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Wolf, M. (2007). Proust And The Squid

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In Proust and the Squid, Maryanne Wolf comprehensively discusses the history of reading, the process of learning to read, and difficulties that can exist within the reading brain. By citing a great deal of current brain research and drawing from her own experience as a professor and parent, Wolf makes a powerful case for the biological basis of reading difficulty and disability. In doing so, she may help lead the way into a new educational era in which students with reading difficulties are acknowledged for their strengths, not weaknesses, and reading disabilities are seen as learning differences rather than academic flaws.

Wolf begins her discussion about the reading brain by examining the process in which human beings first learned to read. Unlike other abilities like vision and language, reading is not a part of natural development. A great deal of brain automaticity and sensory integration is involved in reading as the brain must take in and process a large amount of information in an extremely short period of time. Though it took human beings over 2,000 years to first learn to read, children today are now expected to learn this complex skill in just 2,000 days. Learning to read by using the alphabet significantly changes the way the brain develops, and because they no longer have to memorize very much, individuals today have time for different types of thinking than their non-reading ancestors.

After discussing issues related to the historical development of literacy, Wolf considers the intricate processes that take place as children learn to read. She notes that learning to read occurs long before a child begins school, so children who come from vocabulary-poor households are often disadvantaged from the beginning. Wolf also thoroughly discusses each of the steps involved in reading and emphasizes that a reading problem can occur in any step. She explores brain images of people who are in different stages of reading development, speak different languages, and have different reading abilities.

Wolf finishes Proust and the Squid by taking a look at the brain that has trouble learning to read. She begins by noting the numerous individuals who have dyslexia and have become leaders in their fields. Wolf argues that, because dyslexia has genetic properties, there must be positive aspects of it that have allowed the gene to survive. She also describes the different types of dyslexia and argues that students with different types need to be instructed in different ways.

Personal Thoughts

This book allowed me to remember and reflect upon my own childhood learning experiences, take a deeper look into the process of reading, and gain a better understanding of dyslexia. Because I easily learned to read as a child and have always loved reading, I never realized that learning to read is not a natural process. In her first sentence, Wolf states “We were never born to read,” (Wolf, 2007, p.3), and even among our book club’s group of well-educated individuals, it quickly became clear that everyone’s early reading experiences were different and many very intelligent members of our group had trouble learning to read. This experience made me realize that I need to take these early differences into consideration



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