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Struggling Readers? There’s a Reason Why
By: Dee Tadlock

In researching the reading process, I eventually came up with two fundamental questions. How does the brain learn a process? (Reading is a process—a "how-to" thing.) and What do brains do when they read well? I thought if I could answer these questions, I might discover how reading could be taught more effectively.

I stepped outside the field of reading and began doing library research in fields of inquiry that I thought might shed light on these questions. I studied information theory, communication theory, linguistics, language acquisition theory, cognitive psychology, neuropsychology, and neurobiology—always synthesizing what I was learning and applying it to my two questions. Eventually, this led to ideas about how to teach reading in a different way—a paradigm shift.

I started using my new ideas, hoping to see incremental improvement. What I saw instead was an elimination of a reading problem!

The result confirmed the validity of the research I had done and the effectiveness of the instructional methodology that resulted. The initial result has been verified by replication over a 30-year period of time, by third party, gold-standard research, and by literally hundreds of program evaluations using gain scores as measured by pre- and post- standardized reading tests. What made the amazing result possible? The answer lies in what my research revealed.

When an individual learns to read, he builds a network in his brain to guide the doing of it. Reading problems are caused when the network is built with errors encoded in so that it operates inappropriately. The individual has to read the way the network guides the process, so a reading problem can be eliminated only if the brain re-models the network. Brains are "plastic," so they can easily do the remodeling, but they are unlikely to accidently encounter an environment that would cause them to do it.

The major challenge in getting the brain to remodel circuitry is that process learning operates (and is learned) implicitly—below the level of conscious awareness. This means processes cannot be explicitly taught; the brain must figure out for itself all the implicit aspects. Reading professionals have never recognized or acknowledged the implicit nature of procedural learning. Their advice?—systematic and explicit teaching of basic skills.

For 150 years, reading professionals have assumed that the foundational skill for reading is word identification. But is it? Neuroscience would suggest otherwise. Brain scans done as subjects read word lists show very different neural activation patterns than those done as subjects read sentences—indicating that word identification is not the same cognitive act as reading connected text.

If the foundation and main event of reading is not word identification, what is it? It's anticipating the author's message.

To read excellently, the brain must figure out how to plan, coordinate, and integrate numerous complex neural systems so the creation of anticipatory sets is possible. Phonics is necessary to read, but the brain doesn't use phonetic information to identify the words. It strategically samples phonics to help anticipate the meaning, and, if the brain is uncertain, it uses phonics to make sure the anticipated meaning is the same as the author's intended meaning.

Anyone who struggles with reading has built erroneously-operating circuitry for guiding the process. Why? The individual was taught by well-meaning parents and teachers to identify each word on the page. Excellent readers actually anticipate meaning through the creation of anticipatory sets.

To eliminate a reading problem, the brain must remodel the network so it successfully guides the complex process of anticipating the author's meaning.

For more information, visit Read Right online at www.tutoringforreading.com.

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