literacy: good teachers have power to change brains

Brain-imaging studies show that effective teaching can make the brains of poor readers function like those of fluent readers. Bennett Shaywitz of Yale University and his colleagues report in the May 1 issue of Biological Psychiatry that they scanned the brains of 77 children between the ages of 6 and 9 as they read. Of the poor readers in the group, some had standard instruction in reading, while others were enrolled in an intensive reading program focusing on phonics and phonemes, the individual sounds that make up words. The students in the intensive program made strong gains inreading accuracy, comprehension, and fluency over the school year compared to the poor readers in the standard program, and their brain scans showed increased activity in an area of the brain that recognizes words automatically without first having to puzzle them out, similar to the brain scans of good readers. In a press release, coauthor Sally Shaywitz said the study shows that “teaching matters and good teaching can change the brain in a way that has the potential to benefit struggling readers.”

This news brief appeared in the Discoveries column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 4/27/2004.
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