Matt Overcomes Hyperactivity and Learns to Read

Jo Anna Shaw, author, poet, and Mind-Body coach, incorporates Brain Gym and other movements in her transformational work.

After doing a few Educational Kinesiology balances with Matt’s mother, which included Repatterning* and other activities from Brain Gym**, I was invited to her home to see what I might be able to do to help her six-year-old, Matt.

She wanted to take him off Ritalin, which had been prescribed to manage his hyperactivity. More importantly, she wanted him to be reading at grade level when he entered the first grade at the end of the summer. I made no promises and suggested she invest in several balances to see if he would be willing to do some Brain Gym activities.

An important factor in getting cooperation from a child, as well as the desired results, is the child’s willingness to be better at something.

Matt wasn’t interested in reading or sitting still. In spite of his taking the Ritalin, I had to follow him around the house and yard as I got to know him. Matt was climbing in a tree and I was sitting on the grass when I asked him what he thought I was there for. He responded with an “I don’t know” shoulder shrug. I told him I was there to help him grow a more powerful brain. Then I asked him what he would like to be better at. He said, “Gymnastics!” and came down to show me how he did cartwheels.

A sample of Matt’s artwork – April.

As part of our play, I handed him one of his books and asked him to show me how he reads. He looked at a page, put the book down and proceeded to show me some more of his gymnastics. We took turns doing activities. Mine were all Brain Gym activities and neurodevelopmental movements. Eventually, he was able to do a Three Dimension Repatterning process* with my guidance.

The Results were Remarkable. I played with Matt, once a week in the month of May, in much this same way. His mother played with him a few minutes every day as well, doing some of the Brain Gym activities I taught her—what we in Edu-K call “homeplay.” In a short time, he began sitting more comfortably for longer periods of time and sharing daily reading time with his mother as well.

 

In addition to this remarkable shift from April to June of the same year, his mother reported that she took him off his meds in the summer and never started him back on them. By the time he returned to school in the fall he was reading at grade level. Δ

Notice the before (above left) and after (below) artwork from Matt’s journal.

A sample of Matt’s artwork in June.

*In Edu-K, Dennison Laterality Repatterning and Three Dimension Repatterning—both processes taught in the course Brain Gym 101: Balance for Daily Life—is used in teaching learners to notice and integrate side-side, up-down, and back-front movement skills.

**The Brain Gym activities are described in depth, along with suggested applications, in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition (2010), by Paul and Gail Dennison, ©2010, Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc., Ventura, CA. Inspiration for the activities was drawn from many sources, including Developmental Optometry, dance, long distance running, child development, the postural work of F.M. Alexander, the Touch for Health process, and the Dennison’s own inventiveness. The Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition and Brain Gym activity cards can both be purchased at Brain Gym Bookstore.

About Jo Anna Shaw
Jo Anna’s joy is empowering adults and children to move through life and learning challenges into their full potential. The foundation of her Mind-Body Coaching® practice is Educational Kinesiology (Edu-K for short). An author and poet, Jo Anna published Design and Live the Life YOU Love: A Guide for Living in Your Power and Fulfilling Your Purpose (foreword by Paul Dennison, Ph.D., and Gail Dennison). This self-empowerment resource is designed to enhance a reader’s ability to see and communicate with love. Learn more by visiting www.joannashaw.net.

© 2017 by Jo Anna Shaw. All rights reserved.

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

 

 

 

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

Why I Chose Action Research Over the Ivory Tower

Paul E. Dennison, Ph.D.

Paul E. Dennison, Ph.D.

I recently taught a hundred parents, educators, and occupational therapists in Austria and Germany, and this month I’ll be teaching in Australia and Indonesia. Yet, when I started my career—as a public school teacher and certificated reading specialist in Los Angeles—I had no idea I’d ever teach abroad in a score of countries. As one who’d experienced many early learning challenges, I was aiming only toward a doctorate in education so that I could give support to struggling young learners.

Starting in 1968, I taught first- and third-grade classes at the Malabar Street School in East Los Angeles. There, I was privileged to be one of a select team of teachers doing daily in-service training as an assistant to Dr. Constance Amsden, a professor at Cal State Los Angeles, in her innovative three-year research program, “The Malabar Reading Project for Mexican-American Students.”

Joining the faculty at Malabar Street School was a pivotal experience for me. It was there that I first observed, while working with children, how true learning can always be identified by the satisfaction it brings. At Malabar, I saw the value of sensory learning. I also realized that the most effective teaching acknowledges learners where they are, and then fosters in them an intrinsic motivation to explore the new and unknown.

