Full PreFrontal

Ep. 204: Kelly B. Cartwright, Ph.D. - The Science of Reading & Executive Function

January 30, 2024 Sucheta Kamath Season 1 Episode 204
Full PreFrontal
Ep. 204: Kelly B. Cartwright, Ph.D. - The Science of Reading & Executive Function
Show Notes Transcript

Reading comprehension is unequivocally the foundation of all other learning, not just during the formal years of education, but in creating socially engaged communities and an inclusive world. The ‘Active View of Reading’ framework suggests that complex executive function skills such as goal setting, planning, organizing, and sequencing information critically supports goal completion, mental flexibility, and learning how to learn underneath the reading and writing processes. New findings suggest that despite having age-appropriate word reading, poor reading comprehension might be explained by executive function challenges in children, which is disrupting their learning success.

On this episode,  author, director of READLab,  and Professor of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Teacher Preparation at Christopher Newport University, Dr. Kelly Cartwright, Ph.D., discusses how executive function infuses and supports human reading processes and how educators must consider remediating Executive Function as a means to promote literacy outcomes in K-12 education. Fortunately for us all, executive function skills can be explicitly taught and doing so will accentuate academic success for all learners.

About Kelly B. Cartwright, Ph.D.
Kelly B. Cartwright, PhD is Professor of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Teacher Preparation at Christopher Newport University, where she directs the Reading, Executive function, And Development Lab (READLab), and is a Research Scholar for the Center for Education Research and Policy. She is the recipient of numerous educational awards, including the 2023 State Council of Higher Education in Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award. Her research, supported by grants from the US Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences, explores neurocognitive and affective factors that underlie reading processes and difficulties across the lifespan. Her groundbreaking book, Executive Skills and Reading Comprehension: A Guide for Educators, now in second edition, is the first comprehensive text at this intersection. Kelly has served on the Board of Directors of the Literacy Research Association and as Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Oxford. She regularly works with K-12 teachers throughout the US to understand and improve reading for struggling students, and these experiences inform her research. Kelly can be followed on Twitter at @KellyBCartwrig1


About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills through the mastery of Executive Function and social-emotional competence.

Support the show

Sucheta Kamath: Welcome back to Full PreFrontal exposing the mysteries of executive function. I'm your host Sucheta Kamath. And thanks again for joining in these deep and meaningful conversations about how to think about our own thinking, how to think about our goals, how to persist to achieve those goals, and how to support children to develop into these independent thinkers and self managers. One of the interesting things I was thinking, the expert we have today is going to talk about connection between reading and executive function. And as I was thinking, I'm a voracious reader and I read at least a book a week, if not more, and recently, I'll just list out a couple of books that I have been on my reading list one is you know, Classified this is by David Bernstein, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris range. Oh no, Quit by Annie Duke and Beauty by John O'Donoghue. So these are four books I'm reading simultaneously. And one interesting thing is I english is not my primary language. And I started my journey with Marathi, which is my mother tongue, then Hindi is a second language in school. English was a third language, Sanskrit, which is the fourth dead language like Latin. And then I married a man who spoke another language called Konkani. And if you grew up in Bombay, you have to learn Gujarati. So the reason I'm say sharing that when it came to reading, English was not my primary language. So I learned alphabet in sixth grade or sight words, so to speak. And suddenly, when you reach 11th, grade, entire math, physics, biology, chemistry turns into English. And it was horrific experience because I and even to this day, I think, math in my mother tongue, then I have to translate. So reading was very, very difficult. As my rate of reading, if my husband and we bought our first house, my husband was sitting next to me. And we were given paperwork, and he was reading over it and he was done. And I was still on third line of a full page contract. And and I just could not keep up with this. So in short, what I'm saying when we think about reading and readers who think while they're reading about their comprehension, meaning making machine and thinking about the usage of knowledge that we glean from reading is all tied into becoming a thoughtful, reflective and knowledgeable person. But when you're a child, this can be very complicated. And if you're a bilingual or multilingual adult, it can be complicated. So we need to really understand how this process works. And I am so delighted about having this phenomenal guest because she's going to demystify this connection which is new to us. And we as science has grown, our understanding has been enriched. So with great pleasure and joy. I'm welcoming Dr. Kelly B. Cartwright again for a second time on this podcast, who is the professor of psychology, neuroscience and teacher preparation at Christopher Newport University, where she directs the Reading Executive Function and Development Lab, which is also known as READlab, and is a research scholar for the Center for Education, Research, and Policy. She is a recipient of numerous educational awards including 2023 State Council of Higher Education in Virginia, Outstanding Faculty Award Bravo. Her research, supported by grants from US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences explores neurocognitive and affective factors that underlie reading processes and difficulties across the lifespan. One interesting thing that I reached out to Kelly was that her book that she first wrote, in 2015, Executive Skills and Reading Comprehension, A Guide for Educators is now in second edition and it's the first comprehensive text at this intersection and not many experts really have given a lot of thought about this intersectionality between reading, self monitoring of reading and making meaning to develop knowledge that happens as a form of education. So welcome to the podcast.

