Reading Practice Can Strengthen Brain ‘Highways’


A new study released this week in the journal Neuron published by Cell Press, shows that practicing reading can boost white matter, the tissue that connects different parts of the brain. Here’s a quote from the study itself: “The results demonstrate the capability of a behavioral intervention {intensive reading] to bring about a positive change in cortico-cortical white matter tracts.” The study was led by Marcel Just of Carnegie Mellon and Timothy Keller, a senior research association with expertise in MRI. The scientists enlisted dozens of typical and poor readers, ages 8-12, in programs that provided a total of 100 hours of intensive remedial instruction. The programs had the kids practice reading words and sentences over and over again.

When they were done, a second set of MRI scans showed that the training changed “not just their reading ability, but the tissues in their brain,” Just says. The integrity of their white matter improved, while it was unchanged for children in standard classes.

Equally striking, Just says: “The amount of improvement in the white matter in an individual was correlated with that individual’s improvement in his reading ability.”

Other studies have focused on gray matter–which processes and stores information–and this study revealed that white matter is also crucial for learning.

How can brain research be integrated into the classroom for optimal learning?

What are the implications of the research for helping teachers innovate more effective teaching methods, including the integration of new technologies?

How might intensive practice in other activities, such as calculating formulas or learning to play a musical instrument, also develop the brain’s white matter?


Reading Practice Can Strengthen Brain ‘Highways’
by Jon Hamilton
December 9, 2009

Intensive reading programs can produce measurable changes in the structure of a child’s brain, according to a study in the journal Neuron. The study found that several different programs improved the integrity of fibers that carry information from one part of the brain to another.

“That helped areas of the brain work together,” says Marcel Just, director of the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Coordination is important because reading involves a lot of different parts of the brain, Just says.

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