I.  Introduction

A.     Reading is a complex neurocognitive process that involves at least twenty-one regions of the brain (Vuai, 2012). For at-risk learners, there are several factors that may exacerbate their ability to acquire basic reading skills. They have been identified as follows:

(1)  socioeconomic status; (2) home conditions; (3) poverty and (4) the educational level of the parents (Badian, 1988).  In order to help these children overcome their barriers to learning, reading programs that emphasize phonemic awareness, vocabulary, phonics, fluency, comprehension and guided oral reading are essential. Programs that emphasize these important evidence-based factors in combination, significantly improve reading skills in children.

Many children fail to acquire basic reading skills, not because of a particular program, but because its exposure is introduced past optimal levels of opportunity. The “window of opportunity” for mastering the phonemic code closes around the ages of 8 or 9.

There is evidence from the past decade or more that musical training has a positive impact on reading ability.  Children thus exposed become better readers than those who are not exposed. The purpose of this outline is to provide a brief overview of literature which demonstrates a comprehensive approach to reading instruction. For at risk learners, this approach is critical for improving their reading skills.

II.  Phonemic Awareness: The Best Indicator of Reading Success

The best predictor of reading success is phonemic awareness. Children who struggle with phonemic processing are those who typically have more serious reading difficulties. Not only does phonemic awareness assist in helping children read better, it is also related to learning in general. It is a useful intervention method for detecting early reading difficulties that may require specialized instruction.

Supportive Research

    1.      Adams, M. J. 1990. Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    2.      Foorman, 1997 Foorman, B. R., D. J. Francis, S. E. Shaywitz,B. A. Shaywitz, and J. M. Fletcher. 1997. “The case for early reading intervention.” In Foundations of Reading Acquisition and Dyslexia: Implications for Early Intervention, edited by B. A. Blachman, 243-264. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

    3.      Stanovich, K. E. 1994. “Romance and reality.”The Reading Teacher 47(4): 280-291.

    Vuai, J.O. (2012). Gray matter matters: Reflections on child brain injury and erroneous educational practices. Bloomington IN: Author House Publishers.

III.  Phonics

Phonics, in general refers to the use of letter/sound associations. It is a useful intervention tool in helping children pronounce words. Research has shown that the difference between good and poor readers is in their ability to successfully use letter/sound associations. The phonics approach assists at-risk readers in becoming better at decoding words.

There are essentially two brain processes that are involved in reading. The first is the phonetic pathway (for example, the recognition of individual letters and the sounds they make). The second process is the whole-word route (for example, recognizing a word and pronouncing it). The former is the primary route to reading and is important for early learners. The latter route involves more proficient reading that occurs over time as the child gains mastery of the letter-sound correspondence.

Some studies have shown that for early learners, “decoding” or phonics methods are more successful in producing increased comprehension as opposed to the use of whole-word methods.

Supportive Research

1.      Carlson, N.R. (2013). Physiology of behavior (11th Ed.). New York: Pearson

2.      Juel, C. 1991. “Beginning reading.” In Handbook of Reading Research 2, edited by R. Barr, M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, and P. D. Pearson. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

3.      National Reading Panel, 2000 National Reading Panel. 2000. Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

IV.  Early Exposure and Critical Periods

Early exposure to language is very important because it stimulates language processing regions of the brain. Over time, children not only become proficient in verbal skills, but excel in reading and spelling.  The formative years (early and middle childhood) or prekindergarten to about the third grade is critical for superior learning because during this period,  the “window of opportunity” closes for mastering the phonemic code. Research has shown that reading acquisition closes around the age of 8 or 9. If children have not mastered phonological awareness by that time, they will perhaps never learn to read.

A.  Supportive Research
1.      Badian, N.A., McNulty, G.B., & Duffy, F.H. (1990). Prediction of dyslexia in kindergarten boys. Annals of Dyslexia, 40, 152-169.
2.      Defina, P.  & Fiefer, S. (2000) The neuropsychology of reading disorders: Diagnosis and intervention workbook. Middletown MD: School Neuropsychology Press.
3.      Kotuak, R. (1997). Inside the brain. Kansas City: Andrew McMeel Publishing.

V.  Music and Reading

A.     There is evidence that musical training has a positive impact on improving reading skills. Those brain processes necessary for mastering reading (e.g., phonological awareness, speech-in-noise perception, rhythm perception, auditory working memory, and sound pattern learning), have been shown to be enhanced by musical training.

B.     Gutiérrez-Palma and Palma-Reyes (2007) state that in the Spanish language, “prodosodic sensitivity helps the reader to identify these cues in the written language”. They also state that changes in length, intensity and pitch can be factors that influence reading skills acquisition. (Gutiérrez-Palma and Palma-Reyes, 2007, p. 158)

C.  Supportive Research

1.      Rautenberg, I., 2013. The effects of musical training on the decoding skills of Germans speaking primary school children. J. Res. Read. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jrir.12010.

2.      Tierney A., Nina Kraus, N. Music Training for the Development of Reading Skills. In Michael M. Merzenich, Mor Nahum, Thomas M. Van Vleet editors: Progress in Brain Research, Vol. 207, Burlington: Academic Press, 2013, pp. 209-241.
VI.  Conclusion

A.     At risk learners who are not provided with evidenced based interventions that strengthen language processing areas, may not acquire basic reading skills. It is important that academic programs be introduced during critical periods of brain development in order to optimize learning. There is mounting evidence that music, if combined with reading exercises, may enhance the child’s reading ability. Finally, several factors have been identified as having a negative impact on the child’s ability to master academic skills.

B.     The main points emphasized are as follows:

a.      Programs that utilize a combination of exercises that include phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension and guided oral reading significantly improve reading acquisition skills.

b.      Programs must be introduced at particular times in the child’s neurodevelopment as the window of opportunity to acquire these skills close around the ages of 8 or 9.

c.      Children’s ability to master basic academic skills are based heavily on parental education, family stability and home conditions.

Respectfully Submitted,
Jeheudi Mes Onyemachi Vuai, Ed.D., CSC, CSP, ABSNP

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