Reading Practice Can Strengthen Brain 'Highways'

Intensive reading programs can produce measurable changes in the structure of a child's brain, according to a study in the journal Neuron. The study found that several different programs improved the integrity of fibers that carry information from one part of the brain to another.

Coordination is important because reading involves a lot of different parts of the brain.  Some parts recognise letters, others apply knowledge about vocabulary and syntax, and still others decide what it all means. To synchronize all these operations, the brain relies on high speed "highways" that carry information back and forth.

If those information highways can't handle the traffic, the brain won't be able to make sense of the text on a page or a screen. Scientists wondered whether that might be part of the problem for a lot of children struggling to read.

They used a special type of MRI to look at the brains of several dozen children from 8 to 12 years old, including poor readers and those with typical reading skills. The MRI scans allowed the scientists to study the network of fibers that carries information around the brain, which lives in the brain's so-called white matter.  Children with poor reading skills had white matter with "lower structural quality" than typical children.
So during the next school year, the scientists enrolled some of the poor readers in programs that provided a total of 100 hours of intensive remedial instruction. The programs had the kids practice reading words and sentences over and over again.

When they were done, a second set of MRI scans showed that the training changed not just their reading ability, but the tissues in their brain. The integrity of their white matter improved, while it was unchanged for children in standard classes.


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