Episode 21 - The Beauty and Science of the Reading Brain with Maryanne Wolf, PhD

Episode Summary

This month, we invite listeners to learn from Maryanne Wolf, PhD, internationally renowned scientist, and author of several books on reading and the brain. Dr. Wolf shares the journey of her life’s work, illustrating her existential journey at the intersection of literacy and social justice and her life goal to ensure that reading is a fundamental access point to ensure the livelihood of people around the world. She discusses the science and poetic story of the reading brain and explains its connection to child development. The story of dyslexia, in particular, illuminates why and how our human brain re-wires for reading. Dr. Wolf offers implications from the classroom to global policy- advocating for literacy to solve some of the greatest humanitarian crises of our time. Join Dr. Wolf and Danielle as they share a cup of tea and explore the beautiful intricacies of the reading brain.

Top READ Bookmarks
Each episode, host Danielle Scorrano identifies key takeaways or “READ bookmarks.” 

"I need people to realize that the brain is beautiful. That brain was here before we ever as a species learned to read."

1. Literacy, a fundamental human right, intersects with social justice and the foundations of human development.

"[During my first teaching job,] I discovered what literacy means in terms of social justice. It is the platform for meeting or not meeting the potential of a human being... It began to be extremely clear that without literacy, nothing else can be built upon that platform of learning for the child."

2. Dispelling myths about reading and dyslexia

MYTH: Reading is a natural process.
FACT: Dr. Wolf explains that our brain was never born to read. It must re-wire for reading written language.

MYTH: Dyslexia doesn’t exist or cannot be defined.
FACT: Dyslexia does exist and involves a continuum of deficits that are attributed to the physiological and genetic makeup of the brain.

"The reality is that the study of dyslexia helps reveal the complexity of reading itself… weaknesses in the brain and genetic makeup were there well before [children] ever are entering the kindergarten door."

MYTH: The brain of someone with dyslexia is the same as a typical reader.
FACT: A person with dyslexia has a brain that shares a wealth of strengths and is structurally wired differently than the brain of a typical reader. Therefore, a person with dyslexia presents with a continuum of difficulties learning to read.

MYTH: There are many ways to teach reading, especially to students with dyslexia.
FACT: Research shows that instruction that is explicit, systematic, structured as the most effective approach to teaching word level reading. This method benefits all students and is necessary for students with dyslexia.

"One of the things that I’ve learned is that the way we are taught to teach reading makes a lasting imprint upon that person. Many of our teachers who do not have a background in the Science of Reading or the reading brain have the sense that to go in a different path from the way they were taught is being disloyal to wonderful teachers who taught them a particular method."

MYTH: The Science of Reading and supporting instructional pedagogy detract from the joy of literature and stories.
FACT: Evidence-based reading instruction encompasses a both, and of supporting student skill development and fostering a love of reading. Comprehensive, systematic instruction is a necessary component to build the foundational skills for students so that they can come to reading with greater competence and voracity for literature.

"People have to understand that we do have a science and that it is informed by the reading brain, but that is not excluding the work on stories and authentic literature and the love of words."


Learn more about Maryanne Wolf, PhD        Dr. Wolf at UCLA

Recommended Further Reading:

The science and poetry in learning (and teaching) to read  Proust and the Squid

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READ Podcast is produced by The Windward School and The Windward Institute. READ is hosted by Danielle Scorrano.

About READ: READ, the Research Education ADvocacy Podcast connects you with prominent researchers, thought leaders, and educators who share their work, insights, and expertise about current research and best practices in fields of education and child development.
Note: All information and insights shared demonstrate the expertise and views of our guests.