Later, drawing on my grounding in pedagogy from Cal State (thanks to my mentors there, Dr. Amsden and Dr. Roderick Langston) I arrived at the University of Southern California at the top of my class. My professor and doctoral advisor, Charles M. Brown, encouraged me, telling me: “Your understanding of the philosophy, psychology, and process of teaching is the best I’ve yet seen. Paul, you know more about reading and the reading process than anyone I have previously met. I love having you in my classes—love what you bring to the discussion.”

Under Dr. Brown’s guidance, I went on to complete my doctorate in education, and received an award for outstanding research on the relationship of covert (silent) speech, or auditory processing, to beginning reading achievement. Although auditory processing ability is important, my research suggested that other modalities were also essential for reading acquisition.

My advisors had recommended that I continue my research into early reading, and I at first considered doing so. Yet I soon saw that even important new research is rarely effectively applied in the classroom. I realized that I didn’t want to be stuck in an ivory tower, conducting studies whose findings might never be implemented. I wanted to make a more direct contribution to the lives of young learners.

A Big Aha!

In 1970 I opened a reading center in the San Fernando Valley, and, while completing my doctoral studies and continuing to teach at all grade levels, I met and worked with several developmental optometrists. I began reading the extensive research gathered by the Optometric Extension Program, and recognized how this clarified my own dissertation studies and findings. Thanks to my optometrist associates who used movement experiences in their vision-training work, I realized with a big aha! that it’s the lack of specific physical skills related to focal attention, rather than language development, that disrupts the early reading process. I saw that many learners are not able to move their eyes together into the left and right visual fields, or to move their eyes separately from the movement of the rest of the body. Movement is the missing link that prepares beginning readers to achieve.

Learners experience less stress and greater ease when they can work in the midfield, where the two visual fields overlap.

Learners experience less stress and greater ease when they can work in the visual midfield, where the left and right visual fields overlap.

As I applied my studies in the classroom, I continued to see, from observing the children, that learning to read requires many abilities—not any one alone. The best beginning readers were skilled not only in silent speech, but also in the visual, kinesthetic, and tactile modalities. To verify that the skills of reading can be readily acquired through a multidisciplinary approach, I initiated my own “action research” with students of all ages and social backgrounds.

In this endeavor, I used each five-step lesson plan (called a balance) to convey the learning as something specific, relevant, measurable, and transferable. The students learned to ready themselves for learning (an early version of what is now known as the PACE  process), and then noticed their baseline skills, determined for themselves the next appropriate steps in their learning process, experienced how movement provided them with more resources for accessing the learning, and enjoyed their immediate improvements.

The best advice I have for helping students to learn is to ask them what’s going on for them. For example, during that time I volunteered to tutor many youngsters—including eight-year-old Javier, who was in the ESL program at Malabar Street School and wasn’t yet learning to read. Everyone assumed that his reading delays were due to his lack of English language skills. Yet one day I asked him what was going on for him, and he answered that the words on the page were “jumping.” http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-boy-reading-book-image22692063

I used the new Edu-K work I was developing to give Javier a balance for using both eyes together as he crossed his visual midline, a skill necessary for reading with ease.  As he picked up his book a second time, only minutes later, he could point his eyes steadily at each word. He now read with fluency, and with an ease and comprehension that his mother and I hadn’t heard from him before.

Bilateral Learning

As a classroom educator, I soon learned that two hands are better than one, two eyes are better than one, and a whole body moving is more ready to learn than one sitting and staring. I call this whole-brain integration.

I support children (and adults) in experiencing how to “locate themselves” in space through proprioception. Spatial orientation is the ability to represent the location of objects with respect to oneself. I find that the inability to do so is evidenced by such signs as an avoidance of the body’s midline, where the left and right visual fields overlap. Imbalance also shows up as chronic difficulty in sitting in a chair, a twisting of the hips, an inclination to avoid using the non-dominant hand, a tilting of the head, and various reading and learning challenges.

Yes, youngsters can easily avoid the midline and still learn in a one-sided way. They can even get good grades that way, yet they’ll do so under needless strain. I see that, although not yet well recognized as such, the challenges that show up, now or later, in the form of stress or health problems often stem from an inability to maintain sensory integration during the learning process.

Students having difficulty in the classroom can develop their innate abilities by learning how to cross the midline and work in the midfield, using both left and right sides to process visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic experiences. I see daily how learners who reconnect this way with whole-body movement patterns discover a natural love of learning.

