Researchers and scientists know that improving reading is an important priority for educators as well as families.
An article that appeared in the journal NeuroImage in August of 2011 features the results of a study that examined changes in reading skills and gray matter volume (GMV) in children with dyslexia who received intensive reading instruction in a program that develops literacy skills. The study is encouraging and exciting for those individuals who struggle on a daily basis with reading, spelling, and language comprehension difficulties.
The independent study, conducted by researchers from the Center for the Study of Learning, Georgetown University Medical Center, and Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, showed three important results. First, training-induced changes in GMV were observed. In addition, reading improvements induced by instruction accompanied the GMV changes. Finally, and especially important, both the GMV and reading skill changes were maintained after the instruction ended.
The intervention used in the study included visual imagery of words, multisensory integration, and development of the sound representation of words. Behavioral tests and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans were performed before the intervention, after the intervention, and after a period of time where no intervention was administered.
Reading behaviors significantly improved, and for the first time, the results of the study indicate that GMV increases in the left anterior fusiform gyrus/hippocampus, left precuneus, right hippocampus, and right anterior cerebellum occur as well. These are areas of the brain that have been shown previously to play a part in learning and visual imagery.
“For many years we have noted significant improvement in decoding and reading comprehension when we focus instruction on mental imagery as applied to language and literacy skills,” says Nanci Bell, Director of Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes. “The results of this MRI study not only validate that instruction in imagery results in improved reading behaviors, but also results in important and lasting changes in the brain.
"This is a very important finding in the field of reading research, especially as related to changing the profiles of children who have decoding difficulties.”
The results of this study, together with current understanding of brain-behavioral relationships, will help inform both educators and researchers in an effort to better understand the neural basis for successful reading intervention. This can lead to the development of more reading programs that will best help children who have trouble reading.
The findings provide encouragement that learning can result in both lasting behavioral and structural changes in children who struggle in learning to read. It is a significant piece in understanding how the brain responds to learning and in working to translate these findings into refining interventions and improving the learning experience for all.