Kelly Cartwright: Thank you. Thank you so much Sucheta, I'm so glad to be back with you. You've done so much since we last spoke.

Sucheta Kamath: Truly and I'm so excited because we just crossed the threshold of 200 episodes. And here you I'm actually having three of my guests come back, you know, and talk to us. So Dr. Chabris, who wrote the book called The Gorilla Effect. And then Dr. Hal Hershfield, who's going to talk about future self. So within the timeframe, I have been doing this podcast, people have like, gone around the moon and sun and come back with a new book. So very excited. So for starters, I think, when we met, for the first time, we talked about executive function, but I wanted to go back and ask you, as a researcher, who and a neuroscientist who studies the brain and brain behavior relationship, when did it occur to you that reading and executive function are connected?

Kelly Cartwright: Oh, wow, I, that's a really great question. All my my entire career. When I started, I started in like cognitive development and neuroscience. And then I, I landed at a conference, I can remember the day I picked up Marilyn Adams, it's a 1990 book, she reviewed all of the all of the reading research literature. And so I picked up this great big book as a new graduate student, you know, and I am reading through thinking about what's what's happening with reading and all of the many things that readers have to do and juggle as they read, we're dealing with letters and like you said, the alphabet, and we're dealing with the sounds of those letters and how they go together and what the spelling patterns look like. But we're also extracting meaning and we're doing all of these at the same time. And it occurred to me even then, that we have to be massively flexible. When we're doing this, we have to manage all of these processes, how do new readers manage those processes, I was fascinated and realize that not a lot of people were looking at executive functions and how they, they infuse and undergird and support our reading processes. And so that was sort of my foothold into the field. And it's, I straddled those fields, now I kind of have my foot in both sides, the reading education side, the reading research side, and the cognitive neuroscience the side because it, you know, I'm bridging bridging two areas. And that's the fun part. That's the fun part of what I do. 

Sucheta Kamath: And I'm so glad because I feel the same way when I started in my career. In you know, 1993 executive function was not even a term that was commonly used. I come from brain injury rehabilitation background, and we used to call it right hemisphere dysfunction. And, and, you know, break down and just start thinking, you know, like, lots of use words to describe this problem with seeing the big picture, you know, losing missing the forest for the trees, but it never kind of never really said anything about a cohesive set of skills that are regulating how we think and how we learn and how we manage. So in that way, can you maybe kick us off by talking a little bit about what goes into reading? Why reading is so difficult and complicated? And, and even though I mean, this is part two, but even though the science has advanced, I feel the classroom. Classrooms haven't been transformed with that knowledge. So there's some gap there. So I'm just curious if you could start with both of these questions.