Realizing the importance of whole-body movement, I went on to develop Dennison Laterality Repatterning and Three Dimension Repatterning*, processes that have helped thousands to better coordinate whole-body movement with eye movement. I also used these processes to help integrate the asymmetrical and symmetrical tonic neck reflexes and other infant reflexes** that, when unintegrated, can otherwise pull us out of structural and focal alignment.

I believe that the visibility of my last thirty plus years of innovative work with learners worldwide has stimulated some good research*** supporting my move-to-learn premise as well as many other premises of my work, and that time will reveal the commonsense basis of Edu-K thinking.

Meanwhile, I see my consultation time as an opportunity to show each learner how to let go of fixed ideas he might have about his abilities and discover learning as an active process. I love being in the moment with students, helping them move, learn to play, and learn to learn.

As I reflect on my life thus far, I can say that I’ve never regretted not choosing a career of research design but following one of active, experiential teaching in which I’m privileged to make a difference in the lives of so many individuals.  Δ

 

*The intention behind the Dennison Laterality Repatterning and Three Dimension Repatterning processes is to make habits of movement easier and more efficient, and so to free thought for choice, expression, and creativity. These simple processes are taught in Brain Gym® 101: Balance for Daily Life.

**The Edu-K work also addresses asymmetrical and symmetrical tonic neck reflexes in the Total Core Repatterning course.

*** See Research Nuggets. See also this landmark study on invented spelling by Ouellette and Sénéchal, 2017.

Credit for Boy Reading A Book Photo: ©Wavebreakmediamicro | Dreamstime.com

© 2015 by Paul E. Dennison; updated 2017. All rights reserved.

Click here for a translation of this article into Chinese.

Brain Gym® is a trademark of Brain Gym® International/the Educational Kinesiology Foundation. Click here for the name of an instructor near you. Note: There are more than 100 action research studies, done independently (though not peer reviewed), on the effectiveness of various Brain Gym® activities. Click here to see years 1988 – 2000 in the Research Studies Packet, the balance are listed in the FAQs (same link) and Brain Gym Journal and Global Observer archives

How Play Can Nurture the Imaginal World: A Photo Journal

A spotted dog stands on the rocks, looking out into the distance.

A spotted dog stands on the rocks, looking out into the distance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination. —Albert Einstein

About a month ago, my 10-year old granddaughter, H., came by for her Wednesday after-school visit. As often happens, we sat and talked for awhile, drew pictures, then spent some time playing outdoors. Later in the afternoon, H. became immersed in quiet yet active play in the living room, while I took the opportunity to catch up on my own things.

It seems that the dog is standing guard, keeping his eye on a scrawny grey cat and a fluffy white  one as they meet next to a bird cage. The cats have positioned themselves atop two strange, mythic creatures (my plant stands).

It seems that the dog is standing guard at a distance, keeping his eye on a thin grey cat and a fluffy white one as they meet next to a bird cage. The cats have positioned themselves atop two strange, mythic creatures (my plant stands).

The two cats face one another and stand their ground.

The two cats face one another and stand their ground.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A day or so after this, I noticed that H. had moved several medium-sized rocks from where I had them in front of the living room fireplace, and had carefully set them up, along with the small figure of a dog, near the window seat (all things she has done before). I started to put these things back in order, but something about their specificity gave me pause. I realized that the dog was positioned to be looking at something a couple of feet away. When I stepped back to get the bigger picture, I was immediately drawn into an imaginal world. (Check out the photos above to see the key features of the scenario that H. had created, and below for those that she added just this week.)

A Griffin (or a mountain) appears to be a backdrop for the action.

A mythical Griffin (or a mountain?) appears to be a backdrop for the action.

 

 

 

 

I love playing with my grandchildren. I’m also delighted when I see them involved in their own imaginal play, especially when it reaches beyond the confines of toys and games, and into everyday spaces. I know that adults can support children in crossing the threshold into their inner world by providing a quiet space and making available some simple things, often from nature, that they can explore on their own. When a child can enter that make-believe realm, they discover a place belonging uniquely to them. Here, any found object can take on a new meaning.

The grey cat stands alongside a red dinosaur.

The grey cat stands alongside a red dinosaur.

 

 

 

 

 

This inner place is not at all a passive rethinking of something seen on a screen. Yes, it might begin with fantasy, but it soon becomes grounded in something else—an active, connected exploration of inner feelings, sensations, and symbols; a way to bring these into greater congruency. It seems to me that it’s this love of an inner sequencing (not necessarily in words) that helps children sort their feelings and explore their place in the world. And it’s this personal “narrative” that will surely call children into the world of reading. In this case, I immediately felt that what I was seeing was the very reason this kind of play is so valuable, and an example of how children love to invent and elaborate their own stories.

