Reading Instruction: Evidence & Neuroscience

Apr 3, 2024 | Literacy

Reading Instruction: Evidence & Neuroscience

by Drew Perkins, Director of ThoughtStretchers Education

Recently, I convened a group of passionate educators and advocates to delve into the intricacies of early literacy and the implementation of evidence-based practices in teaching reading. This discussion was a ThoughtStretchers Education Community event. Here is a summary of our conversation but I urge you to listen to the entire conversation for a deeper understanding of these important issues in reading instruction.

Embracing Scientific Methods:

Karen Gazith, an esteemed author (The Power of Effective Reading Instruction: How Neuroscience Informs Instruction Across All Grades and Disciplines) and educator, set the tone by emphasizing the crucial role of scientific methods in teaching children to read. Drawing on her experience, Gazith highlighted the challenges of translating research into classroom practice and underscored the need for structured literacy practices grounded in phonics and phonological awareness.

Neuroscience of Reading:

Gazith explained how functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has advanced the understanding of the reading process in the brain. Effective readers show activity in the parietal temporal region, crucial for decoding words and mapping sounds to letters. In contrast, struggling readers often process words as images, activating the wrong brain areas. Early identification and intervention using nonsense words can help assess and improve decoding skills.

Kentucky’s Commitment to Literacy:

Christie Biggerstaff, representing the Kentucky Department of Education, shed light on the state’s efforts to improve literacy outcomes. Biggerstaff discussed initiatives like the Read to Succeed Act and professional development programs aimed at equipping educators with the tools they need to foster reading proficiency. She notes that educators often lack knowledge due to their busy schedules but are eager to do what’s best for children.

The Science of Reading and Literacy Practices

Biggerstaff explains that literacy practices are well-researched and that educators need to understand the science behind reading to implement effective teaching strategies. Her division aims to provide educators with the necessary information and practices for improving literacy.

Empowering Parents for Change:

Sonya Thomas, an advocate for equitable education as CEO of Nashville PROPEL, brought a crucial perspective to the discussion by emphasizing the importance of empowering parents. Thomas highlighted the emotional impact on educators realizing ineffective teaching methods and stressed the need for genuine partnerships between schools and parents.

Parent Advocacy and System Failures:

Thomas stressed the importance of informed parental choice in education and criticized the system for failing to engage parents effectively. She called for genuine partnerships and criticized the system for withholding information from parents, as illustrated by a personal story of a parent being informed too late about the possibility of their child being held back in school.

Turning Insights into Action:

Following the enlightening discussion, participants outlined actionable steps to drive meaningful change in literacy education:

– Karen Gazith: Advocating for evidence-based reading instruction and supporting teachers in applying research findings.

– Christie Biggerstaff: Expanding Kentucky’s literacy programs, monitoring the Read to Succeed Act’s progress, and enhancing communication with parents.

– Sonya Thomas: Continuing efforts to train parents, collaborating with Stanford University, and advocating for equitable literacy education.

Conclusion:

By embracing scientific methods, committing to innovative initiatives, and empowering parents, we can pave the way for a future where every child has the opportunity to unlock the transformative power of literacy. If we lean into evidence-based reading instruction and away from the politicization of reading education, we can ensure everyone has the right to read.

Click to view the archived event page at the ThoughtStretchers Education Community (sign up or sign in required).

 

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