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“Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers” Explores the Science Behind “Reading and the Brain”

Henry Winkler Hosts Look at Link Between Literacy and Neuroscience

Washington, DC – When Peter Oathout started crying instead of finishing an elementary school test, his father knew there was something awry in the development of his once cheerful and confident child. “[Peter] didn’t want to quit, but he couldn’t read the questions,” remembers Mark Oathout. Peter’s parents scoured the Internet for answers and stumbled onto a burgeoning new field — the neuroscience of reading.

“Reading and the Brain,” a new PBS show produced by WETA Washington D.C., highlights exciting scientific breakthroughs that may fundamentally change the way reading problems are resolved for kids like Peter. The show is hosted by actor Henry Winkler, who has had his own struggles with reading. “Reading and the Brain” will air this fall on PBS stations across the country (please check local listings or http://readingrockets.org/shows/broadcast).

“Brain scientists have done struggling readers a great service. With brain imaging they’ve shown that many reading problems are rooted in physical differences in the brain — not in a child’s level of motivation or intelligence,” says ReadingRockets.org Executive Director Noel Gunther. “Now the researchers are taking their work a step further — they’re trying to figure out how they can use what they know about the brain to guide interventions for struggling readers.”

“Reading and the Brain” explores how brain scientists in Houston, Chicago, Louisville, Washington, D.C., and Toronto are working to solve the puzzle of why some children struggle to read and others don’t. Startling new research shows the answer may lie in how a child’s brain is wired from birth.

The program highlights the work of the following renowned neuroscientists:

* Dr. Andrew Papanicolaou, University of Texas-Houston, whose pioneering use of imaging technology can record the effects of good teaching on the brain;

* Dr. Stanley Greenspan, of the George Washington University Medical School, whose provocative new research illustrates how emotional interactions between parents and babies may affect children’s ability to comprehend what they read;

* Doctors Dennis and Victoria Molfese, University of Louisville, whose inventive work with infants may some day lead toward a diagnostic tool that will identify babies at risk of later reading struggles;

* Dr. Nina Kraus, Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, who has devised a new tool that measures a young reader’s ability to process sound, leading to more targeted ways to correct reading problems; and

* Dr. Stuart Shanker, York University, Toronto, who is studying how the brain reflects the emotional development of children and how emotional development might impact reading comprehension.

“Henry Winkler talks about how teachers, and even his own father, didn’t understand his dyslexia. They called him lazy and stupid,” said Christian Lindstrom, senior producer. “We hope ‘Reading and the Brain’ will help educate parents and teachers about the biological nature of dyslexia — and about the critical role good, research-based teaching plays in helping kids overcome their struggles.”

“Reading and the Brain” also includes a profile of poet Nikki Giovanni and illustrator Bryan Collier, who offer a charming look at their new Caldecott Honor book, Rosa, a loving portrait of civil rights icon Rosa Parks.

“Reading and the Brain” is the eighth program in the series "Reading Rockets: Launching Young Readers,” WETA's award-winning series of innovative half-hour programs about how children learn to read, why so many struggle, and what parents and teachers can do to help (www.pbs.org/launchingreaders).

The series is part of the ongoing WETA initiative, ReadingRockets.org, which uses television, the Internet, print and outreach to disseminate research-based information about teaching young children how to read. ReadingRockets.org is funded primarily by a major grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.

WETA is the third-largest program producer in the public television system and the flagship public broadcaster in the nation's capital. Among WETA's productions, co-productions and presentations are “Washington Week with Gwen Ifill and National Journal” and “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.” WETA is co-producer of documentaries by filmmaker Ken Burns, including “The Civil War,” “JAZZ” and “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson.” Burns's next production, “The War,” comes to PBS in 2007. Sharon Percy Rockefeller is president and CEO of WETA. For more information on WETA and its programs, visit weta.org.

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