Mark Seidenberg is not the first researcher to reach the stunning conclusion that only a third of the nation’s schoolchildren read at grade level. The reasons are numerous, but one that Seidenberg cites over and over again is this: The way kids are taught to read in school is disconnected from the latest research, namely how language and speech actually develop in a child’s brain.
Seidenberg is a cognitive scientist and professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. In his latest book, Language at the Speed of Sight, he points out that the “science of reading” can be a difficult concept for educators to grasp. He says it requires some basic understanding of brain research and the “mechanics” of reading, or what is often referred to as phonics.
I talked with Seidenberg about what it will take to improve reading instruction. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.