Reading Is the “Hearing” of Written-Down Language

In our Brain Gym® work with early reading, we like to say that reading is the “hearing” of written-down language. Similarly, William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well (2015), points out that “Writing is thinking on paper.” Based on my 45 years as a reading specialist and movement educator, I agree, and would add that writing and reading go hand in hand. The more comfortable children are with writing (and thus with thinking and expressing themselves), the better readers and learners they’ll become.

Writing and storytelling develop thinking skills and guide children to a love of reading.

Writing and storytelling develop thinking skills and guide children to a love of reading.

Early in my teaching experience, I realized that a big part of what makes us human is the desire to tell stories and otherwise express our experiences. Language is something not to take apart, but to put together—something by which we create connections with others.

This is why, in working with thousands of youngsters of varying abilities, I’ve never sat next to a child and listened to her decode symbols or sound out words as a reading process.  For me, teaching children to passively analyze words and symbols rather than actively hear and think about the meanings they represent would be making the code more important than the language it signifies.

I first discovered this in the 1970s during my doctoral studies, when I was introduced to the work of Russell G. Stauffer, a professor of education at the University of Delaware. Stauffer cogently pointed out in his book The Language-Experience Approach to the Teaching of Reading: “Creative writing may be defined as a composition that reflects a child’s own choice of words, ideas, order, spelling, and punctuation.”

Children can learn to "think on paper" by illustrating and talking about their experiences, and by reading their own made-up stories that a grownup has written down for them, or that they write down for themselves.

Children can learn to “think on paper” by illustrating and talking about their experiences, and by reading their own made-up stories that a grownup has written down for them, or that they write down for themselves.

For many years, at my learning centers, younger children would be busy making books—drawing pictures and then dictating autobiographical stories that I would write down for them. Sometimes they would listen, to books or to other descriptive literature and poetry, as I read aloud. The older children (eight and up) might be mastering cursive script while writing down, for themselves, their favorite words or their own imaginative stories.

As I studied with developmental optometrists, I began to understand my purpose as that of helping learners become comfortable enough in their physiology to seek out new challenges. So, before each lesson, or if a child felt stuck, we would do a few Brain Gym activities* such as the Cross Crawl, Lazy 8s, and the Double Doodle to activate whole-body movement, centralized vision and eye-teaming, hand-eye coordination, and other physical skills.

Paul E. Dennison, Ph.D., reading specialist and cocreator of Educational Kinesiology and the Brain Gym program

Paul E. Dennison, Ph.D., reading specialist and cocreator of Educational Kinesiology and the Brain Gym program

Day by day, I observed and facilitated. I saw that each of these children was actively exercising a flow of visual, auditory, tactile, and gross-motor as well as fine-motor abilities. As they wrote and read, they were learning to listen to their own thoughts and the thoughts of other writers—“hearing” the written-down language as they read it back, and so reading it with comprehension and expression. Each hour brought pleasurable challenges and ahas as they constructed ways to integrate these skills through practice and exploration.

Today, Brain Gym activities are used internationally and cross-culturally. One important use made of them is to teach those physical skills that invite a confluence of listening to the words of others, speaking one’s own thoughts, expressing oneself through pen on paper, and reading the written language of published authors as well as the writings of other students.

 

*The Brain Gym activities are described in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition, by Paul and Gail Dennison, ©2010, Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc., Ventura, CA. 

Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, Maryanne Wolfe, © 2007, HarperCollins.

I Already Know How to Read: A Child’s View of Literacy, Prisca Martens, 1996, Heinemann. This valuable little book offers Marten’s insights as a professor of language education on her three-year observation of her daughter Sarah’s self-initiated exploration of reading and writing from ages two through five. This view can help us recognize the ways children (in our modern world, surrounded by written media) are naturally literate, and how they will “invent” writing and reading on their own, when given the opportunity. Informative reading and writing samples present Sarah as a natural inquirer who actively constructs symbols.

The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, © Iain McGilchrist, 2012, Yale University Press.

Photo Credits:
ID 55829126 © Dmitry Kalinovsky | Dreamstime.com
ID 61438275 © Wavebreakmedia Ltd | Dreamstime.com

© 2016 by Paul E. Dennison. All rights reserved.

Brain Gym® is a trademark of Brain Gym® International/the Educational Kinesiology Foundation. Click here for the name of an instructor near you. 

You might also enjoy:

In Celebration of Handwriting

A Message Across Time

Why I Love Teaching Double Doodle Play

Double Doodle Play Brings Emotional Harmony Following a Stroke

How Reading Is Like Playing Soccer

A child's self-chosen goal is a great motivator, and teaching for transfer of learning is not difficult when the focus is on physical skills, such as eye-teaming.

