WHAT'S AT STAKE:
More American children suffer long-term life-harm as a
consequence of reading difficulties than from parental abuse(1),
accidents, and all other childhood diseases and disorders
combined. In purely economic terms, reading related difficulties
cost more than the war on terrorism, crime, and drugs
WHAT IS READING? The first step in 'reframing' how our
society thinks about reading is to update our understanding of what reading is.
not by chance that the word spell has this double meaning - to cast a spell, or
to arrange the letters in the correct order to spell out a word ... it was
experienced by oral peoples, who had not met the written word before, as magic,
as a very powerful form of magic."
people there are who, being grown; forget the horrible task of
learning to read. It is perhaps the greatest single effort
that the human undertakes, and he must do it as a child.” - John Steinbeck, Nobel Prize Winning Author
saying that it’s a miracle that it ever happens.
It’s very unsurprising that many people
struggle with it." -
Dr. Michael Merzenich, Keck
Center for Integrative Neurosciences, University of California at
the sobering message here is that if children don't have the right
experiences during these sensitive periods for the development of a
variety of skills, including many cognitive and language capacities,
that's a burden that those kids are going to carry; the sensitive
period is over, and it's going to be harder for them."
Dr. Jack Shonkoff, Chair,
National Scientific Council on the Developing Child
"...children who have trouble with oral
language generally will go on to have difficulty with written
Dr. Paula Tallal,
Co-Director, Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience,
"...Children of professional parents -- I
mean, talkative families and college educated -- heard forty-eight
million words addressed to them by the time they're four. Children
in welfare families who were taciturn heard thirteen million words
addressed to them by the time they were four."
Dr. Todd Risley,
co-author "Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences
of Young American Children"
"I always tell people that from the moment a
kid gets up in the morning until he goes to sleep at night, the
central mission of the day is to avoid humiliation at all costs."
Dr. Mel Levine,
Professor of Pediatrics at the
University of North Carolina Medical School and co-founder of All
Kinds of Minds
Building on 'CHILD'S
FAULT' from 'Causes
and Contributing Factors',
this module's first segment provides the starting point for
that struggling readers experience. Next, “The
Power of Shame” discusses shame's painful life-long
and often life-distorting effects. The next three segments explore
Shame” of the classroom; the “Fear
of Shame” felt by children as they anticipate being
asked to read out loud in classrooms, and how both drive the “Secret
Shame” that causes children to hide their reading
difficulties from parents, teachers, and peers. “Emotionally
Learning Disabling” and “Avoidance”
build on the previous segments and show how powerfully
behavior-determining and learning-disabling shame avoidance can be.
Learning Disabling” begins our discussion of the
‘downward spiral of shame’ (another future module) and describes
how shame disrupts, distracts, and chokes the cognitive processing
that is necessary for learning to read in the first place.
"Once we start
writing, we are able to then reflect back upon what we have written,
and we enter into this kind of recursive relation to our own written
signs. And, so, only then, a certain degree or experience of
self-reflection that we now sort of take for granted, comes into
being." –David Abram,
Philosopher and Ecologist, Author: The Spell of the Sensuous.
the code and its history is essential to understanding the
involved in learning to read it today. The "Power
of Writing" begins our journey into the profound
cognitive and institutional consequences of becoming code users
(writers and readers).
Alphabet's Big Bang" and "Grecian
Formulas" explore the origin of the Alphabet and
it's unparalleled effects on the minds and institutions that gave
rise to western civilization (future
segments will address oral cultures and pre-alphabetic writing
Me Your Ears" we introduce the initial
relationships between letters and sounds
(critical background for future segments on how the code became so
And, in the "Code
of da Vinci" we present the code as both the
'DNA of science' and the 'media that enabled the Renaissance'.
Finally, we review the "Spread,
Rise, and Fall of Literacy" which sets the stage
for "A Brief History of the Code - Part 2: Ye First
think it was much easier to learn how to read in the 8th
century B.C. than it is today."
Dr. Frank Moore Cross
Professor Emeritus of Ancient Languages, Harvard University
learning to read... we were satisfied when we knew the letters of the alphabet"
- Plato, The Republic
...In Greek, or Latin, for example, once you could view the letters,
you could read... there was almost a perfect match...
Dr. Guy Deutscher,
Author: The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's
English] "we have fifty some sounds and only twenty-six letters. So
we have to adopt a whole variety of mechanisms to close the gap." -
Dr. Richard Venezky,Author:
The American Way of Spelling: The Structure and Origins of
American English Orthography
"We are always compromised in certain areas by having to represent
sounds with symbols that weren't designed to suit those sounds."
Dr. Johanna Drucker, Author:
The Alphabetic Labyrinth
"it's easy to forget that the system we have
learned is a system that is based on a series of accidents that
result in layers of complexity"-
Dr. Thomas Cable,
Co-author: A History of the English Language
readiness differentiated instruction
reduce the difficulty, working through the code's confusing
letter-sound relationships is what most challenges the
brains of most struggling readers. There is a direct and
causal relationship between the confusion in the code and the
'stutters' heard in the voice of a struggling reader. Obviously,
understanding this confusion is critical to understanding the
challenges involved in learning to read. As importantly,
understanding how the code became so confused is critical to
reframing the experience of struggling readers. The more we
understand the accidents and negligence that led to the confusion in
the English code the more it becomes obvious that it is absurdly
shamechildren for their struggle with it.
