Helping the Reader’s Brain Anticipate Meaning

09/03/2009  |  DEE TADLOCK, PH.D.
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According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, at least 20 million children in this country struggle with reading. The 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress reported that the national average of 8th graders in public schools scoring at or above proficient in reading skills was 29%. For fourth graders the national average was 32%. Excellent reading is essential to academic success, but reading proficiency is declining.

In fact, research in the fields of language acquisition and neuroscience indicate that relying on phonic- and phonemic-based instruction and other word identification tasks undermines a student’s innate ability to find an efficient process for making meaning from text. Read Right, a program developed out of research in these and other fields has stationed itself as an alternative to traditional reading theory.

Rather than breaking a text into language parts that are practiced in isolation of the text’s comprehensive meaning, Read Right focuses on helping students to create the most efficient and comfortable process for reading. The difference, in effect, is this: students who learn to process words and parts of words may perform this skill wonderfully yet be unable to actually read, because the process for reading passages of text is not the same as the process of identifying words.

Constantly and with imperceptible speed, the reader’s brain anticipates the author’s intended meaning. This, the methodology posits, not decoding, is the foundational act of reading.  Phonetic information is strategically sampled to elicit the anticipation or to confirm or reject predictions, but an excellent reader rarely reads every word in a sentence, or even each word entirely.

The brain must figure out how to plan, coordinate and integrate numerous complex neural systems in order to provide a comfortable and efficient reading experience. In poor readers, the neural network that guides the reading process has been inappropriately established. Compelling the brain to remodel these neural networks requires a tutoring environment that guides but does not over-determine the implicit experiments that each reader must make.

The tutor works with five students at a time, listening and responding with highly structured feedback. Accompanying the coached reading are measured periods of reading along to recorded books and of independent reading.

The model has been used primarily as a K-12 intervention program, but colleges also have begun to adopt the program for developmental education courses. A K-3 curriculum, designed to ensure there are no obstacles to students developing the appropriate neural circuitry from the beginning, is also being implemented in elementary schools.

Raymond School District (WA) is in their fourth year with the intervention model in both their secondary and elementary schools and last year adopted the primary whole-class curriculum. They are at the point of being able to offer help to students. “This is the kind of advance,” says Gayle Haerling, Read Right Trainer for the district, “that can make the difference between a student who demonstrates proficiency and graduates high school, and one who excels and succeeds in college.”

Dee Tadlock, Ph.D. is the founder of Read Right Systems. For more information, visit www.readright.com
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