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New learnings undermine theory on reading

According to a new study, students continue to learn ‘reading’ even after 4th grade, contrary to what is generally taught at institutions that train teachers. Published in the journal Developmental Science, the researchers say that there is no change in automatic word processing among fourth-graders, a crucial component of the reading shift theory. Their conclusions are based on a study of brain waves. Some types of word processing become automatic before fourth grade, while others don’t switch until after fifth.

This means that teachers must continue to play the role of reading instructors through all levels of elementary school, said the study’s author, Associate Professor of Education Donna Coch. When word processing becomes automatic our brain is able to tell whether a group of symbols constitutes a word within milliseconds, without even our realizing that a process is taking place to make this possible.

“The results of the scientific study tells us that, at least through the fifth grade, even children who read well are letting stimuli into the neural word processing system that more mature readers do not,” Coch said. Later, however, students learn not to process meaningless symbols as words, saving their brains precious time and energy.” The study proves that young readers do not fully develop automatic word processing skills until after fifth grade.

The brain waves showed that the third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders processed real words, pseudo-words, and letter strings similarly to college students, suggesting that some automatic word processing begins before the fourth grade contradicting the reading shift theory.

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