Kelly Cartwright: Sure. And you've just really asked me questions that could be the basis for two whole podcast episodes. So Wow. So what goes into reading I mean, reading, it's so complex that involves so many different processes. So if you're reading English and alphabetic language, you are looking at these squiggles on a page and you're having to match them up to sounds and speech. And when we say a word like dog, that actually isn't one sound, it's three sounds right? All go all blended together. You've got to think about those individual sounds, how they connect to those letters, keep them in your working memory, then mush them together or blend them together, attach that to meaning and you've done all of that pretty instantaneously. If you're a grown up reader like we are, you know, it's it's but for a new and struggling reader or someone who's just figuring it out, it takes a lot of cognitive resources, right. And so building that meaning is another aspect of it, you have to understand language structures, the kinds of language that we hear in books. It's different from the language that we hear in conversations when your mom says, Hey, stop poking your sister, it's very directive and tied to the here and now. But, you know, Cinderella thought that you know, whatever the past tense or fictitious thing or future tense or hypothetical thing that we're reading about, it's a very different kind of language structure. Kids need to learn that as well. So we've got syntax, we've got word meanings, phrase, meaning sentence meanings, and all of that. And we're not, it's not a sequential process, it's not like we decode words, you know, get the print off the page, and then understand them. We are managing all of these things at the same time. And as you are reading, I can't even imagine having four books going at once, like you have going right now. But as you do that, let's say you're reading one of them, as you're reading that book, you are updating, you're holding things in mind, you're decoding all of those words, you're holding the meaning in mind. And then you encounter a new idea. And you need to update update update as you go along. So it's very taxing on your Executive Function System. Because even if you're doing it below the level of conscious awareness, you are having to flexibly shift among sources of information, you're having to hold different kinds of things in mind and recruit them. And you also have knowledge in your long term memory that you're having to draw from to make inferences that aren't explicitly stated in the text. And you're doing this all at once. As you can see, it's like a machine, in a sense, working its way through that text, continually active all the way. And even when you're done. Like you said, you're you still building knowledge thinking about it reflecting I mean, you've it's, you've learned something, if you're processing that meaning, right?

Sucheta Kamath: I mean, listeners don't get overwhelmed. I know this sounds very taxing definition of reading. You know, it's so interesting. I was just listening to Tom Griffiths. He's a professor of psychology and computer sciences, Princeton, his interview, and he is trying to kind of differentiate or compare the AI and human cognition. And he was he pointed out something interesting that you just mentioned that AI can answer a question by looking at gathered data, go through gather data very fast, and look for an answer. But it's only human brain that can pose a question. So I think one of the things that strikes me about this definition of reading, and again, I think you had used this visual before, we presented at one of the conferences together, but there was a visual which talks about fluency phonemic awareness, you know, phonics, knowledge, you know, you know, predicting, inferring visualizing word recognition, oral language, comprehension, vocabulary, all these pieces go into coming to a place where you can begin to comprehend. But comprehension without purpose is really not useful. Like for a particularly for young learner, who is going to ultimately take a test, somebody is going to tap into your understanding. So understanding really is passive and expression of understanding is active or is can be assessed. So can you talk a little bit about the next step of reading comprehension? So do I know if I understand what I read? And how will I tell others, I understood what I read. And these are the places the extension of reading begins into expression of comprehension, right? Whether it's written or oral.

Kelly Cartwright: That and it also you're tying into something that we've heard a lot about from the Knowledge Matters campaign, so I would, I would direct their your listeners, I want to say readers because I talk about readers all the time, but direct listeners to think about the Knowledge Matters campaign and check that out. We as readers, and learners and thinkers have this knowledge base that we carry around with us, but knowledge facilitates comprehension. Kids who don't have knowledge of a particular area that they're reading about, don't have the tools that they need to, to continue to build on that and elaborate on that in in the way that you and I might write so. So you're learning while reading and you're building knowledge while reading. But it also has to start with knowledge. If they don't have enough background knowledge, the comprehension isn't going to happen. I mean, comprehension is always, I would say you said passive, but I would say reading is continually active in the sense that you're constantly constructing the pronunciations of the words, the meanings of the words, putting them together, you're building that mental model of a texts, meaning, weaving it into your knowledge, but then reflecting on it and talking about it after the fact. And their readers differ in the amount of awareness they have of what they read. And you, you pointed out that idea of goals and plans, if you have a goal for reading, maybe the books you're reading are for pleasure. Maybe the books you're reading are to introduce you to new potential podcast guests. Maybe you know what, there are lots of reasons why we might read something. But if a young reader doesn't even know why they're reading something, they have no way nothing to help them direct their focus, and to hang that information on and in their mind, if that makes sense. You know.