Four little chicks rest in a wooden cradle.

Four little chicks rest in a wooden cradle.

So I left the stones and animals there. Nothing happened for awhile and I didn’t think about them. And then this week—some four weeks later—I had the honor of seeing how this timeless saga was continued, as H. played for over an hour in that same location: Here’s a cradle of tiny chicks . . . a robin, sitting at the foot of a Griffin (or is this a mountain?) and carrying a frog on her back as she looks after the chicks. The grey cat has joined a dinosaur on top of the Griffin’s sunglasses—or is that a mountain ledge? And the dog continues to gaze calmly out over it all.

A spotted frog rides on the back of the Robin, as she watches over the chicks.

A spotted frog rides on the back of the Robin, as she watches over the chicks.

I have only a glimpse of the world H. was exploring, but can see its signs in this one by the way she uses language, expresses her feelings, coordinates her movement and centralizes her vision as she organizes her play, and in so many other ways. Although all these skills can be taught, as we do through the simple movements of Edu-K and Brain Gym®, it’s also wonderful to learn them first-hand through active explorations of the world around us. I’m confident that this inner world H. is building will continue to hold a motivating fire for reading, writing, and even learning itself. I trust you’ll enjoy the glimpse as I do.


 

 

Author’s note: My thoughts on imagination began to take root in a course I developed in 1986 called Visioncircles, where participants explore eight spheres of perceptual awareness, “Internalization” (symbolic representation) being the sixth. (I borrowed this idea of Internalization from psychologist Jean Piaget, who described Internalization as the last of the sensorimotor stage, where toddlers begin to think symbolically, solve motor problems, and use language.

For more about how imagination and symbolic representation contribute to literacy, see I Already Know How to Read: A Child’s View of Literacy, by Prisca Martens.

For more about the play state, see:
Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown and Christopher Vaughan, 2010;

Playing by Heart: The Vision and Practice of Belonging by O. Fred Donaldson, 1993;

and the classic, Magical Child by Joseph Chilton Pearce, 1992.

© 2014 by Gail E. Dennison. All rights reserved.

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

 

Reading Is a Miracle

Paul E. Dennison, Reading Specialist and Developer of Educational Kinesiology and Brain Gym®

Paul E. Dennison, Reading Specialist and Developer of Educational Kinesiology and Brain Gym®

In my 45 years as a reading teacher, I’ve never sat next to a child and listened to him decode symbols or sound out words. And that’s because, for me, this would be making the code more important than the language it represents.

At my learning centers, the children were always busy making books—telling stories that I wrote down for them that they then drew pictures for. Sometimes they would listen to these books, or to other descriptive literature and poetry, as I read aloud. Or they might be learning cursive handwriting while writing down their own life stories for themselves. These children were actively exercising their visual, auditory, motoric, and tactile skills, and constructing ways to integrate these into their own functioning.

A big part of what makes us human is our desire to tell stories and otherwise express ourselves. Language is something not to take apart, but to put together—something by which we create connections with our world. Through our planet’s long history, our ancestors drew pictures that later became an alphabet, in order to record, recall, and communicate their experiences. Reading is the miracle that resulted from these marks and symbols. Codes were created and agreed upon that could later be decoded by others in order to pass on the culture to the next generation. Every child who learns to read and write recreates this miracle.

Yet humankind has long assumed that reading capability is inherent to all children. We forget that reading isn’t a natural function to which we’re born, but one that must be learned. A child identified as having dyslexia, a perceived difficulty in learning to read, doesn’t have a medical problem—he has simply not yet experienced the relationship of language to his own drawings or marks on the paper. He hasn’t yet discovered how to invent his own reading and so create his own miracle.

Reading, the decoding and neural encoding of written alphabetic symbols for their meaning, is a human invention that reflects how the brain rearranges itself in order to process written speech. “Human beings were never born to read,” writes Maryanne Wolf, a Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist and child development expert, in her remarkable book Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, who goes on to explain how reading evolved over millennia—from the decoding of cave drawings, to symbols that became an alphabetic code, to the complex sentence forms that we read today.

Wolf understands reading as we do in Edu-K—as the creation and mastery of a lexical symbolic code that represents experience for later recall or re-imagination. Reading, a totally man-made ability that has helped create the human brain of today, entails much more than focusing on linear input, one word or phoneme at a time. Wolf suggests that “the evolution of writing and the development of the reading brain give us a remarkable lens on ourselves as a species, as the creators of many oral and written language cultures and as individual learners with different and expanding forms of intelligence.”

