Reading Clinic – A New Way to Teach Reading – Brain Research Applied to Reading

Furr, David L
Truman House Publishing
Date Published: 

A gentleman involved in Tomatis auditory work and Neuro-Feedback training loaned me a copy of this book. This little paperback (quite expensive at $39.95) talks about a method of training reading based on the Neural Impress Method (NIM) which was devised after World War II to help soldiers who had been head injured recover their reading abilities. The author mentions several times that the basis and concepts for his adaptation of the NIM run contrary to the current education trends (i.e. the back to phonics method of teaching). From my perspective, Furr makes tremendous sense.

He talks about how children with reading difficulties are often put in positions where they are asked to “guess” the word in front of them based on context clues and maybe the beginning letter or overall length of the grapheme on the page. He states that what may happen here is that incorrect associations in the neural architecture are made this way between the grapheme and the incorrect phoneme/lexeme (sound name).

Furr talks about the process of “pruning” in the brain, whereby experiences that are not critical to be remembered are in essence dumped from memory. This is a variation of the Hebbian concept of how synapses work, which is related to the "use it or lose it" concept. Hebb showed that if a pathway is used in the brain, that pathway is made stronger, allowing for future signals to flow along that pathway more easily. Thus, if one guesses “his” for “this” enough times, the association of the wrong “name” for “this” becomes stronger over time. Hebb also showed that if negative associations are simply not used or conjured up any more, the pathway becomes weaker, making it harder over time for that pathway to fire. This is a variation of the extinguish phenomena from the principles of behavior modification--ignore the negative behavior and over time it will go away. Furr explains that:

“We prevent the student from forming incorrect neural networks by giving them the pronunciation of the word. We prevent more incorrect connections from forming and we reduce the reinforcement of the previously constructed (bad) networks. By telling the student the correct word before they guess a wrong word, and thus creating another bad pathway, we help build bigger correct pathways and speed the pruning of the incorrect paths.” (Page 20)

NIM is based on two strategies: the first, to stop guessing and avoid phonics in the beginning, and the second, to practice enthusiastic and energetic reading. The concept is to impress (we could almost substitute embed or imprint) the correct way of reading onto the reader who has yet to master the process.

The method involves two people, a good reader acting as the model and imprinter, and the student, whose neural networks are to be trained by repetition and exposure to the printed page, the graphemes on the page and their associated lexemes or names. As Furr states, “modeling, repetition and attitude are the keys to Neuro-Reading.” (Page 43)

Many of us have had parents ask us about comprehension. We often work wonders with the mechanics of the reading process; decreasing the number of fixations and regressions and decreasing the average duration of fixation, which brings up reading speed. For most of our VT patients, reading comprehension and reading level increase with reading speed. Furr concurs, explaining that “we believe that comprehension is a function of reading fluency. At the end of our program when reading speed is emphasized comprehension goes up dramatically. We have never really had to teach comprehension per se to our students. Every one of them have learned comprehension with no effort that we could observe.” (Page 74)

The book includes tests to help determine the correct reading level at which to start. It also includes a recommended series of books to work through for each level. These do not have pictures and are simply text at graded levels which use the and repeat the words the children need to learn.

Here are a few tidbits from the book that I found interesting. They were not referenced precisely, which would have been nice:

  • “A recent study has shown that students in classrooms where there is more natural light progress up to 25% faster on standardized tests than students in classrooms without natural light.” (Page 22)
  • “In one study, children who drank a glass of juice before each lesson or test in a particular subject did 33% better than a control group.” (Page 24)
  • “Optimal room temperature for the brain is 65 degree Fahrenheit (18 Celsius). Recent studies show that an increase in temperature of 10 degrees decreases optimal brain function by 15%.” (Page 26)
  • “Stress is an interesting phenomenon. The person experiencing the stress solely determines its definition.” (Page 30)
  • “We have found that 100 percent of children who are experiencing reading problems are also under a lot of stress. Their stress is often directly related to reading. Their parents or teachers activate the stress simply by asking them to read.” (Page 30)
  • He makes the point that many people who are good readers do not know the rules of phonics very well. In a related way I saw this when I was in Denmark. A Dane, learning English would ask me for the rule for when you do this or that and I said, “I don’t have any idea I just know it.” In fact, for some of these things I didn’t even know there was a rule! He states, “91% of the people who have taken an elementary phonics test on our web site, and identified themselves as elementary school teachers, failed the test.” (Page 70).
  • “Only 3% of our students have needed more than 10 lessons.” (Page 55)
  • Lastly, a comment on the frequency of practice. This is consistent with the information from the Avi Karni article I have reported on earlier. “Homework is important. If the material is presented and reviewed later the brain will retain much more material. We strongly recommend that you do these lessons six days a week. Seven days is okay, if you must, five is okay. If you cannot do this five days a week, you are wasting your time.” (Page 75)