Sucheta Kamath: Absolutely. And I wanted to offer a correction of my word choice, because I meant that reading is passive, I meant more invisible. Yeah, it's invisible. Sorry, yes. Not passive, because it's very active, but it's invisible. So I had a quick question about this idea of reading. For. So early readers, they may not even know enough about the sound symbol relationship. They're very fresh and young, to the concept of complex word structures, but they have no exposure to ideas, and they may not even have knowledge. So they may be fully capable of identifying letters, words, sentences, but don't know anything about I don't know glaciers. And then that's it. You can read a passage about glaciers but not know anything about it. So for starters, how do competent readers go about building knowledge? Or don't we gather knowledge from reading? Absolutely. How do you gather knowledge without reading so that you can become a better reader?

Kelly Cartwright: It's a, you're talking about a chicken egg problem. Now, I think. But if you think about a young reader, a new reader who's learning to decode, you brought up different readers, readers who are learning from from what they've read, because they know how to decode the print. But if you don't know all the letters, sound connections, you need that you need that to be able to decode words, but they're not knowledge less, when they get to a text, the texts that we design for young readers are texts that have information that they should have been exposed to. I mean, if you think about building a reading brain, kids come into the world with a brain that is already gathering information about how their language sounds. So you talked about your mother tongue, your brain was wiring up those connections for the sounds in your language. So the sounds in English as a, as a later learned language may have been a little bit more difficult for you, as you had to rewire your brain right as you became exposed to a new language, but they've so they've got the sounds, they know what words sound like they know what things mean, if you say, Hey, can you go get my keys? Or where did you put the dog's toy, I mean, they they're hearing these words and understanding them. But none of that is connected to print. So kids are building a huge vocabulary. They've got many, many words that represent meaning, right, that represent knowledge, but they don't connect it to print. And it's only when they're exposed to those letter sound connections, that we begin to repurpose a part of our visual brain that helps us recognize faces and things. So we're repurposing it and wiring it into a reading network. That reading network has hubs. If it's a skilled readers reading network, we've got hubs for letters for sounds for meanings very simplifying, but I mean, think about it as as three parts and our reading brain helps us connect that but they've got to get that letter sound, instruction, that letter sound experience to be able to build that letterbox that the part of the brain that's that's helping them to connect the letters to the sounds and meanings that they already know if that makes sense.

Sucheta Kamath: Oh, absolutely. And I think the I'm just so shocked that any of us get anywhere, right? All the things that are involved in this process are so complicated, and you know, just a sidebar, Indian languages Um, are phonetic. And so this sound symbol association that doesn't correlate to the letters ch can you know versus see a color versus cello sound that doesn't exist in an Indian languages. So it's very, very concrete and very phonetic. So that really helps. 

Kelly Cartwright: It's a very, it's a transparent, we would call that I think a transparent orthography. So the symbol makes one sound and you know what it is?

Sucheta Kamath: Yes. And then symbol takes a consonant takes vowel with a with a line on the side line or on top line underneath. And it just says, A Oh, you know, so that is like, it's very, very concrete in that way. So it's very easy to read. And that kind of removes the burden on your working memory a little bit.

Kelly Cartwright: I'm, I'm a little envious, because English is not, we English is much more opaque. Yeah, much more opaque.

Sucheta Kamath: And, you know, I mean, it was so funny. I was emceeing an event once. And this is so embarrassing. But on this podcast, I've told people all my problems. So I don't feel embarrassed about that. But I was emceeing and there were 400 people in the audience. And it was an Indian event. So I was speaking in English, but it was about a performance, you know, theater, like no songs, dances, and I was an emcee along with another person. And so I got on the stage. And like I said, there are many geners of music. And I didn't realize the genres is what I had heard. But in my mind, if it's genre, it's like spelling a G and RA or something, I don't know. Yeah, the generic like r e. S, pronounces something very specific. So I have done that I have had a bet with my child when he was in sixth grade that it was epi-tome. And I was so confident that the word is pronounced epi-tome. And he said, Mom, you're wrong. And I said, No, no, you're wrong. And I don't know why I would even say that. But it was epitome. So Epitome to me, like should be an i or y. And anyways, so I still struggle with those kinds of things. I'm a very foreign language speaker when it comes to my spelling or reading. So as maybe we can, sorry, I'm all over the place. But maybe we can start by quickly, you telling us a little bit about framework of executive function itself? Why do you think executive skills are important for reading?

