By Nancy Williams
Clinical Director, CCI
About 1 in 5 kids will be a struggling learner.
All schools must address struggling learners in the classroom – those kids who are going to have difficulty learning to read.
When kids have a language-based disability, or a language-based interference in their ability to read, it is not just in reading. It’s in reading, writing, spelling, listening, thinking, talking, and mathematics. It is in any area where they have to encounter language.
Specifically, we will take a look at what is happening in a struggling learner versus a learner who will quickly adapt to reading. One of the things scientists do now, is they take an MRI while kids are actually engaged in the process of reading.
They get a picture of what is going on in the brain while they’re reading. In a fluent reader, the left hemisphere of the brain lights up when engaged in reading. The left half of the brain is where a lot of the activity is happening.
What kinds of things happen on the left side of the brain?
The left hemisphere involves logic, analysis, sequencing, mathematics, language, thinking in words, thinking in terms of words for songs, and computation. Those are the activities or things that would naturally be involved in reading. And that is why reading is something that comes naturally for them. They are engaging the language area of the brain.
However, with a struggling reader, the MRI data shows a very different picture of brain function. While the left side of the brain is activated for fluent readers, the left side is very inactive in a struggling reader. However, the right side of the brain is lit up like a Christmas tree in one who struggles to read.
The right side of the brain involves things like creativity and imagination, intuition, rhythm, nonverbal, feelings, visualization, and daydreaming. None of those are skills are useful in trying to read. Yet, that is the area of the brain that is engaged for a struggling reader.
Creating Neuropathways in the Brain
It is incredibly difficult for struggling readers to understand reading because they are not using the language areas of the brain. The only way that we can help them is to create neuropathways to the language centers of the brain, and those are all on the left side.
To achieve this, we need to do as many “crossing the center line” movements as we can to create neuropathways that go from the right side of the brain to the left side of the brain. When we do that, we engage the language centers of the brain.
But here’s the cool thing – when you teach in a way that engages both the right and the left side of the brain, children understand language and they read better, but they also engage things like visualization and holistic thinking.
Consequently, they actually have the ability to see and experience what they’re reading on a far greater level than if they were just exercising the language centers of the brain.
When you teach kids, who are not struggling readers, in the same way, you are connecting from the left side to the right side and allowing them to access their visualization and holistic thinking. This allows them to engage areas of the brain that are not typically engaged in reading, and it gives them a better experience with language.
Structured literacy, with all its components and methodologies, works with kids who are struggling readers, and it also improves the understanding and the experience of reading in every student.
Therefore, it is essential that we teach kids the way the brain understands language. And if we don’t, we won’t get that 20%, the 1 in 5 who are struggling readers, but we also leave out so much language experience for those who are already engaging the language area of the brain.