New program helps slow readers

05:52 PM PST on Sunday, December 26, 2004


For some children, learning to read comes as naturally as learning to talk. But for others, it's just not that easy, no matter how hard they try.

Katie benefitted from the treatment.
New research shows the right instruction can help poor readers and, amazingly, change the way their brains function, too.

Katie agonized for years over her trouble with the printed word.

"I hated reading out loud in front of the class because I was embarrassed," she said.

But now, she's living proof that slow readers don't have to accept that fate forever.

At Yale University, developmental pediatrician Sally Shaywitz understands the frustration kids like Katie feel.

She helped conduct a study to find out if the brains of such children are different. Researchers divided the children into groups and, using MRI technology, took pictures of their brains.

"Each group of children were imaged before the intervention, immediately after the year long intervention, and then a year after the intervention had ended," Shaywitz said.

The researchers identified which parts of the brain are used for reading, and found struggling readers show distinct differences.

"There's an obstruction in the systems in the back of the brain and we've also learned that there's some systems in the front of the brain and the right side that compensates," Shaywitz said.

During the study, the poor readers were immersed in a special tutoring program.

"Their reading accuracy improved, their reading fluency improved and their comprehension improved," Shaywitz said.

And that's not all. The scientists found physical evidence that their brains actually improved, too, even a year after getting help.

"This is very, very important research, groundbreaking research in many respects," said John Pikulski, professor of education at the University of Delaware.

The research proves people like Katie don't have to suffer in silence. The tutoring program had a strong emphasis on phonics. When children learned to sound out the words, their reading improved.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.



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