Kelly Cartwright: So I, your listeners know about executive skills, but I'll just give a brief overview we've, we've got this wonderful executive skill system that's associated with our frontal lobe functioning that helps us manage goal directed activities. And so we know there's there are lots and lots of skills that people would like to place under that executive skills umbrella. But there are three core skills, working memory, inhibitory control, or inhibition and cognitive flexibility. And people see those as the building blocks that help us I explain them to teacher audiences that I speak to as Legos. They're like the little building blocks that help us to make planning happen, or monitoring or organizations who are relying on these core things. And so, working memory is storage and processing, you're holding things in mind, like the meaning of a text while you're continuing to update that meaning or you're holding a string of letter sounds in your mind as you're trying to read through e-pi-to-me, and you know, and you're having to remember that you put it all as you go through holding them in mind in order to produce a blended pronunciation of the word. And you also need to be flexible as you explain you have to think about that spelling and multiple ways and that's that flexibility and pronunciations are that flexibility and shifting attention between meanings and sounds. That kind of flexibility is also really important for reading. Even for students with word reading difficulties this we some of the researchers that study this call it a set for variability. A set for variability is this stance that a reader takes where they understand that the printed word is not always one thing, it might need to be pronounced a different way we might need to shift their vowel sounds. So if we see W I N D, and we're reading about a clock, but we read the word wind, then we have to stop and think that doesn't make sense. Let me shift and flex my vowel pronunciation and say You wind instead. And then it makes more sense with a clock. But those, so we've got working memory, we've got flexibility and inhibitory control is our ability to stop. And think, before we act. So we might resist distractions, we might resist meanings that don't actually fit a text. And we might resist if we're a young reader shouting out a word, that with just partial letter sound information. So if I'm, if I'm reading the Word, you know, plan or plant, and I get to that word, and I shout out play, before I ever get all the way to the end of the word, you know that I am having difficulty with inhibition. So all of these things were recruiting, all at the same time in order to help us manage all of those many, many, many processes that are involved in skilled reading. And so I've, I've already I've over answered your question, because I did more than just explain executive functions. But I think it's, it's so much easier to explain them when we have an example to tie them to.

Sucheta Kamath: Yes. And once again, I think what's so lovely in this framework, that one, it's a very intense, engaging, and constantly on the move process. Yes, yes, it may look like somebody sitting in a corner and doing nothing. And I feel I wanted to kind of just take your input on this. But I find that one of the profound missed opportunities in educational context is opportunity to allow children to do uninterrupted self work. I don't think we observe enough or let children do uninterrupted work so that they can make meaning. Whether it's answering questions, whether it's reading, or you know, even I have something called executes an executive function curriculum, by teaching children how to learn to learn. And I feel even kind of creating those opportunities for children to not interrupt each other in a fun and game ways, because reading is private matter, but it's invisible, but it's profoundly complex. And if interrupted, all those things can trump you know, like, it's like a Jenga, right?

Kelly Cartwright: Right, and everything comes tumbling down exactly. Now, I want to differentiate just to make sure that listeners are hearing both of these pieces here. If a child struggles to read, if they can't decode the words, then sitting them in a corner with a book is not going to help them read better, because they need that explicit systematic instruction in how those letters and sounds go together. Because again, that's how we build that reading brain. But let's say they are good readers, a lot of times what we see in education is that we're telling kids what to think, Okay, everyone, let's read chapter one, we're going to read it together. And then I'm going to tell you what to think about this, rather than asking you open ended questions or asking you to make inferences, teachers, that what the research suggests, especially with elementary students, and or, you know, early elementary students, teachers are more likely to ask literal questions. And rather than asking kids to make inferences, rather than letting kids do the thinking, and that's, it's hard, it's hard for us not to fill the void of silence with words, right. We, we want, especially as educators, we would like to educate and tell people things, but being able to being able to construct meaning, to make inferences on their own, it's a transferable skill. And they, if they don't get practice doing it, then they're not going to be able to do it on their own. So they, we need to you're right, give kids the opportunity to do that thinking. Absolutely. Absolutely. 

Sucheta Kamath: And I also meant, in a way, like a little bit older kid, so I was talking more, you know, end of middle school or beginning of high school that you know, if if you're given a question on the pros that you're about to read, then it can maybe give you focus, to look for an answer. So that can be a good reading strategy. But when it comes to inference, more explicit, you are about things you're supposed to infer. Less figuring out you will be doing. Right, exactly, exactly. So that's not a good teaching method, but rather, when we talk about perspectives, because what another very beautiful thing that reading allows us to do is think about other people's thinking. What was she thinking when she said that or did that At or what was the implication? Those are all questions are so much to do with how you not just make meaning but how you decipher the intentions of other people who are not, who cannot be asked this question.

