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Science of Reading

Reading is essential for those who seek to rise above the ordinary.” - Jim Rohn


We all want our children to build the habit of reading. We all believe that reading will help children know facts, learn the right thing and at last, help them be more successful. Yes, reading habits make children smart and accomplished. But, did you know, according to neuroscience, reading doesn't just fill children's brains with information and make them bright but also changes the way their brain works for the better? A growing body of research has shown that reading activates different brain regions and strengthens their functions (learning, memory, attention, emotion processing, speech) by improving nerve connections. In this blog, we will learn about the neuroscience of reading, the benefits of reading, and a few tips on how we can help children improve their reading habits.



Today, the advancement of neuroimaging techniques (EEG, CT, fMRI) has improved the understanding of the brain areas involved in reading and the reading processes.

Several brain regions are involved in reading. Major regions are the temporal lobe (responsible for phonological awareness and decoding sounds), Broca’s area in the frontal lobe (governs speech production and language comprehension), and the angular and supramarginal gyrus (connects different parts of the brain) to put letters together to form words.


While we read, the sub-process, such as the visual sensory processing of letters (the way each letter looks), speech motor processing (the ability to plan to say something), comprehension, working memory (immediate memory), and long-term memory, take place. This sub-process helps in an overall improvement in a child's learning, and it also activates different areas in the brain. More regions will be activated for more complicated reading tasks. For example, one-word reading takes place in the inferior frontal gyrus, while sentence reading requires the activation of more areas like the parietal and temporal lobes.



Fig 1: Image showing brain regions that get activated during reading


Different brain regions are connected through neural pathways that get strengthened during reading. Information obtained from one brain region is projected and distributed to higher-order associations (perception, logical thinking, reasoning, focus). These processes make it possible to derive meaning from individual letters, words, sentences of increasing structural complexity, and discourse.


Now, let us see how reading helps the brain and the reader.


Recent studies show that building the habit of reading at an early age helps create new white matter. This will boost processing speed and improve problem-solving capacity and focus. White matter also activates grey matter and makes it work faster. This will help in decision-making, muscle control, and perception). Like any other learning activity, reading depends on the interconnectivity between cognition, emotion, memory, and physiology. Listening to or reading stories can stimulate feelings that will help children build and maintain social relationships and improve cognitive abilities such as attention and memory.


A study at Yale University in 2012 showed that deep reading, over an extended period, builds the ability to focus and grasp complex ideas. Harvard professor Joseph Henrich said learning to read and reading regularly can permanently rewire the brain. It will activate the occipital, temporal region of the brain (helpful in face recognition, processing emotions, language, and memory formation), and thicken the corpus callosum, the information highway that connects the left and right hemispheres of the brain (helpful in effective learning, and information recall).


Along with improving cognitive functionalities in children (memory, attention, focus, and more), reading also strengthens their ability to imagine alternative paths, remember details, picture detailed scenes, and think through complex problems. In short, reading makes them more knowledgeable and functionally smarter, as it can increase their brain power. As we ask our children to play sports or games to keep their physical health, regular reading improves their cognitive functions by giving the brain a good workout.


A study by Robert S. Wilson and colleagues in 2013 showed that regular reading might help slow the age-related cognitive loss and help keep minds sharper for long.. Further, getting lost in any good novels can make it easier for children to relate to others. It has the power to make them understand what others are thinking about people's emotions, and it will improve emotional intelligence and social behavior.


Reading also helps in maintaining children's cognitive functions, social behavior, and emotional and intellectual quotient. Apart from these, it will also help children learn novel words and improve their language association skills, the fundamentals of the language, and the ability to learn across all subjects.


As a child is learning to read, or if they struggle with reading on their own, there are many things that a parent or a teacher can do to help improve the habit. A few things that can be followed are here.



  • Establishing a reading routine: Research indicates that setting aside some regular daily time to read to children and read with children can substantially increase their reading abilities in many areas, including comprehension, vocabulary, recognizing words, and understanding.


  • Encouraging children to read regularly: We need to keep books available everywhere in the home. Having books at different places they can easily access like in the drawing room, next to their bed, and next to the TV, will signal to children that reading is important and easily accessible. Another way to encourage your child to read is to lead by example.

Parents are important role models for their children, and they emulate the behaviour that parents display. If a child sees a parent reading before bed every night, they are likely to do the same.


  • Help them find books they love: If a child is uninterested in reading, it may not be because they do not like to read. The source of the problem could simply be that they do not want to read the books that they have.

Finding the right genre or type of story could be the key to finally sparking a child's interest. We should expose children to many different kinds of stories. Mysteries, science fiction, and adventure stories are particularly popular with young boys and girls with adventurous imaginations. If a child is wildly curious about animals, outer space, or construction machines, parents should provide them with material about those subjects.



  • Stay involved in your child's reading habit: Few children may struggle to read, but some may get into the skill quickly. With constant attention and care, parents can help struggling readers. They can break down reading skills into manageable components and outline practical strategies that can be utilized to strengthen those components. For example, suppose a child is not able to read because of difficulty in pronunciation. In that case, parents can focus on their phonemic awareness (the ability to identify individual sounds when others speak). This will help children understand the individual sounds that makeup words.

Above all, if a child is struggling with reading, the best thing that parents can do is to support them as they strive to improve.


In summary, reading is essential to a child's learning and development. Helping them to improve their comprehension, literacy, language, and spelling skills will set them up for future success. Reading is also a mental activity; making it part of daily routine will boost brain power and cognitive abilities.




References


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  2. Binder, J.R., Desai, R.H., Graves, W.W. & Conant, L.L. (2009). Where is the semantic system? A critical review and meta- analysis of 120functional neuroimaging studies. Cerebral Cortex,19, 2767–2796.

  3. Buchweitz, A., Robert A. M., Leda M.B., & Marcel, A.J. (2009). Brain Activation for Reading and Listening Comprehension: an fMRI Study of Modality Effects and Individual Differences in Language Comprehension, Psychology Neuroscience, 2(2), 111-23.

  4. Corbetta, M., Miezin, F.M., Dobmeyer, S., Shulman, G.L., Petersen, S.E. (1991). Selective and divided attention during visual discriminations of shape, colour, and speed: functional anatomy by positron emission tomography. The Journal of Neuroscience, 11(8), pp. 2383–2402

  5. Fadiga, L., Fogassi, L., Gallese, V., & Rizzolatti, G. (2000). Visuomotor neurons: ambiguity of the discharge or ‘motor’ perception? International Journal of Psychophysiology, 35, 165–177

  6. Embick, D., Marantz, A, Miyashita, Y, O’Neil, W. & Sakai, K.L. (2000). A syntactic specialization for Broca’s area. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences off the United States of America, 97(11), 6150-6154.

  7. Friederici, A.D., & Weissenborn, J. (2007). Mapping sentence form onto meaning: The syntax—semantic interface. Brain Research, 1146,50–58.

  8. Lem, L. (1992). Beyond Broca’s and Wernicke’s Areas: a new perspective on the neurology of language, Issues in Applied Linguistics, 2, 213-35.

  9. Robbins, S.L. (1992). A Neurobiological Model of Procedural Linguistic Skill Acquisition. Issues in Applied Linguistics, 2, 235-65.


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