How the Brain Learns to Read: Decoding, Comprehension, and Motivation

Understanding how the brain learns to read provides essential insight into how to support the foundation of reading development effectively. Through multidisciplinary research in brain science, psychology, education, and linguistics, K-12 teachers will learn instructional techniques focused on comprehension, decoding, supporting specific reading difficulties, curriculum-based strategies, and many more relevant topics.

Course Name: How the Brain Learns to Read: Decoding, Comprehension, and Motivation

Course Number: EDUC 717W

Semester Credits: 3

Course Description

Reading is THE essential academic skill.  Yet, in every literate culture, it is a difficult skill to acquire.  Research in Cognitive Neuroscience addresses this problem: the brain is well prepared for understanding speech but is poorly prepared for understanding writing. How the Brain Learns to Read integrates research on the teaching of reading from brain science, psychology, education, linguistics, and other fields. It suggests best practices from very early childhood through preschool, kindergarten, and all grades through high school.  This background information on early childhood reading development helps shape understanding and teaching methods across all grade levels. Specific instructional methods are described while keeping focused on comprehension, motivation, decoding, and ways to individualize. Reading problems, ranging from social and cultural through biological, are described and followed by ways of overcoming them.  The position of How the Brain Learns to Read is that there is no noticeable transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” as both processes continue indefinitely. 


  • Understand that competence with spoken language precedes reading
  • Appreciate that beginning readers must master the alphabetic code, matching sounds of the language to letters and words
  • Be aware that phonemic awareness is key to phonics which both aids in cracking the alphabetic code
  • Realize that learning to read with fluency and comprehension is a slow process for most students
  • Have a variety of methods available to help students with difficulty learning to read
  • Seek research-based programs of reading instruction
  • Be comfortable with digital literacy and internet-based resources

Course Contents

  • Learning spoken language
  • Learning to read
  • Reading for encoding and decoding
  • Reading for comprehension
  • Recognizing and overcoming reading problems
  • Reading in the content areas
  • Creating a thirst for knowledge
  • Seeing themselves as readers before they can read
  • Encouraging a reader self-concept
  • Preventing a motivation backslide
  • Reading with fluency
  • Working with more complex texts
  • Helping the reluctant older reader

Evidence of Learning Outcomes

Upon completing How the Brain Learns to Read, the student will demonstrate an understanding of spoken language, reading comprehension, curriculum-based motivational tools, and the use of prosody for comprehension. Students will also learn how to develop a reader’s self-concept to encourage the reluctant reader, the steps for developing relevant lesson plans tailored to a teacher’s grade level, and strategies for recognizing and overcoming reading problems.

How to Register

Registration is simple and can be done online or over the phone. Courses are offered ongoing during three semesters, and enrollees may begin at any time. Students may choose to enroll in up to a maximum of 15-semester credits at any time during a semester.

 Fall: September 1 - January 31

Spring: February 1 - May 31

Summer: June 1 - August 31

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