Return to Index of Topics
- Notes: 1) This page is a work in progress and does not yet
comprehensively cover its topic or include all the COTC and web resources its
topic deserves. 2) Bold is used to emphasize our [COTC] sense
of importance and does not necessarily reflect gestures or tones of emphasis in
the original source. This color indicates COTC edits for
brevity or flow. See referenced original for exact quotes.
perform at the proficient level not only can understand the words that they’re
reading and the paragraphs that they’re reading, in the sense of bringing to
bear information from their own experience, other classes, reading, home and
background to bear on what they’re reading; but they also read fluently. That
means they’ve broken the code; they can turn letters into sounds at a level
that doesn’t really require conscious processing anymore.
like the child who has learned to ride a bicycle and really has learned to ride
it. That child is not thinking about where her feet are on the pedals and how
quickly she has to turn the pedals around and whether her hands are on the brake
or not. That part of the process has been over learned and the child doesn’t
even have to think about it anymore, and can now think about where the bicycle
is going and why the trip is going to be taken and whether she should be going
fast or slowly.
who have really broken the code have moved to fluency. The whole process of
dealing with the code is now occupying a different section of the brain;
it doesn’t require a lot of thought and allows them to go on and think about
what they are exposed to, what they are reading, what’s written on the page
and what it really means.
Dr. Charles Perfetti: ... I was just struck by the fact that kids who
had trouble understanding what they read, if you looked at them closely, they
had trouble reading words. They either took longer or sometimes we asked the
teacher to identify kids having problems and she’d say ‘Well, this kid reads
words just fine but he can’t understand what he reads.’ We’d say okay and
we’d go test him and we’d find out that, well yes, if you weren’t looking
really closely, if you had him read a list of words he would read most of the
words accurately. Butif you measured the time it was taking him or
the difficulty he was having, you almost always found that there was some
problem in word reading.
David Boulton: There’s still quite a confusion with that today. People say
that the student seems to be able to decode words fine so that isn’t the
problem. And yet on closer inspection it seems that the efficiency with which
they’re decoding the word, recognizing the word, is definitely having an
impact on the resources necessary for subsequent comprehension.
Dr. Charles Perfetti: That’s right and that was the heart of that
argument back then. I think the argument has become fairly widely accepted as
being a correct argument. I think we have a better understanding, although I
continue to be disappointed that researchers don’t look hard at word level
processing in this new area of research called specific comprehension deficits.
That’s a phrase that has been coined by several researchers. The general idea
is that they’re observing children who, in fact, are fine at word decoding and
have as their only problem comprehension.
I think that hypothesis is correct. That is, the hypothesis that there are
children who have as their main problem something else in the language system
than reading words. But I am still a little disappointed when I look at how
people look at word identification. So, I think what has happened is people took
my argument seriously enough, and the argument of others, that they assess
decoding now before they do a study on some other variable. But they still tend
not to measure efficiency and speed.
David Boulton: Even the neuroscience hasn’t yet gotten to the point where
they can isolate the timing of processes in the assembly processing between the
code and the word recognition processes.
Perfetti: Well yeah, I think that’s right.
Dr. Charles Perfetti: ... There are now training studies you can point
to that show that if you increase decoding word efficiency you get comprehension
gains, I think one has to acknowledge that’s there’s likely to be a
reciprocal relationship here. As you get so that you can comprehend what you
read you are going to strengthen your word identification processes.
I mentioned the training studies because those do break through what are
otherwise only correlations. That is, generally speaking, a correlation between
word decoding and comprehension. You break through that in a training study by
showing that if you improve someone’s word decoding you improve the
comprehension. There are now a few studies that have shown that that can happen,
although I am also impressed by the fact that it’s apparently not so easy to
do. Some of the training studies do not work so well; it has to be done right
and so on.
But I think that underlying this is an important idea that the reading
system, which does depend very much on the spoken language system, its
components can develop in tandem and can mutually reinforce each other. So, as
you comprehend better I actually think you do get the experience of successful
comprehension in strengthening word identification processes; at least on the
words that you are reading while you are comprehending what you’re reading.
