My Struggling Reader Needs Me to Become a WHAT?

The good news is that no, you do not need to become a neuroscientist in order to help your struggling reader. But consider this. Parents and educators, especially those of us trying to improve the lives of children with learning difficulties, may not wish to dismiss the brain and nervous system as something that only OTHER people study.


In "My Struggling Reader Needs Me to Become a WHAT?" learn not who or what you need to become but how to learn what's REALLY holding back your child with learning difficulties.


If we decide that neuroscience is beyond our grasp or is strictly important for researchers to pay attention to, we may miss out on tremendous opportunities to make a real difference in our children’s ability to learn.


Neurologist and educator Judy Willis, M.D., M. Ed. makes a thoughtful case for merging neuroscience with education. With regard to the training that our modern day teachers receive, she states:


To become a teacher without understanding the implications of brain-changing neuroplasticity is a great loss to teachers and their future students.


I might argue that this applies to classroom teachers as well as homeschool teachers, educational specialists, tutors, and parents who are simply trying to fill their children’s learning gaps at home.


Neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to create new neuronal pathways no matter what age we are, is just one aspect of brain research that is changing what we understand about learning.


These days, researchers utilize fMRI technology, or functional magnetic resonance imaging, to take pictures of what is really happening inside those previously quite mysterious noggins of ours. Though interpretations of the research may not be foolproof, they do provide more information about learning and the brain.


Neuroscience and Dyslexia

For instance, dyslexia was once thought to be a visual disorder. Though visual processing deficits may occur, they are not considered to be the cause of dyslexia (Olulade et al). Now dyslexia is considered by some to be a language processing disorder, especially when it comes to phonological processing (Shaywitz et al).


More specifically, dyslexia is primarily an auditory disorder arising from an inability to respond to speech sounds consistently (Hornickle & Kraus). This problem with perception of speech sounds, then, affects the brain development that enables students to link a speech sound to the written letter (Finn et al).


Translation for intervention? One encouraging finding is that the ability to respond to speech sounds consistently can be improved with auditory training (Hornickle et al).


Neuroscience, Stress and Learning

Let’s take stress as another example of what we’re learning about learning. We nonscientists may have a general understanding that stress interferes with our ability to learn.


Neuroscience explains just how the amygdala activates a chemical stress response, which helps us understand why our children may behave the way they do, zoning out, not retaining information, or even not being able to respond to our questions at all.


When [teachers] understand that the brain responses in the high-stress state are neither voluntary student choices nor reflective of a student’s academic potential, knowledgeable teachers recognize that their interventions can reduce stress, return students’ voluntary control of their behavior, and promote successful memory construction and cognitive processing in the PFC (prefrontal cortex).

Judy Willis, M.D., M. Ed.


So, dear educators of all kinds, we certainly don’t all need to become full-fledged neuroscientists. I do encourage you, though, to keep up with the learning centered research whenever possible.


From time to time I plan to share with you my own take on whatever interesting findings I discover. To read what I’ve landed on so far, check out these research based musings of mine:


Why Can’t We Blame the Teachers?

Tell Your ADHD Children to Keep on Squirming