Some Skills Are Automatic

At some point in your day you will probably brush your teeth, button clothing, make a call, or walk, ride or drive to another location. Will you stop to think about the steps needed to carry out each task beforehand or is it just something you do? Maybe you’ll take a shower, read or type information on an electronic device, or look both ways before crossing the street. You might even go swimming or sing along to a few songs. Will you take time to consider how to do each first?

For most of us, these familiar procedures have become automatic. We don’t have to think about them. Regardless of how challenging they were to learn or how long ago we learned them, we remember. We’ve completed them so many times that the processes have become ingrained in us.

Implicit, non-declarative or procedural memory is unconscious and develops from past experience. It’s the product of repeated tasks and includes movements, skills, or habits. Sciencedirect.com compares these memories to footprints in concrete. “Once set, they are not so easily washed away.”

For Some, Reading Is Automatic

For many, the processes of reading become automatic somewhere between third grade and high school. These learners have mastered the relationship between letters, sounds, written and spoken word enough to sound out most text with ease. Their purposes for reading have gone from learning to read, to reading to discover more about their world, experience emotions, and stretch their imagination. There are occasional challenges with comprehension and decoding, especially when the content is unfamiliar or not of interest. But the overall process of blending letters to sound out and gain meaning from text is no longer thought about. They just see text, and read.

For Struggling Readers, Reading Is Arduous

For struggling readers, these initial processes are not yet automatic. And the frustration involved in trying to sound out and interpret written words is still a daily occurrence. If classroom instruction has moved on or the former student is now navigating adult responsibilities and work challenges, the learner can be left feeling that these difficulties will never improve.  But they can.

What We Know

Here’s what we know:

  • The brain continues to adapt and change throughout life in response to our experiences. It has the ability to reorganize and build new connections as the result of learning.
  • If an individual has received reading instruction for at least two academic years and not seen gains, there may be an underlying issue impacting progress.
  • Reading challenges are not related to intelligence. Some of the brightest minds struggled to read long after their peers became comfortable readers. Some of the brightest minds still struggle with learning challenges every day.
  • Reading and learning can improve, whether it’s at age 5 or 95, when challenges are addressed and the appropriate intervention applied.

Change Is Possible

In my time as an educator, I have witnessed many adult struggling readers ages 18-84, go from acceptance that reading was something they would never do well or feel good about, to confident, enthusiastic readers. I’ve listened as they shared what it means to discover a joy they witnessed in others, but previously considered out of reach. I’ve witnessed far more adults question whether there is any option or method that would work for older students. They then seek out methods that skip the fundamental processes and reinforce old frustrations.

Individual circumstances vary greatly, and there is no one solution that is right for every student. Circumstances, such as participation, effort, illness, or injury can impact the results and/or appropriateness of specific interventions. But, again, what we know is that learning is possible. Change is possible. I’ve seen it, time and again, during my tenure with Gemm Learning. And if you or someone you know is wondering if there are alternatives, an intervention that utilizes what we know about the brain and learning may help them discover what’s possible too.

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