Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Reading Brain

Spent this past week powering through two enlightening reads on the science of the reading brain. Although anyone who reads blogs probably tends to take reading for granted (it has become for you a somewhat automatic activity that does not require concentrated attention), reading is actually an incredibly complex activity, and the layering of reading technology into the human brain, though common in our culture, is not biological, and so complicated by the formative practices various cultures employ.

Maryanne Wolf in Proust and the Squid does a splendid job introducing readers to the various facets of the science of reading and the brain. She opens with the historical, the development of forms of writing, and shows how brains develop differently depending on whether letters are pictographic or an abecedary. In the middle section of the book, she examines how children learn to read, from a developmental and neuroscience perspective. This section is peppered with practical advice helpful for teachers or parents who are raising early readers.

The final section is interested in the hegemony of reading, and concerns Wolf has that in expecting the same level of reading finesse in everyone regardless of how individual brains are organized, we overlook or exclude those whose brains are not wired for the developmental task of learning to read. This section is an amazing primer in dyslexia, what it is, what causes it, and the unique skills that many people who struggle with dyslexia.

The other volume is Stanislas Dehaene's Reading in the Brain. This book focuses more on the science of reading itself. How does a brain that evolved prior to reading develop the ability to read and write? How did this cultural form arise in the first place, and what mechanisms are at work in the brain to make reading happen.

Dehaene's book is focused even more on the hard science of neurology itself, with fascinating MRI maps of the brain and sections of the brain at work in the reading process.

As a father currently watching his children learn to read, I found these two books enlightening and heartening.

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