Although I originally argued very strongly for this causal relation, and I still
think that’s correct, I do think we need to understand that it’s a little
You don’t want to be in the position of saying that we have to reach some
level of decoding skill before we can expect them to comprehend because that’s
certainly not true. Comprehension is something that develops very quickly as
children begin to read and I think the behaviors of reading, both reading out
loud and silently, are calling on all parts of the system and can mutually
support and can strengthen each other. That helps and partly explains why you
tend to see a high correlation at some point. Basically, to put it crudely, the
more you’ve read the more practice you have had at identifying words and the
more practice you’ve had at comprehension. So, you see a positive correlation.
David Boulton: Right, which
makes perfect sense in terms of comprehension making it easier for word
recognition to ‘catch’ the approximations coming out of decoding-assembly
processing such that they feed into one another and become a kind of iterativeheuristic
that becomes self-optimizing.
TheMatthew Effect describes what happens over
time when some children enter into a positive feedback loop, whereby those who
learn to read and break the code with relative ease experience a positive affect
and are able to read the text that they are given in schools with fluency. And
that fluency develops a level of automaticity and because they develop
automaticity with sounds and words they’re cognitive work space is freed to
operate on the meaning of print, the purpose of why children are engaged in it.
And so the world opens up to children who have that cognitive space left, who
have automatized the code and words.
do see some very interesting ripple effects when kids are not acquiring reading
skills. For example, it might be that a particular child in fourth grade is
having difficulty keeping pace with reading comprehension or with decoding, and
because he's having trouble with reading, he hates to read. And when he does
read, he gets almost nothing out of it because he's reading very passively. And
because he's reading very passively, he's not able to use reading as a way of
building his language abilities.
So, what oddly happens is that his language
problems caused his reading problems, and his reading problems are now causing
much more aggravated language problems. Those language problems, in turn, are
going to make it hard for him to follow directions, communicate well with other
people, and even use language inside his mind for something called 'verbal
mediation.' Verbal mediation is the process through with which you regulate
your behavior and feelings by talking to yourself. And believe it or not, a lot
of kids with language problems really don't use language as a way of regulating
get in trouble, they get depressed, because they don't have a voice inside that
says, 'Yeah, I could take that medicine. I could take that drug from that kid,
and hey I'm a cool dude. But oh, if I take it, I could like wreck my brain, and
I could get addicted and my mother will kill me if she finds out, and I could
get arrested.' And all of that comes out of language, that sort of verbal
conscience that's guiding you.
if you go all the way back to the language problem and say, yeah, it's causing a
reading problem, and the reading problem is causing the language problem, and
the language problem is causing a behavior problem, and the fact that this kid
can't read, and other people around him can read much better is eroding his
self-esteem, making him feel pretty worthless.
Boulton: I noticed that you mentioned that you infer comprehension from part
three of DIBELS…
Dr. Edward Kame'enui: Or
David Boulton: Based on the rate that they're moving
through text because that implies that they're processing efficiency/ecologyis up to a
certain level, it's not consuming brain bandwidth, it's now easier for them to
Edward Kame'enui: That's
my assumption, exactly.
David Boulton: Some argue that there's a lot of
kids that are reading words very clearly, without errors, and have a great word
stream, yet they still don’t understanding anything.
Edward Kame'enui: I don't know about a lot of kids.
David Boulton: I have
heard forty percent or something in that neighborhood...
. Edward Kame'enui: Oh, I don't...
Boulton: But my sense is the biggest impedance to comprehension is right here
where you've put your finger.
Edward Kame'enui: Absolutely.
Boulton: That it's the poor ecology/efficiency of the underlying processing
that's dragging the processing resources down that are necessary for reflective
Edward Kame'enui: That's right.
Boulton: Not subsequent to that.
Edward Kame'enui: Well, you can't comprehend words if you can't read the words.