A child’s self-chosen goal is a great motivator, and teaching for transfer of learning is not difficult when the focus is on physical skills, such as eye-teaming.

Ramon, 11, walked into my office with a positive attitude, ready to learn. He was there with his mother, to get help with his reading. I told him that our session would be about him and his life, and that his immediate goal could include more than reading comprehension. When I mentioned sports, his eyes lit up. “Can you help me with soccer? I’d really like to do better when I play.”

I often find that improvement in a sport serves as a motivating goal for those who also need to improve an academic skill. “The very same skills that you need for reading, you need for soccer,” I replied. “You need to be alert, in tune with all your senses, and continuously moving forward and looking ahead—anticipating what will happen next.”

Ramon’s mother, Monika, had told me on the phone that her son had been diagnosed with high-functioning autism. According to his teachers, his main difficulties were with memory, organization, and receptive and expressive language. Ramon worked so hard, she said, that he made the honor roll despite mediocre test scores.

I had responded that in Edu-K we focus on learning as a dynamic process. We’re interested in what a child can do, not what he can’t do, so we don’t have any reason to refer back to static measurements, such as test scores or a label that’s been placed on him. We help the learner acknowledge what he’s already able to do, and guide him in taking a few solid steps forward. Our work is to draw out each individual’s natural abilities through movement-based education that allows him to continue learning on his own.

Ramon had been introduced to the Brain Gym work when he was in kindergarten, with encouraging results, both academically and socially, at that time. As a five-year-old, he had eagerly done Brain Gym activities in the car every morning on the way to school. Monika was now revisiting Brain Gym because she and Ramon had seen such good results before.

Ramon’s new goal was “To play and read with active attention to what’s happening all around me.” During the pre-activity of kicking the soccer ball, he was hesitant and unsteady on his feet, losing his sense of balance and kicking the ball off to the right.

This youngster, like many analytic readers, is focusing in his right visual field in order to avoid crossing the visual midline.

This youngster, like many analytic readers, is focusing in his right visual field in order to avoid crossing the visual midline.

When reading, he pronounced every syllable accurately, reading in his right visual field and using a finger to point sequentially, from left to right, to each word. According to Edu-K assessments, he was not accessing his left visual field.

Many parents and educators interpret this kind of excessive phonetic analysis as good reading, and assume that children will grow out of it. My finding is that youngsters who first succeed in reading in this analytic way rarely make a shift to whole language without being given express instruction to do so.

For example, when I asked Ramon what the paragraph he’d just read was about, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Can I read it again?” Such a request isn’t unusual. I find that, prior to a balance for comprehension, people of all ages often need to read a paragraph two or more times to understand it.

I asked Ramon instead to do an experiment with me by choosing an activity from the Learning Menu wall poster. He selected Three Dimension Repatterning*. I knew this process would be well suited to his goal, as it would help integrate his proprioceptive “movement map” in all three dimensions: left and right, up and down, and forward and backward.

The pre-activity for the repatterning gave me a chance to show Ramon that, while being attentive, he was able to cross the participation midline in the forward-and-back motion, but not when grounding himself in the up-and-down motion or when moving laterally, as he needed to do when tracking the ball (or reading left to right). I explained that, on the playing field, this overfocused movement pattern might make him feel hypervigilant, unstable, or easily confused. Similarly, when he was reading or simply sitting, he might be zeroing in too much, at the expense of feeling comfortable and secure in his body. Ramon seemed to understand.

After the balance, I kicked the ball to Ramon and he kicked it down the center of the room with focus and precision, without falling backward or losing his balance as had happened the first time. I could see that he was more alert, eager to participate, and more ready to move in any direction.

The visual assessment now showed him to be accessing both left and right visual fields, as well as the midfield, where binocularity occurs. When he read this time he was actively involved in the story—both receptively and expressively—clearly listening to the words as he spoke them and anticipating their meaning. He read fluently without finger pointing and elaborated on the story, in his own words, with accuracy.

Monika was thrilled about the difference in Ramon’s understanding and approach, saying how grateful she felt for such an incredible system, and how happy she was to see him “really reading now!” She and Ramon promised to do Brain Gym Homeplay** together every day, including PACE, Neck Rolls, Lazy 8s, Think of an X, Balance Buttons, Earth Buttons, Space Buttons, the Energy Yawn, and the Positive Points.

Paul outdoors head*Three Dimension Repatterning, taught in Brain Gym 101: Balance for Daily Life, offers a simple movement experience in which learners discover habits of “switching off” one of the three planes of movement in order to use another.

