Write first to be a better reader?

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Could the physical action of learning to write actually enable children to learn to read more easily? Amidst growing concerns that many children are learning how to use a keyboard rather than learning how to print their letters, cognitive neuroscientist, Dr Karin James from Indiana University has been carrying out research with children who are ‘pre-readers’.

The researchers worked with children who had not yet learnt how to read. The children were trained to print different letters and their ability to recognise the letters was compared to those who had been taught how to trace the letters and those who had been taught the letters via a keyboard. Brain imaging scanners were employed before and after the training and the scans showed that "the brain responds to letters in a way that you would only see in a literate individual” (Dr Karin James). That activation does not occur when the children learn the letters by typing, so the brain responds in the way that it will when the child learns how to read.

Research continues into whether there is a direct link between learning to write your letters and learning how to read more easily but it is safe to say that those children who learn to write may find it easier to learn to read because learning to write seems to prime the reading system in the brain and that will facilitate reading. This has important consequences where a curriculum may offer children more time on tablets and computers than in the act of writing their letters and Dr James suggests that using a stylus would be an important way of combing the two types of technology.

For more information listen to the BBC World Service podcast ‘the Forum’ on Writing Feb 3rd 2015.

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