To Nic and others---  RE: Brain ressearch and higher level reading

If I do not see a set of scholarly references that specifically
address/support a strongly worded statement (that could get at one's
emotions), I tend to view it as a misguided overstatement at best or hype
(malfeasance) at the worst. While the former may be said with the best of
intentions and the hope to serve a number of students, it must be
remembered that we have often gone down the garden path in the wrong
direction in postsecondary literacy education. The latter is often powered
by a combination of greed and ego. Certainly we have fallen for hype in the
past. Somewhere in the middle (on occasion) you can find the statement of a

If you look at brain research carefully you find the use of methods that do
not allow us to make strong generalizations at this time.  Brain research
from across the past twenty years is becoming more sophisticated. We see
some very interesting results of what happens when certain types of reading
tasks are undertaken by various sorts of individuals from varied language

My gut feeling is that the research by the various brain researchers I
mentioned earlier continue to propose some questions that can be
investigated by well-funded, extremely rigorous studies for beginning
reading. I do not believe that the research has suggested enough for
advanced reading/learning. (That's just my opinion -- of no more value than
any other person's.)

In saying this I am drawing a line between theory and research (not always
a good thing to do). We have very interesting theory that comes from forms
of brain research (what we think we know about the brain). Folks often use
such to suggest what should be best practice in curriculum and instruction.
In some cases it is used to develop marketable products. Yet this is not
always based on brain research specifically dealing with reading.

I'm all for innovative curriculum.  Still I want to see that there is
research (not just theory) that provides a foundation for it, and I want it
to have undergone appropriate peer-review through level one journals such
as Reading Research Quaterly, Scientific Studies in Reading, and the
Journal of Literacy Research. (Obviously there are others published by
AERA, APA, etc.)

It's important that there be rigorous review so that we do not make the
same type of classic error we did in the 1930s.  At that time we found a
correlation between reading rate, eye movements (that era's brain
research), and comprehension. We spent the next 30 years trying to fix
comprehension problems by working on rate and eye movements. Of course we
had it somewhat backwards.

Now after playing the politician (hopefully not a pedant) let me answer
Nic's question. To my knowledge (and that is not infinite in any way), the
statement put forth in the query does not rest on sound research
demonstrating a corrspondence. That does not mean that it might not be able
to be supported by research. It reads to me more like a hypothesis. I
believe it does force us to think about several points as put forward by

If you are interested in this line of research you might consider joining
the society for the Scientific Study of Reading (SSSR) and attending its
conference in BC this year. The group has a www site.

Norman A. Stahl
Professor and Chair
Literacy Education
GA 147
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL 60115

Phone: (815) 753-9032
FAX:   (815) 753-8563
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