You got to first read the words.
Boulton: Sure. But the argument is, at least in this case, you've got kids that
are reading the words fine, but they're still not getting it.
Edward Kame'enui: Absolutely. That's a different problem.
Boulton: I'm asking in the spectrum of things...
Edward Kame'enui: That's a small problem. Those are
hyperlexic kids. Those are kids that somehow get access to the code, but
can't comprehend and don't have the semantic experience with words to make
connection to the...
Boulton: They can't go meta and implicate it all into something they can
Edward Kame'enui: Exactly, exactly. But those kids are very, very few. I mean,
on a population basis, I'd be surprised if it's one percent.
Bell: Then I finally realized that being
able to sound out a word, being able to remember it, and then being able to read
it in context, that clearly is what you have to do to do what we call decode.
But those are only part of it, because what Pat and I were also frustrated with
was that not only were we wanting to get more gains than word attack skills, we
wanted to improve it across the board. We were also extremely frustrated with
the students that came to us, and there weren't very many, David, but the
students that came to us, that we could develop their ability to read, but then
they still couldn't comprehend.
Boulton: Yes. When you said they developed the ability to read...
They could read words, but it didn't do them any good, because they couldn't
comprehend. And there's a term for that, as you probably know, if it's really
severe it's called hyperlexia instead of dyslexia.
But the students that we were seeing may not have been severe enough to be
called hyperlexic, it's just that they could get a little bit of what they read,
but they couldn't get all of it. And so I began to think, as Pat did, about what
did she do when she was reading a word, when she realized she could hear the
sound and feel the sounds in her mouth, if she checked her mouth to verify a
sound. I realized that when I read I was making images, that every book that
I'd ever read — I was a girl that lived out in the country, I didn't have any
brothers and sisters, and I spent a lot of time with horses, and I read a lot of
horse books — that I visualized every bit of them.
Exactly. Yes. Incidentally, another thing I did do there was I took third
graders and gave them text which was appropriate for them, and then they've got
sort of a normal looking window. But then if I gave them text that was too hard,
then the window shrinks.
It's very small, because they're spending so much effort in decoding the
fixated word that they don't get more use from the information further away.
Boulton: Yes.That makes perfect sense.
There are also experiments done with skilled readers, that were done by
students in our lab, where they showed that if what you're looking at is hard to
process, then the span of perception shrinks down again, gets small, because,
again, you're devoting all of your resources to figuring out what this word is
that you're looking at.
Boulton: That indirectly shows the relationship between the code work and
interviews: Participation in a Children of the Code interview does
not constitute or imply an endorsement of the
Children of the Code project or
documentary by the interviewee. Conversely, including an interview does not
constitute or imply an endorsement of the views, organizations, books or
products of the interviewee, other than
as explicitly stated, by the Children of the Code Project and documentary.
For more information about Children of the Code events please click here or call:502-290-2526
Dr. Grover (Russ) WhitehurstDirector,Institute of Education Sciences, Assistant
Secretary of Education, U.S. Department of Education Dr. Jack
ShonkoffChair, The National Scientific Council on the
Developing Child; Co-Editor: From
Neurons to Neighborhoods
Edward Kame'enuiCommissioner for Special Education Research, U.S. Department of
Education; Director, IDEA, University of Oregon Dr. G. Reid LyonPast
Director,National Institute of Child
Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Dr. Keith Stanovich
Canadian Chair of Cognitive Science, University of Toronto Dr. Mel
LevineCo-Chair and Co-Founder,All
Kinds of Minds; Author:A
Mind at a Time, The Myth of Laziness &
Ready or Not Here Life Comes Dr. Alex
District Psychologist, Past President, Oregon
School Psychologists Association
J. HeckmanNobel Laureate, Economic Sciences 2000; Lead Author: The Productivity Argument for Investing in Young Children
Dr. Timothy Shanahan President
(2006) International Reading Association, Chair National Early Literacy Panel,
Member National Reading Panel Nancy
Hennessy President, 2003-2005, International Dyslexia Association Dr.
