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Testing a Child’s Reading Future

It’s the joy of every mom and dad to see their kids learn something new. However, the possibility of being able to learn how to read is somehow uncertain. But what if there is a test that can help determine a toddler’s reading future?

Nina Kraus, a Neurobiology and Physiology Professor, along with her team at Northwestern University, stated that they discovered a way to predict the literacy skill of a child long before they are old enough to begin reading. Her team has began developing such a method in order to make their research into a reliable and established test.

To Kraus, flagging or pointing out some preschoolers or toddlers to be potentially troubled readers before they have even tried to read is like arresting and investigating someone about a crime that has not yet occurred. That is why she and her team of experts carefully studied at the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory as to how the test they developed could help them peek into a child’s reading future.

But before Kraus introduced the test, she first explains how a child begins to read. According to Kraus, reading starts not with one’s eyes but with one’s ears, as people hear, categorize and archive speech sounds before they can recognize letters and symbols on a page. Kraus also emphasized that everything people hear is processed by the brain. It’s hard work because the brain has to separate the sounds that are meaningful from pure irrelevant noise; the brain does this in microseconds.

Kraus also said that when the brain categorizes a certain sound, an electric reflection is created. It means that the brain waves copy the sound waves that they are reacting to. She added that the loads of information carried in these brain waves help her tell when a 3-year-old who hasn’t started reading may have trouble reading in the future.

According to Kraus, before the test begins, the child is instructed to sit in a chair. They are given ample time to get comfortable and ready. They are then allowed to choose a movie they want to watch. While watching, buttons or scalp electrodes are attached to the child's head to monitor the brain waves. On the left ear, the child hears the movie. On the right, he hears noises; first, indistinct or unclear chatter of several individuals and second, the sound “Da”. As the entire team observes the kid’s brain waves, they can see how well the child separates “Da” from all other sounds and noises.

Kraus elaborated that in order to determine a youngster’s literacy potential, they will look to how the brain can significantly capture or separate the tiny speech sound “Da”, in spite of all the noise and other sounds. They also consider factors like timing, consistency and harmonics.

Though there are still many things to improve on and experiment with, Kraus and her team is positive that this test will be useful in the future in helping kids with literacy challenges.

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