Exercising our brain

Exercising our brain

Rebecca Still, Community Learning Network

0 0 18 March 2024

March is a great time to talk about exercising. Spring is just around the corner and for many of us we find ourselves engaging in more physical activity. March is also National Reading Month in the US to honor Dr Seuss' birthday, and to encourage reading for all ages.

There are many reasons why reading is good for us, but have you ever thought you are exercising your brain? Jim Kwik, a brain trainer, says in his article The Neurology of Reading that reading is a great exercise for the brain. He says reading anything improves our memory and problem-solving skills.

According to Kwik, "when we read, our brain is working in ways that visual media simply doesn’t activate. In fact, reading is one of the best ways to exercise the entire brain because it is far more demanding on our brain than image processing alone."

Dr Seuss books are a great way to exercise our brains, "from there to here, and here to there," to quote One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.

I’ve been exercising my brain muscles by reading articles and research on how we learn to read. One interesting article I came across was How to develop the reading brain in a digital world by Geoff Johnson, a former superintendent of schools. He shares research findings from researchers such as Maryanne Wolf, a neuroscientist, who talks about the advantages of "deep reading" as opposed to skimming and scanning. When we read a social media post, we are processing "information quickly and in brief bursts" and could be impacting our capacity to form insight and empathy.

reading on a deviceAnother researcher Johnson mentions is Patricia Alexander, a psychologist who studies how we learn. Alexander says that we might think we learn more from reading online, but actually we learn less than reading in print. This is especially true when reading longer passages of text.

Other researchers agree. When we read something that is long or complicated online, our brain has to continuously account for what we can see in the screen while we scroll down. We can miss the complexity of ideas and not fully understand what we are reading.

My takeaway from Johnson’s article is that reading short passages where we can skim and scan works well for online, but for longer passages it’s better for the brain to process what we are reading if we have it in print. Kwik says as we expand and broaden our reading, we increase our comprehension; fluency and improve our vocabulary.

Another important benefit of reading is that we develop empathy. Studies show that when we immerse ourselves in a story and feel what the character is feeling, and think like the character is thinking, we are developing and strengthening empathy. Wolf says "deep reading" a novel allows us to imagine ourselves in that experience and we can see the world through their view, even if it is very different from our own experience. This increases our empathy toward others who may be quite different from us.

[untitled]Lizzie Hutton, director of the Howe Writing Centre says "reading is a doorway into a much bigger view - one that enlarges our vision of others and of ourselves." She reminds us there is a huge world of things to read, and to let learners know that what they read can empower them and "change their whole outlook."

I know that reading research and articles has changed my whole outlook on how we learn to read.

If you’re curious about what research and studies are finding on how we learn to read, please reach out to me at literacy@calp.ca.

Keep reading and exercising your brain!


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