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 | – Boy With Soccer Ball At Sunset Photo and © Monkey Business Images | – 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. 

Are You the Genie for Your Child’s Genius?

Paul Dennison, reading specialist and creator of Educational Kinesiology and Brain Gym

Paul Dennison, reading specialist and creator of Educational Kinesiology and Brain Gym

“What we are teaches the child far more than what we say, so we must be what we want our children to become.”   ―Joseph Chilton Pearce

Every child has some intrinsic genius found not only in the right genes, present not only as a gift of nature. Yes, it helps to be born with good DNA. Yet the true genius in any child is usually brought out by a magical nurturing genie: that parent, sibling, teacher, or grandparent who mentors him as he grows into his own distinct capabilities.

Learning is not a static result but a dynamic process. It relies on incremental movement patterns that allow the learner to cognate in new ways and then replicate or build on what was learned. Just as physical movement affects thoughts and feelings, so thoughts and feelings affect the physiology.

In his book The Genie in Your Genes, Dr. Dawson Church confirms this, pointing out that “. . . scientists are discovering the precise pathways by which changes in human consciousness produce changes in human bodies. As we think our thoughts and feel our feelings, our body responds with a complex array of shifts. Each thought or feeling unleashes a particular cascade of biochemicals in our organs. Each experience triggers genetic changes in our cells.” 1

Those of us who work with young people continue to learn every day as we advocate for children’s well-being and for the circumstances that will allow them to realize their potential. When we make mistakes or fall into unproductive habits, we can still grow in our mentorship by noticing what we now intend to do better.

Each child is unique, as is every family and relationship. The first step toward positive change is to notice, in the interpersonal dynamics, what’s working and what isn’t. We can notice in terms of the Learning Flow2Am I trying beyond my means by stressing out, reacting, and adding to the chaos? Or am I setting clear new intentions, taking care of myself, and doing my personal best in interacting with my child and exploring each new challenge? I encourage parents to stay in that latter, clear state: as they gain confidence with each familiar “Got it!” aspect of parenting, they can also keep “Getting it . . .” by staying open to the emerging and often unfamiliar nuances of a child’s character.

This except of the Learning Flow shows the two elements of movement-based learning—"Got it!" and "Getting it"— that are in continual interplay. Aspects of stress-based learning are found around the Lazy 8 perimeter.

This except of the Learning Flow shows the two elements of movement-based learning—”Got it!” and “Getting it”— that are in continual interplay. Aspects of stress-based learning are found around the Lazy 8 perimeter.

Children learn from what we do—that is, our nonverbal actions—not what we say. The ways that mentors, as models for young people, think, move, rest, connect with others, choose their foods, and care for themselves (see 3 – 7) will all contribute—for better or worse—to children’s most important learning. We don’t need to rub a magic lamp and command a genie, we need to be a genie, standing up for children everywhere by respecting and nurturing their youthful potential as we guide them in bringing forth their gifts.

You can be a genie, lighting the way for your child's growth through who you are.

You can be a genie, lighting the way for your child’s growth through who you are.

We can’t protect children from all of life’s slings and arrows. Yet a true genie ensures that her young genius charge takes part in experiences that inspire him, just as she safeguards the quiet time he needs to nurture his creativity.

Receiving this gift of mentorship, children can be free to follow their own path and discover the world in their own best way.

1 The Genie in Your Genes: Epigenetic Medicine and the New Biology of Intention, 2007, p. 25

2 In Edu-K, we describe the learning process in terms of a Learning Flow: two states of awareness that are in continual flowing interplay. The full Learning Flow chart and details of how to use it can be found in Brain Gym®: Teacher’s Edition, (C) 2010 by Paul E. Dennison and Gail E. Dennison.

3 “Remission of depression in parents: links to healthy functioning in their children,” Garber et al., 2011, Child Development, Volume 82 (1), p. 226 – 243.

4 “A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety,” Moffitt et al., 2011, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Volume 108, p. 2693 – 2698.

