Johnnie Read through Jr / Sr High School
(Johnnie CAN Read)Tweet
Dr. Kathie F Nunley
wealth of information on reading has been streaming our way
over the last 2 decades from both the neurology and education
research arenas. With all this research and money focused on
the brain and problems related to reading, it’s hard to imagine
how educators can still be asking the question, ‘Why can’t Johnnie
Read?” It is with a bit of tongue- in- cheek that I report that
the answer should be obvious.
all, brain imaging studies have told us that some children
with dyslexia may have a very low capacity to their short
term memory from dysfunction of the prefrontal cortex. But
the research has also told us that children with dyslexia
may have small planum temporal area of the brain, or that
their right hemisphere is over involved in speech or over-involved
in reading. (Hugdahl, K. et al, 2003; Beeman, et.al, 2000)
find research indicating that there are defects in the brain’s
minicolumns. (Casanova, M.. et al, 2004)
studies have also shown that children with dyslexia have an
inability to comprehend that words can be broken down into
smaller units or that ambiguous verbs may cause them to lose
the context of the material. (Shaywitz, S, 1999; Pickering,
M. & Frisson, S., 2001)
research has also suggested that they have a dysfunctional
angular gyrus in the left hemisphere or that there is a left
hemisphere processing limitation in the disembedding mechanism.
(Pugh, et. al, 2000; Rumsey, et.al., 1999)
studies have shown that children with dyslexia have a significantly
smaller cerebral volume and some cerebellum dysfunction. (Ramus,
F. et al, 2003)
has also indicated that these children have lower blood flow
in the temporal and inferior parietal regions and even that
an area of the perisylvian region known as the caudal infrasylvian
surface is significantly larger. (Rumsey, et.al., 1999) And,
the right hemisphere apparently is over-involved in processing
reading. (Breier et.al, 2003)
all fairly clear then, isn’t it? (If this were an email, I would
insert the “smiley face” here)
Actually the correct answer to what causes dyslexia and other
reading problems may be along the lines of “all of the above,”
or one of those other familiar choices like “both a and c,”
or “a,b,d, but not c,” etc. Reading is an extremely complex
activity for the brain so it should come as little surprise
that reading problems are complex as well.
our society and educational system puts so much emphasis on
the written word as the avenue for information, those of us
in education feel tremendous pressure to ensure all of our students
eventually master reading before leaving our system. In addition,
we are frustrated and stifled when faced with poor readers in
various academic courses as our traditional instructional methodology
heavily relies on reading.
been written on using other means of instruction to teach students
with poor reading skills. In fact, I have authored many articles
and books on this topic. Regardless of how important it is for
teachers to be competent in a variety of reading strategies,
the fact remains that reading is very important. And any student
who struggles with reading will face many challenges and may
have their options limited in the adult world.
much pressure has been put on teachers in the primary grades
to turn all students into competent readers before 3rd grade.
In fact, in many districts it is even the kindergarten teacher
who carries the great bulk of this responsibility. There is
a belief that all school success pivots on reading successfully
at an early age.
believe that children who can be taught reading at an early
age will remain “gifted” throughout school and that those who
don’t master reading until late in the normal range, will remain
a member of the group of underperformers in school.
is some research that shows that children’s 1st grade performance
differences only get greater in the next 2 or 3 years (an achievement
gap that widens - strugglers struggle more, accelerated learners
move ahead further), there is a larger body of evidence that
shows that “slow-readers” eventually tend to catch up with the
“fast learners” and that the “fast learners” slow down a bit,
so that the two groups do not show so much variation from each
other by 4th and 5th grade. (Parrila, et al, 2005; Schatschneider,
et al, 2004; Guthrie, J, 2004)
us to what is known as the ceiling effect- the idea that two
children may have similar learning potentials, but their rates
of learning vary. To use a simple example of ceiling effect,
one child may start to walk at 8 months of age and seemingly
has mastered walking by his first birthday. Another child may
not start to walk until 16 months of age. But by the age of
3, both children are fairly competent walkers. In other words,
there’s a ceiling to the mastery.
We do see
that some students perform well in reading early and continue
to do so through most of their school years. We also see that
some students perform poorly and continue to do so through most
of their school years. But a sizable number of poor performing
students improve to become above average or good performers
later in school. What you rarely find is a child who is a good
performer in 1st grade but becomes a poor performer by 4th grade.
(Guthrie, J. 2004)
there is significant research which indicates that first graders
who perform in the “above average” group ( defined as more than
one standard deviation above the mean) have only about a 50/50
chance of being in that same “above average” group in 4th grade.