The brain has no center or location for the function of reading as it has for seeing, listening, moving, and touching. The miracle of reading requires the interconnection of many separate and specific neural locations. Through an engaged exploration of symbols, each child teaches himself as his brain automatically makes these connections.

Not all children learn in the same way, and learning to read seems easier for some than for others—just as methods to teach reading work better with some learners than with others.

Xavier, age 8 and in the third grade, appears bright and curious, yet was not keeping up with his classmates at school. When his parents took him to be privately evaluated, he tested as being more than a year behind grade level in reading, writing, and spelling. On a referral, they brought Xavier to see me. Reading for me at my office from his school reading book, he pointed to one word at a time and sounded it out, pronouncing each syllable carefully as his classroom teacher had instructed him to do. When asked to recall and relate what he had read, he was able to remember only one or two isolated words.

An 8-year old boy discovers how drawing, writing, and moving to learn can help him read more easily.

An 8-year old boy discovers how drawing, writing, and moving to learn can help him read more easily.

During his session, Xavier chose from a wall poster the Brain Gym activities he wanted to do. Together we did the Cross Crawl, Lazy 8s, the Calf Pump, the Footflex, Arm Activation, and the Gravity Glider. In the process, his parents and I watched him shift from a passive posture to a more active way of carrying himself and speaking.

To help make reading more meaningful, I invited Xavier to make friends with 15 of his own favorite words. His parents and I shared his excitement as he thought of the words and I wrote them down for him on index cards: elephant, popcorn, airplane, zebra, and so on. Xavier agreed that every day he would trace the letters for each word with his fingers as he said the word aloud and thought about its meaning. By the time he said goodbye that day, he already recognized the words elephant and zebra by sight.

After two weeks of tracing his words and doing Brain Gym activities with his parents, Xavier returned to my office ready to read for me again. I could see by the way he sat and held his book that he was now experiencing a better sense of balance. He was now able to move his eyes to track horizontally across his visual midfield without excessive head movement. He was reading fluently, in the same way that he spoke, rather than focusing on separate phonemes, without effort and with enthusiasm and full comprehension—my definition of reading comprehension. We celebrated a miracle, as Xavier was now able to report back what he read in his own words. How, his parents wondered, did a few simple movements and activities help Xavier to read so much more effectively?

Because learning means adding the new to the old, the natural flow of learning to read begins with the recognition of what we already know. It requires simultaneously holding what is already familiar (stored as a verbal code) and relating new information, coming in, to that associated experience. Reading is first and foremost a flow of communicative language. Visual skills such as pointing the eyes to each word are, though important, incidental to the mental process of reading, and need to be so automatic and stress-free that the auditory-language processes can proceed without inhibition. Meaningful speech must always lead—never follow—the visual analysis of the code.

Effective reading of the code for meaning requires, just as it did for our forebears, the skillful integration of the auditory (say it), visual (see it), kinesthetic (write it), and tactile (feel it) areas of the brain, as well as the ability to interpret such received information as meaningful by relating the new to prior experiences.

When students like Xavier seem dyslexic, analyzing a linear progression of disconnected sounds one word or syllable at a time, and not yet able to immediately recognize those symbols within an expressive language context, they’re lost in the details of deciphering the code and are not even hearing the content. In my work with children diagnosed as dyslexic, I emphasize that reading (and, in fact, all of the language arts skills, including writing and spelling) be experienced on the visual midfield, where the left and right brain hemispheres can be accessed at the same time, for both immediate recognition of the new and the subsequent, almost simultaneous, neural breaking of the code to make it into familiar language.

The miracle of reading requires an instant recognition of new information in a meaningful context, followed by confirmation of the symbols or code, not the other way around as it’s usually taught. Thus the natural flow of learning requires a fresh perception within a context of previous experience. We learn the symbols so well that we hardly ever notice them.

As stated by psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist in his book The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, “the first apprehension of anything is by the right hemisphere while it remains new . . . soon taken over by the left hemisphere where it becomes familiar. Knowledge of the whole is . . . followed by knowledge of the parts.”

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.

Editor’s note: Through his review of the literature of approaches to teaching reading, Paul is well versed in the work of Russell G. Stauffer: The Language-Experience Approach to the Teaching of Reading©1970 and Teaching Reading as a Thinking Process,©1969, Russell G. Stauffer.  

*In Edu-K we keep phonics separate from experiences with reading. For more about our whole language and move to read approach, see: 5 Minutes to Better Reading FluencyIndependent Reading: A Path to Self-Initiated LearningDiscovering the Reading Midfield

To read the Italian translation of this article, La Lettura è un Miracolo, click here.

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

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