5 Genetic heritability and shared environmental factors among twin pairs with autism,” Hallmayer et al., 2011, JAMA Psychiatry, Volume 68 (11), p. 1099 -1102.

6 “Children’s sleep and cognitive performance: A cross-domain analysis of change over time,” Bub et al., 2011, Developmental Psychology, Volume 47 (6), p. 1504-1514.

7 “Five days at outdoor education camp without screens improves preteen skills with nonverbal emotion cues,” Yalda T. Uhlsa, Minas Michikyanb, Jordan Morrisc, Debra Garciad, Gary W. Smalle, Eleni Zgourouf, Patricia M. Greenfielda. Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 39, October 2014, p. 387–392, Elsevier.

Drawing Credit: © Nuriagdb | – Genie With Lamp Photo

Click here for a translation of this article into Spanish: ¿Es usted un “Genio” para el “Genio” de su hijo?

© 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. 

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.”

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 |

© 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

“Possibilities!” Brain Gym® International Conference 2014

Paul and Gail Dennison

Paul and Gail Dennison

Dear participants in the Brain Gym® International Conference 2014,

Congratulations on joining together to celebrate learning through movement and the Brain Gym program in beautiful Fort Collins, Colorado! We offer our deep appreciation to the Colorado network, Foundation staff members, International Faculty, keynote presenters, and all who will be contributing to make this year’s conference an outstanding event.

We’re excited that you’ll be meeting keynote presenter biomechanist Katy Bowman*, whose work has greatly influenced us over the last five years, and who will give you a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by the sedentary, one-sided learner in the classroom, as well as some great options for addressing these. You’ll also meet a dear and heartful inspirer of play, longtime friend of Edu-K, Fred Donaldson, who is bound to take you into new and surprising play spaces. Author and consultant Patricia Lemer will support you in expanding your thinking beyond that of symptoms and developmental labels, and give you some simple options for supporting the whole person.

Our hearts are with you as you meet for the Welcome Reception on July 25 and continue celebrating through the three days of conference events and two days of post-conference courses and workshops.

Our own new way of working has allowed Paul so far this year to teach here in Ventura, California, as well as in Arizona, Puerto Rica, Canada, and in Europe–Verona, Italy; Lausanne, Switzerland; and Avignon, France. You can see photos of Paul’s courses on Facebook. Be sure to look for the picture of Paul fulfilling a lifelong dream to do the Cross Crawl on the bridge at Avignon! Later this year he’ll also be teaching in Coyoacan, Mexico; Innsbruck, Austria; and Damme and Kirchzarten, Germany. Meanwhile, Gail continues working on blogs and the latest book project. We are delighted with the continued growth of the Edu-K and Brain Gym work.

Now that we’re connecting with so many of you on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, we’re valuing the importance of developing a presence for Brain Gym® in the social media. As we read about and reflect on the rapid changes taking place in classroom environments worldwide, we are celebrating a growing awareness of the importance of movement, play, and structural alignment in one’s everyday activities, and especially in the learning environment. Where Edu-K once pioneered the field of movement-based learning, there are now many “move to learn” programs. We believe that the 26 Brain Gym activities, the Brain Gym 101 course, Seven Dimensions of Intelligence, and our other fine courses remain unrivaled in scope, simplicity, and a regard for the learner through self-actualizing activities. Neuroscience research continues to catch up with our commonsense recognition of the interrelationship of the human body and optimal brain function.

In today’s technologically driven world that requires both near-point focus and passive sitting, the Edu-K work is becoming more important than ever—not only for schoolchildren but for people of all ages. Please acquaint yourselves with our learning resource site, Hearts at Play: Move, Learn, Bloom, that continues to offer blogs and videos to answer many of the howwhat, and why questions about the Edu-K work that you’ve asked us throughout the years. We trust you’ll find this site useful in creating immediate interest in your courses and private sessions. May your lives be touched by the “Possibilities” of moving to fulfill your personal and professional goals, and may we all keep moving with joy!

Love to all, Paul and Gail

*For more about the 2014 Conference and keynote speakers, click here.

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.

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

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