**The Brain Gym activities are described in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition, by Paul and Gail Dennison, ©2010, Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc., Ventura, CA. 

Photo Credits: © Dreamsnjb | Dreamstime.com – Boy With Soccer Ball At Sunset Photo and © Monkey Business Images | Dreamstime.com – Young Boy Reading Book At Home

For a Spanish translation of this article, click here: Leer es como jugar al fútbol

© 2015 by Paul E. Dennison. All rights reserved.

Brain Gym® is a trademark of Brain Gym® International/the Educational Kinesiology Foundation. Click here for the name of an instructor near you. 

Creating Together: A Home-Made Bouquet for Spring!

Our finished project: a vase of colorful flowers and butterfly!

Our finished project: a vase of colorful flowers and butterfly!

“Grandma, can we make some flowers for springtime?” my  10-year old granddaughter, H., asked me as she settled in after school. “And a vase, too! I want to give them to my mom and dad.” I immediately set aside the plans I was considering for our play day and went looking for a suitable vase. “What are you imagining?” I asked. Soon we were both in the world of exploring ideas and materials. As we found various items, we set them out on the dining room table, and H. began choosing the items, colors, and textures that she liked. Suddenly she was going ahead with a new idea: designing a butterfly for the bouquet!

My granddaughter created this bright and whimsical butterfly.

My granddaughter created this bright and whimsical butterfly.

 

The Items We Gathered
-a glass bottle for the vase (we used an empty mineral water bottle; first removing the label)-various colors of tissue paper for the flowers, and to create a tissue collage for the bottle
-pipe cleaners for flower stems
-white paper to make a butterfly
-marking pens to color the butterfly
-clear contact paper to “laminate” the butterfly
-a drinking straw to hold the butterfly in the vase
-a Tblsp or so of white glue (in a paper cup, and mixed with a little water), to glue the tissue decorations to the
-cotton swabs (Q-Tips would also work) to apply the glue
-a piece of yarn to tie around the bottle

Time:
-10 minutes to decorate the bottle, 10 minutes to let it dry
-10 minutes or so to draw and color the butterfly on both sides, then cut out and cover w/contact paper
-15 minutes or so to roam around outside, getting ideas for flowers
-20 to 40 minutes making the tissue paper flowers
~ ~ ~

H.'s vase, covered with tissue paper (some of the paper was patterned, as you see here).

H.’s vase, covered with tissue paper (some of the paper was patterned, as you see here).

We next began dipping our cotton swabs in the watered-down glue and covering the bottle with glue. As we worked, we tore pieces of tissue paper and stuck these onto the bottle in a jigsaw-like fashion. We put glue on top of the tissue, as well, to smooth the paper down and create a shiny finish. H. decided it needed the yarn decoration, to look complete.

The first layer of fringe to make the carnation. We twisted the bottom to make a V-shape.

The first layer of fringe to make the carnation. We twisted the bottom to make a V-shape.

IMG_4064 IMG_4068H. rolled white paper into a small calla lily, tearing the edges for effect, and coloring it yellow. Meanwhile, she asked me to make a carnation. I cut a strip of pink tissue paper 3 x 12 inches and folded it into 1 1/2 inch pieces, as shown, making it up as I went along. I cut fringes and unfolded this, gathering one end into a twist, so the rest poofed out like a pom-pom. We wanted something more fluffy, so H. suggested another layer with deeper pink, which we added. Perfect!

We cut a similar red strip to make a rose, this time cutting the folded tissue into C-shaped curves. On unfolding the curves, we gathered the base into a spiraling shape—our tissue paper rose (above right). Then we walked around in the garden and looked at different kinds of flowers. We talked about flowers with a trumpet shape, like the calla lily, and how these attract more bees and hummingbirds. We talked about flowers with a 5-petaled shape, which have more wind-blown pollen. We made two of these: an orange-colored geranium (above left) and a hibiscus of maroon and magenta (below).

H. chose two colors of red to make the hibiscus (right); we used a silver pipe cleaner to make the stamen.

H. chose two colors of red to make the hibiscus (right); we used a silver pipe cleaner to make the stamen.

Because of my work in the area of sensory integration, I’m well aware that this kind of hand-eye play develops a wealth of attributes in the form of dexterity, eye-teaming, depth perception, scanning, and so on. Further, I know how happy people are when they can create from a sense of mind-body congruity. Most important, though, is that following our desire to call in springtime with our creative gifts provided the two of us with a wonderful afternoon of talking, laughter, and the deep pleasure of thinking and creating together. 

