledge to you parents and teachers with how-to tips so that you can apply these discoveries with your own children or classes!

I call this blog “Let’s Talk about Reading, Writing, and the Brain” because that’s ” what has consumed me in the long journey I have taken as a research neuropsychologist at Stanford Research Institute, at the University of California San Francisco Medical School for 10 years, and as Director of California Neuropsychology Services for 28 years.  Since I founded Talking Fingers, Inc. fifteen years ago, we have also developed research-based software for teaching reading with several grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

I love conversation and feedback and hope you will post comments, questions, and your own links in reply. That’s the best way to enrich the journey, as we continue to search for ways to develop the skills and wisdom of our young citizens who will care for this earth and our tribe in the decades to come.

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