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Brain waves show learning to read does not end in 4th grade, contrary to popular theory
Date:7/20/2014

Teachers-in-training have long been taught that fourth grade is when students stop learning to read and start reading to learn. But a new Dartmouth study in the journal Developmental Science tested the theory by analyzing brain waves and found that fourth-graders do not experience a change in automatic word processing, a crucial component of the reading shift theory. Instead, some types of word processing become automatic before fourth grade, while others don't switch until after fifth.

The findings mean that teachers at all levels of elementary school must think of themselves as reading instructors, said the study's author, Associate Professor of Education Donna Coch.

"Until now, we lacked neurological evidence about the supposed fourth-grade shift," said Coch, also principal investigator for Dartmouth's Reading Brains Lab. "The theory developed from behavioral evidence, and as a result of it, some teachers in fifth and sixth grade have not thought of themselves as reading instructors. Now we can see from brain waves that students in those grades are still learning to process words automatically; their neurological reading system is not yet adult-like."

Automatic word processing is the brain's ability to determine whether a group of symbols constitutes a word within milliseconds, without the brain's owner realizing the process is taking place.

To test how automatic word processing develops, Coch placed electrode caps on the heads of third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders, as well as college students. She had her test subjects view a screen that displayed a mix of real English words (such as "bed"), pseudo-words (such as "bem"), strings of letters (such as "mbe"), and strings of meaningless symbols one at a time. The setup allowed her to see how the
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Contact: Shea Drefs
shea.m.drefs@dartmouth.edu
603-646-2255
Dartmouth College
Source:Eurekalert

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