(C) Gail Dennison, 2014

Taking “Whole Brain” Vision to Moscow

Paul_Flowers2Although I’ve taught in more than 20 countries during the past 35 years, mid-July of this year I experienced my first trip to Moscow. In the 1980s biologist and educator Carla Hannaford of Hawaii first took the Edu-K work to Russia. She was followed there in the 1990s by educators and Brain Gym® instructors Joan Spaulding of Colorado and the late Dorothy H.L. Carroll of Pennsylvania, who taught hundreds of students. Psychologist Svetlana Musgutova, a resident of Moscow at the time, became a Brain Gym International Faculty member and continued to develop the community there for many years. Today, the major leaders of Edu-K once living in Russia have moved on to other locales. So Elena, my sponsor for this trip, requested that I bring my latest thinking to the Brain Gym Instructors and new enthusiasts there.

I found Moscow to be a sprawling city with a multitude of beautiful botanical gardens. On my first day there, Elena and her daughter, Knesia (also my translator), took me walking in the beautiful Tsaritsyno, the Queen’s Garden. On day two my dear friend of many years, Renate Wennekes from Germany, a Brain Gym International Faculty member, arrived to co-teach with me. That evening, we four enjoyed dining on the Moscow River cruise ship and sharing stories about our experiences teaching through movement.

Another evening Renate, Elena, Knesia, and I enjoyed seeing the rousing Russian National show “Kostroma!”* which includes vigorous Cossack dancing—something I’ve always loved to watch. Yet another time we walked around the city center seeing Red Square and the Kremlin, along with its red walls and towers. I was delighted to see St. Basil’s with its unusual architecture of four palaces and four cathedrals—many topped by golden or multicolored cupolas—which I had long heard about.** Wherever we went, I met people who were vigorous and robust, and who seemed typical of suburbanites everywhere, busy pursuing their day-to-day lives.

Active Independence or Passive Compliance 

For me, the real excitement of this journey began when I gave a public introductory talk at the Alpha Hotel. I noticed a woman whom I’ll call Ruth, sitting with friends in the center front row of the conference room. Through translation during the question and answer period (the participants spoke little English), I learned that Ruth was a 2nd grade teacher who had been using the Brain Gym activities with her elementary school students. Ruth expressed anger and frustration as she asked me why doing the activities hadn’t helped one seven-year boy in her class. This student, she said, refused to read his history assignment because it was on the topic of war. Even after he did the Brain Gym activities, he still refused.

I explained that the purpose of doing the Brain Gym activities is not to control someone’s behavior. Instead, it’s to give individuals the tools they need to become . Each of the specific 26 activities teaches a physical skill needed for classroom learning, such as sitting, head-turning, hand-eye coordination, and accurate use of tools—for example, how to best hold a pencil for writing and how to access eye-teaming skills when holding a book for reading. I elaborated that when the stressors around the mechanics of functioning are addressed, the natural mental acuity needed to learn is more available. I told Ruth that I think it’s wonderful for a seven-year old child to feel that he can choose what he will or will not read. This shows an active independence instead of the passive compliance we see in many schools and societies. Ruth nodded in understanding and agreement.

The Joy of Eye-Teaming

The next day, with Renate assisting, I began teaching my two-day course: The Dennison Approach to Whole-Brain Learning. I especially enjoy sharing this introduction to my Edu-K work with teachers, as they recognize the challenges to learning and can appreciate seeing people overcome them. It’s thrilling to watch students as they discover their learning profile and then use simple Brain Gym activities to access the learning midfield and make immediate and significant improvements in reading, listening, and writing skills.

One experience was especially meaningful for me. During the opening circle for the course, the participants introduced themselves, again through translation. When I asked who would like to improve their reading, Ruth (from the previous day) eagerly volunteered and told the group that, as a child, she had been told she had a lazy left eye and could do her best with her “good” eye. I had Ruth read aloud. She slowly and precisely read the Russian text left to right, focusing from her right visual field and carefully pronouncing every word. Afterwards, I asked her to say something about what she had read. She could not verbalize any of the content. I checked her ability to track, which requires crossing of the visual midline and seeing in the midfield where the left and right visual fields overlap. She was unable to access this skill.

I encouraged Ruth to choose from the Midline Movement category whatever Brain Gym activity she felt called to. Together, she and I did about 30 seconds of Belly Breathing as the first part of the Learning Menu. Suddenly, Ruth joyfully exclaimed: “I cannot believe it; I can see with my left eye again!” We continued the menu by doing the Lazy 8s and the Cross Crawl.

