A Reading Brain

by Mindy Boyd

Many of us take for granted the miraculous act of reading.  If you are reading this, you are probably an accomplished reader who most likely has forgotten how much work it took to learn to read in the first place.  Although it feels natural now, there is nothing natural about reading.  There is not one part of our brain that controls reading; instead, many things must come together at once to create a reader.   Reading is a complex cognitive process of decoding symbols in order to construct or derive meaning.

In looking at how reading has evolved, it is important to note that the act of reading is built on oral language.  Even though speaking comes easily to most of us, learning how to speak is a complex process.  However, as complex as it is, our brains are designed to handle the job.  Unlike speaking, our brains have to be taught how to read.

When trying to picture a reading brain, consider this comparison.  The reading brain is like a symphony orchestra.  Both require a collaborative effort with various parts of the brain working together, like sections of instruments, to maximize our ability to decode the written text in front of us.  But how can we help our brain to play the right note….in other words, how can we teach our brain to read?

Neuroscience tells us that when we are learning a new skill, we must practice, practice, practice!  This allows neural pathways to be repeatedly exposed to the new information.  The key to this practice is that it must be done with intensity and focus.  New learning requires concentration and through concentration, neural connections are made.  To sum it up, in order to teach our brain to read, we must provide direct, explicit, instruction paired with intense, focused practice!

It is never too early to set a child on the pathway to becoming a strong reader.  And it is never too late to help a struggling reader strengthen his or her brain to read more successfully and with greater enjoyment.  The reading brain, what a miraculous thing!