Marilyn Jager Adams Senior Scientist, Soliloquy
Learning, Author: Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print Dr.
Michael MerzenichChair of Otolaryngology, Integrative Neurosciences, UCSF; Member National
Academy of Sciences Dr. Maryanne
WolfDirector, Center for Reading & Language Research; Professor of
University Dr. Todd Risley Emeritus
Professor of Psychology, University of Alaska, Co-author: Meaningful Differences
Sally ShaywitzNeuroscientist, Department of Pediatrics, Yale
University, Author: Overcoming Dyslexia
Director, Professional Development and
Research Initiatives, Sopris West Educational Services Dr. Zvia BreznitzProfessor, Neuropsychology of Reading & Dyslexia, University of Haifa,
LavoieLearning Disabilities Specialist, Creator: How Difficult Can This Be?: The F.A.T. City
Last One Picked, First One Picked On Dr.Charles
Professor, Psychology & Linguistics; Senior Scientist and Associate Director,
R&D Center, U. of Pittsburgh, PA
Senior V.P. & Dir. of Research,
Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis; Co- Author:
Economics of Early Childhood Development
Dr. Richard VenezkyProfessor, Educational Studies, Computer and
Information Sciences, and Linguistics, University of Delaware
Dr. Keith RaynerDistinguished Professor, University of Massachusetts, Author: Eye
Movements in Reading and Information Processing Dr.
Paula TallalProfessor of Neuroscience,
Co-Director of the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Rutgers
SearleMills Professor of the Philosophy
of Mind and Language, University of California-Berkeley, Author:
Mind, A Brief Introduction
ResearchCenter, Penn State Dept. of Human Development
& Family Studies;
CASEL Leadership Team Dr.
Terrence Deacon Professor of Biological
Anthropology and Linguistics at University of California- Berkeley Chris
Doherty Ex-Program Director, National Reading First
Program, U.S. Department of Education Dr. Erik Hanushek Senior Fellow,
Hoover Institution, Stanford University
Dr. Marketa Caravolas
Director, Bangor Dyslexia Unit, Bangor University, Author: International
Report on Literacy Research Dr. Christof
KochProfessor of Computation and
Neural Systems, Caltech - Author:The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach
Professor of Languages and Cultures of Ancient
Mesopotamia, Holland; Author: Unfolding
Language Robert Wedgeworth President, ProLiteracy, World's Largest Literacy
Organization Dr. Peter Leone Director,
National Center on Education, Disability and Juvenile Justice Dr. Thomas CableProfessor of English, University of Texas at Austin, Co-author: A History of the
Ecologist and Philosopher; Author: The
Spell of the Sensuous Pat Lindamood and Nanci Bell
Principal Scientists, Founders, Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes Dr. Anne Cunningham
Director, Joint Doctoral Program in Special Education, Graduate School of
Education at University of California-Berkeley Dr. Donald L.
NathansonClinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at
Jefferson Medical College, Director of the Silvan S. Tomkins Institute Dr.Johanna
DruckerChair of Media Studies, University of Virginia, Author:
The Alphabetic Labyrinth
John H. Fisher Medievalist,
Leading authority on the development of the written English language, Author:
The Emergence of Standard English Dr. Malcolm RichardsonChair, Dept. of English,
Louisiana State University; Research: The Textual Awakening of the
English Middle Classes James
Executive Director, National Center
for Learning Disabilities
Physician; Best-Selling Author:
The Alphabet vs. The Goddess Robert SweetCo-Founder,
National Right to Read Foundation
The Children of the Code is a Social Education Project
and a Public Television Series intended to catalyze and resource a social-educational transformation in how we think about
and, ultimately, teach reading. The Children of the Code is an
entertaining educational journey into the challenges our children's brains
face when learning to read. The series weaves together archeology, history,
linguistics, developmental neuroscience, cognitive science, psychology, information theory, reading
theory, learning theory, and the personal and social dimensions of