As a post-check, I asked Ruth to track across her visual midline and focus in her midfield, which she was now able to easily do. She then read a new text, with ease and fluency. She was able to put the text into her own words without difficulty. I could see that Ruth was able to move her eyes smoothly over the words while listening to herself say them–that is, she was able to think while looking, and so access her comprehension.

Ruth said, “Now I understand what you mean by the physical skills of learning. Now that I can see without straining my eyes, I can hear myself thinking and I can trust my eyes to see the information I need.”

Although during the course the translation into Russian had sometimes sometimes presented a challenge, I felt that for most of us that day the language of movement transcended any linear thinking.

 

*See a segment of this dance on YouTube.

**See our facebook page for a photo book from Paul’s trip.

To discover more about Paul’s approach to teaching, see Brain Gym® and Me: Reclaiming the Pleasure of Learning, by Paul E. Dennison, © 2006.

See also Discovering the Reading Midfield

Research Nugget: Visual Skills and Reading

Reading a printed page presents its own issues, as there is much more to reading than simply looking at an object. Experts have said that the eye muscles can move nearly 10,000 times in an hour of reading; that means the eyes must be able to refocus effectively in order to take in information without backtracking. http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/muscles.html

© 2013 by Paul Dennison. All rights reserved.

Brain Gym® is a trademark of Educational Kinesiology Foundation/Brain Gym® International. Click here for the name of an instructor in you area.

Discovering the Reading Midfield

young boy readingWhen I first met Connor, age 11, he read for me one word at a time, carefully keeping his eyes in the right visual field and pointing them to each separate syllable, pronouncing it perfectly as he had been taught to do. When I asked him to relate to me what he had just read, Connor was able to repeat only one or two words that he barely recalled. He did well at breaking the printed code into discrete parts, yet had no understanding of reading as language, as a way to grasp the big picture being conveyed by the author.  I invited him to do some playful Brain Gym® activities with me before continuing.

After doing PACE, we used Brain Buttons again, along with Earth Buttons and Lazy 8s, to help Connor discover how to track, to use his eyes as a team to cross his visual midline, and to work in his visual midfield where the left and right fields overlap. It was fun! When Connor read a second time, less than half an hour later, he read with ease, enthusiasm, and full understanding.  Connor was now able to report in his own words what he had read, using intonations to add meaning as he spoke.

It’s important for parents to realize that many children can appear to read well, receive good grades, and excel at school yet be pointing their eyes primarily in the right visual field, where they separate information into small parts or bits. Reading this way, they may get tired, read slowly, get headaches, have eye strain, or lose depth perception. Like Connor, they may even need to read material two or three times in order to fully comprehend it. The pleasure of reading fluently is assumed for the future, yet for many, never happens.

Having taught adult speed reading to people who have been reading in this slow way for years, I’m aware that eye pointings per line (known as fixations) increase as students struggle to use their eyes as a team, and that the number of times a person rereads the material (called regressions) also increase. For youngsters, when grades are good, this one-sided way of reading is accepted as normal, since most people don’t recognize the visual stress and don’t question what seems to be working. Only the children who are labeled with learning challenges get special help, and even then teachers may not identify the subtle difficulty these students are having when crossing the visual midline1, let alone know that it can be easily addressed with a few minutes of doing such activities as Lazy 8s and the Double Doodle.

As stated by UK psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist2,  “the first apprehension of anything is by the right hemisphere while it remains new” but is soon “taken over by the left hemisphere where it becomes familiar. Knowledge of the whole is . . . followed by knowledge of the parts.” For reading, this means that the skilled learner takes in at a glance (through the left visual field and right hemisphere), the meaningful context and picture clues that help him guess where the story is going. He simultaneously confirms his hunch (through the right visual field and left hemisphere), by pronouncing the words.

From my perspective as a reading teacher, it’s easier for learners to read with both eyes working together on the midfield than to rely mainly on one eye for information.  In any case, reading with both eyes and a singleness of vision is more functional and less stressful. Having helped thousands of people to learn, through effortless movements, the simple, mechanical, physical skill of eye teaming, I know that most readers can readily get beyond the visual stress of word analysis  to enjoying the auditory language experience of listening to the story as they read it, which is what reading really is.

 

1David Grisham, O.D., M.S., Maureen Powers, Ph.D., Phillip Riles, M.A. Visual skills of poor readers in high school. Optometry – Journal of the American Optometric Association. Volume 78, Issue 10 , October 2007.

2Iain McGilchrist. The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World Yale University Press; Reprint edition: 2012.

© 2013 by Paul E. Dennison. All rights reserved.

Brain Gym® is a trademark of Educational Kinesiology Foundation/Brain Gym® International. Click here for the name of an instructor in you area.

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