As neuroscience continues to instruct teachers in best practices for education, Brain in the News, a publication of The Dana Foundation, cites a study linking phonics instruction to improved reading performance. This is not a surprise, given the foundational work and current research by the Drs. Shaywitz, among others. This new research, conducted at Stanford University by Yoncheva, Wise, and McCandliss, suggests that beginning readers who focus on phonics instruction, instead of trying of learn whole words, increase activity in an area of the left hemisphere of the brain best suited for reading. This left hemisphere engagement during reading “is a hallmark of skilled readers, and is characteristically lacking in children and adults who are struggling with reading.” In contrast, whole-word instruction tended to activate the right hemisphere. Even more remarkably, the subjects in this experiment were able to read unfamiliar words within split seconds, using their previously acquired decoding skills.
For those of us who’ve been teaching both dyslexic and “typical” readers who struggle with reading, this research comes as no surprise. In my work with non-dyslexic readers, they consistently make huge gains in reading with systematic phonics instruction. The dyslexic student will also make those gains, but it takes much more time and effort. I encourage you to subscribe to Brain in the News (follow link above). I appreciate their summaries of current research, which also help me decide whether to read the original source. In this case, both are worth a look.