Brain wave study shows how different teaching methods affect reading development
A study, co-authored by Professor Bruce McCandliss, provides some of the first evidence that a specific teaching strategy for reading has direct neural impact.
From the 28 May 2015 Stanford news release
Stanford Professor Bruce McCandliss found that beginning readers who focus on letter-sound relationships, or phonics, increase activity in the area of their brains best wired for reading.
Words learned through the letter-sound instruction elicited neural activity biased toward the left side of the brain, which encompasses visual and language regions. In contrast, words learned via whole-word association showed activity biased toward right hemisphere processing.
McCandliss noted that this strong left hemisphere engagement during early word recognition is a hallmark of skilled readers, and is characteristically lacking in children and adults who are struggling with reading.
In addition, the study’s participants were subsequently able to read new words they had never seen before, as long as they followed the same letter-sound patterns they were taught to focus on. Within a split second, the process of deciphering a new word triggered the left hemisphere processes.
“Ideally, that is the brain circuitry we are hoping to activate in beginner readers,” McCandliss said.
By comparison, when the same participants memorized whole-word associations, the study found that they learned sufficiently to recognize those particular words on the reading test, but the underlying brain circuitry differed, eliciting electrophysiological responses that were biased toward right hemisphere processes.
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