Dr. Dennis Molfese, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Development Neuropsychology and Chair and professor of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of Louisville, Kentucky, USA, has taken a special interest in Letterland learning and its multimodality approach to teaching the alphabet. His objective has been to discover what effect this approach may have on brain activity.
Dr Molfese has done a 6-month research project pre- and post-testing 60 three and four year olds in a Kentucky school, mapping brain activity when learning the alphabet with Letterland, and comparing it to brain activity in a Control group using a more traditional phonic approach to teaching a-z.
Intriguingly, Professor Molfese's results, reported in August '05, have shown brain activity limited to the left (speech centre) side with children taught by the traditional method in the Control group, but brain activity on left and right sides of the brain for the group learning a-z with Letterland.
These photos give a glimpse of the careful process involved in assessing the children`s levels of brain activity as they went through the pre-test and post-test procedure.
Dr Molfese’s findings provide scientific data confirming increased brain activity in the Letterland-taught group, compared to the Control group. This is an exciting development in itself.
The research brought to light another interesting difference in the Letterland group. More diverse brain networks appeared in both left and right hemispheres shortly after the beginning of instruction, and continued across all three tests, whereas changes in the Controls group remained limited to a more standard left hemisphere activation of the centro-parietal regions across all three tests.
Professor Molfese also found that the Letterland children ‘exhibited large advantages over the Control group’ following the long American summer break, as witnessed by the fourth Test. (This higher retention of the previous term’s Letterland learning has also been observed by many other US and UK schools in the past. The same observations have been made in schools for Aborigine children in Australia, Chinese kindergarten children in Hong Kong, IndoCanadian immigrant children in British Columbia, Ethiopian children in Israel, and many more.
Unexpectedly, the Letterland group continued to show changes in brain activity even at the end of the summer period of no instruction, indicated by ‘greater activity over the left hemisphere’. As Dr Molfese points out,
‘Discrimination effects were present at multiple electrode locations and at
multiple time points suggesting possible involvement of multiple cognitive
processes, such as attention, memory, language processing, and visual processing.’
A series of questions arise, as a result of Dr Molfese’s findings. For example, among Special Needs children for whom particular recall routes may be blocked, or under-functioning, could his neurological evidence explain why Letterland teaching frequently provides break-throughs for children in this category? Could the multiple neural connections which he recorded be providing ‘by-pass routes’ for recalling the original phonic information which these children could not otherwise recall? Dr Molfese has described these connections as ‘more neural resources’.
For the group as a whole, has Dr Molfese’s research actually measured (in some generalised form) the degree to which the children entered imaginatively into the concept of Letterland as a secret place where letters come alive, causing them to listen, to want to learn, to think and talk about their learning, and to enjoy applying their new phonic knowledge both in and outside of the classroom?
More research is needed before accurate interpretations to any questions are possible. In the meantime his positive findings to date are certainly food for thought.
Originator of Letterland
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