..."the accident of the printing press, which
in England served to freeze spelling in the fifteenth century so you
have these bizarre spellings" -
Dr. Malcolm Richardson, Chair,
Department of English, LSU
the plan here proposed may be fatal... the minds of men may again sink into
indolence; a national acquiescence in error will follow, and posterity be doomed
to struggle with difficulties which time and accident will perpetually
multiply". - Noah Webster
likely to change their religion thanchange
Charles Hockett, Anthropological Linguist
"...as every letter ought
to be, confin'd to one; the same is to be oberv'd in all the Letters, Vowels and
Consonants, that wherever they are met with, or in whatever Company, their Sound
is always the same." - Benjamin Franklin
With the printing of the King James Bible
literacy began to spread. As it did, reading teachers began to realize
that the letter-sound relationships in the code made learning to
read English difficult. Phonics was born in the 16th century as an attempt to
train the reader to process the unruly code. Over a century later the whole word
method (originally developed for the hearing-impaired) began being used as an
alternate to the 'tedious' 'rote' work of phonics.
Paralleling the battle between these two
teaching around the code polarities, another movement began which focused
on reforming the code itself.
The story of our attempts to change the code is a
Understanding these attempts, and why they failed, sheds
important light on thesocial,
political, institutional, and even scientificinertiathat limits our understanding of the challenges
involved in learning to read.
"The second great obstacle is our
absurd spelling, which scholars agree is the worst on the planet. In trying to
learn this, two or three years are worse than waster"
- Melvile Dewey (Dewey decimal
system - champion of simplified spelling).
CRITICAL SPEED: The brain
must process all the above fast enough to construct
Speedsthat approximatethe rate
at which the brain is accustomed to
Recognizing Spoken Language.
Processing speed is critical.
Analysis of the
Eye Movements of good readers reveals
that, on average, the brain must process letters into sounds in less than a
tenth of a second.
THE BOTTLENECK: The 'stutters'
in the voice of struggling readers reflect the time it takes the brain
to work through the confusion in the code - the time it is taking to DISAMBIGUATE the code. Code
disambiguation is the brain's greatest challenge during the process of
learning to read. Exacerbating all the other challenges is the
DOWNWARD SPIRALthat disrupts and
brain's processing when shame sets in.
more complicated the translation from the orthography to the phonology is, the
more complicated this processing dance has to be within the brain." - Dr. Paula Tallal,
Board of Governors Chair of Neuroscience, Rutgers
For every child and adult who struggles and for all of us as a society, ’reading
consequence of ‘learning problems’. Improving the learning trajectories of
children (and adults) who struggle with reading requires an
Orientation Shift in how
Teachersthink about learning
and the challenges involved in learning to read.
Dr. David Abram: Like A Talking Stone:David
Abram, author of "The Spell of the Sensuous" discusses the parallels
and differences between how non-literate indigenous people 'read'
nature and how literate people read the alphabet.
Dr Richard Allington: What is Reading?In this
dialogue segment from our interview with Dr. Richard Allington we
explore the questions "what is reading" and “is reading natural”?
(currently only on YouTube)
Siegfried Engelmann Videos (14 video clips): Excerpts from Our
dialogue segment from our interview with Professor Siegfried
Engelmann we explore topics including "Unfolding Challenges",
"Emotional L.D.", "Instruction", "Don't Blame the Teachers", "The
Bottom Line", "Assessment". "Child Referenced Instruction",
"Orientation", and "Scripts","Stewarding Healthy Learning", "Two
Standards." and "Potential for Alignment"
Dr. George Farkas: Learning Aversions:In
this dialogue segment from our interview with Dr. George Farkas we
explore how the early life learning trajectories of children, as
well as the process of learning to read and calculate, can result in
'aversions to learning' that undermine their 'brightness', school
performance, and self-esteem and therefore their future success and
(currently only on YouTube)
Dr. Alex Granzin: Not Terribly Natural?In this
segment of our interview with Dr. Alex Granzin we discuss the unique
form of confusion involved in learning to read and to what degree
reading is natural. We also talk about 'individualizing instruction'
and the difference between aggregate pattern based differentiated
instruction and meeting actual individual learner needs.
Dr. Alex Granzin: Maladaptive Feedback:In this
segment of our interview with Dr. Alex Granzin we discuss the
downward spiral of shame and the maladaptive feedback cycle that
undermines and disables learning.
Dr. Alex Granzin: The Insidious Curriculum:In this segment of our interview with Dr. Alex Granzin we
discuss the insidious curriculum - how our education system is
creating the conditions that result in children becoming learning
Searle: Part 1 - Language, Literacy and the Modern Mind:In this
the first part of our interview with Dr. John Searle we discuss the
difference between human language and animal communication and how
literacy acted as the 'enabling technology' that gave rise to the
modern human mind and the institutions of civilization.
Searle: Part 2 - Meta-Cognitive Implications: In this the second
part of our interview with Dr. John Searle we discuss how becoming
code users (writers and readers) changed oral language, thinking,
our capacity for meta-reflection and how these changes drove the
emergence of civilization.
Dr. Paula Tallal: Part 4 - segment includes: Experience Dependent
Brain Development - Language Processing Underpinnings - Receptive
Language - Tests for Identifying Reading Problems - Timing
Dr. Paula Tallal: Part 5 - segment includes: Ambiguity in Speech
Vs. Code Discrimination - Teaching Reading - ESL - Building Blocks
Dr. Paula Tallal: Part 6 - segment includes: The Code - Ambiguity
Processing Takes Time - Reading Illuminates How the Brain Works -
Difficulties in Reading Undermine Self-Esteem
Dr. Paula Tallal: Part 7 - segment includes: The Beauty in Reading
Science - The Deeper Importance of Reading - Affect Psychology -
Dr. Paula Tallal: Part 8 - segment includes: The Neuroanatomy of
Reading - Core Processing Frequency - Exercises To Speed Up
Dr. Paula Tallal: Part 9 - segment includes: Exercises To Speed Up
Processing Rate - Evolution Did Not Wire Us to Read - Reinforcing
Learning - What Happens When You Can't Trust Your Brain?