And those first graders in the “below average”group (greater
than one standard deviation below the mean) have only about
a 50/50 chance of being in that same “below average” group in
the 4th grade.
So the research
seems to indicate several factors at play here in reading skill
variability in the elementary grades. First, our schools seem
to be doing a pretty good job in helping children learn to read
within the first few years of school. The extra effort and focus
on those children seen as “at risk” or “below average” is probably
well founded and worth continuing as that extra focus seems
to help reduce the gap by 4th and 5th grade.
there probably is a bit of a ceiling effect at work here in
that children may begin at age 5 with very similar learning
potentials, but their rate of learning may vary widely. In other
words, children reach the “ceiling” of competent reading at
much research shows that reading delays between the age of 5
and 8 may very well simply be developmental differences, there’s
certainly no reason to be lax in our work with children who
seem to struggle to be proficient readers. This brings us to
the second focus of this article and that is, what does the
research tell us about what works and what doesn’t work with
of the educational psychology research seems to indicate that
the practical matter of struggling readers really needs to be
divided into two groups - those under the age of 12 and those
over the age of about 9. (The 9 -12 year olds overlap into both
groups) The reason for that is that struggling readers tend
to be “struggling” with different issues in those two age groups.
Most early struggling readers are working with phonological
processing and phonemic issues. Most reading problems in the
middle and upper grades are associated with fluency issues -
the student cannot read with enough fluency to allow for comprehension
of the material. To put it simply, elementary aged children
are generally learning to read and secondary grade children
are generally reading to learn, so the educational problems
with struggling readers at the Elementary Level
in the younger group are learning to read. A young struggling
reader may have problems with phonemes, short term memory, sight
word recall, fluency or even a combination of these factors.
Various banks of research tell us that problems in “learning
to read” must be addressed systematically with specific, direct
instruction in all of the following:
• phoneme analysis
• fluency building
• oral reading practice
popular with school budgets, to be effective, this systematic
instruction really needs to be one-on-one as opposed to small
group, pull-out programs. (Blachman, et al 2004).
also increase elementary students’ feelings of self-efficacy
by helping them learn specific reading strategies for reading
improvement and mastery. (Schunk & Pajares, 2002). These specific
reading strategies may include:
• activating background knowledge prior to reading
• offer questions that are generated from the reading
• offer the use of graphic organizers to help students comprehend
• provide students a way to monitor their comprehension during
reading (Baker & Zimlin, 1989)
with struggling readers at the secondary level
We can find
excellent research as well on secondary reading issues. Students
at this level need to not only be fluent readers, they need
to be engaged, motivated readers, if they are to glean information
from their reading.
that because students are good readers, they can effectively
learn from a textbook. The key to effective reading at the secondary
level is having students that WANT to understand the material.
Motivation and engagement are required if they are to process
the reading at a deeper level for better reading comprehension.
that merges motivation and cognitive strategies will increase
comprehension. Again, we find that the research suggest we use
multiple strategies to improve reading and learning with secondary
should be to have “engaged readers” as opposed to “disaffected
• are active and involved
• interact socially to learn from the text
• are persistent
• are goal directed
• think during learning
• are alienated from the learning process
• may be apathetic or rebellious
does a teacher create or encourage reading engagement? Regardless
of what age you are teaching, you can help students become engaged
in their reading by first giving students "content learning
goals." Help them see or set goals for what they should
learn through the text. Students gain more knowledge from reading
with content goals than simply suggesting or hoping they will
score better on a test. (Grolnick & Ryan, 1987).
way to make engaged learners is to provide students with a choice
of texts. If you are unable to offer text choice, at least offer
them a choice in their discussion group partners or the way
in which they will present the information they glean from their
reading. Try also, to find texts that the students themselves
one of the keys to engaged readers is allowing social collaboration
during the reading process. In other words, allow a sort of
“book club” event by designing discussion activities for the
students throughout the reading process. You may also want to
include hands-on activities that can be done in groups to help
students process the information. (Guthrie, et al 2004).
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2005, Kathie F Nunley, Brains.org. All rights reserved
F. Nunley is an educational psychologist, author, researcher
and speaker living in southern New Hampshire. Developer of the
Layered Curriculum® method of instruction, Dr. Nunley has
authored several books and articles on teaching in mixed-ability
classrooms and other problems facing today's teachers. Full
references and additional teaching and parental tips are available
at: http://Help4Teachers.com Email her:Kathie