Kelly Cartwright: Yes, you are inside, there's a Carl Sagan quote that I love. And he talks about reading as being this remarkable human achievement. Because even you know, books are just slices of trees, right? But you one look at it, and you're inside the mind of another person. That's what he says. And it's true you are, if you are thinking about other people's perspectives, if you're able to do that, and that's a skill related to executive function in and of itself. Researchers who study it, call it theory of mind, because we have a we have theories about what's going on inside other people's minds. But we also know that elementary age students tend not to think about that. Jerome Bruner called this, there are two landscapes in a text, the landscape of action. And that's what kids focus on what they can see concretely what the characters are doing. And this more invisible layer, that landscape of consciousness, what the intentions and the beliefs and the desires are. That's what helps us understand what's going on with the characters and why the actions happen. But often the kids don't, don't do that. And they need coaching and help in taking those perspectives and considering them. The fun thing is that for us as adults, the more we read fiction, the better we are at considering other people's perspectives. And so and it can be taught, I mean, this is something that can be strengthened in students, the students on the autism spectrum tend to have more difficulty with social perspective taking overall. So that means fictional texts are tougher. But yes, that that's a social inferences are harder for students than physical inferences, say.

Sucheta Kamath: So a quick question, Do you read more fiction, or nonfiction?

Kelly Cartwright: I do both. I love to read fiction. It's a stress reliever for me. So I have a stack about yay high. It's a probably you can't see it listeners. But it's about a foot tall beside my bed where I have several books that I'm working on. But the top two are fiction. And I enjoy fiction I love to make the I love to have it but one of our we just got back from a beach vacation. And we always make the rounds of all the bookstores and everybody gets fiction, things that they want to bring home. And you know, that's one of our big summer things. But I tried to keep that going. But of course for work, I'm reading journal articles and I'm reading you know, scholarly books. I've got a couple of recommendations here on my desk for show Intel one is reading in the brain. Last to hain, I think this is a 2009 book. And I've got Mark Seidenberg reading at the speed of sight, or language at the speed of sight, how we read why so many can't? And what can be done about it. I read things like this too, because it helps me to hear I can hold it up if you need to see it low and lovely. Yes. So yeah, I saw Yes, I've read, I read both. I read both. And I even I still read I my my son is patient with me. And he still lets me read him. Picture books occasionally. And I need to read picture books. Because when I'm writing about teaching elementary students, I need to be in touch with what's out there now. So I read them all I'm sort of a book addict.

Sucheta Kamath: And you know, it's so funny you say that because I am a total book nerd, as I already told told you. But I also bring children's books. I'm a big fan of children's book because I like to stay current. I like to read to children on Zoom or in person if possible. And even to see the shift in the kind of narrative narrative stories you remember Good Night Moon, when your kids or my kids were babies and you know from even that like the whole, the hungry, The Very Hungry Caterpillar to them, like Amelia Bedelia, which talks a lot about wordplay, all those things are so exciting and invigorating. So I want to talk about the next most important thing which I think I'm so grateful that you an elder you did this, but you developed a new model of reading the active view of reading and it was a the next steps so to speak the or next proposed change in the way simple view of reading, which was the proposed theory. So maybe can you tell us more about why you did this? And for listeners who are not familiar what is a simple view of reading and what's the act of your reading?

Kelly Cartwright: Sure. I would love to talk about these. Now, the simple view has been around since the mid 80s. And when the simple view came onto the scene, people were very into whole language thinking that, you know, if you put children with the children's books and read to them a lot, that they would just absorb things, and that they would pick up reading. And they didn't need the explicit decoding instruction so much, and that that would be boring for them. And so I This theory was proposed at a time when we all needed to understand that it is essential for us to be able to actually lift those words off the page by connecting the speech sounds to the symbols on the page. That's the decoding side. And the simple view says that reading comprehension is the product of decoding. If you imagine a math equation, if you don't like math, this is not a bad one, it's okay. But math, or sorry, the decoding times, language comprehension or your ability to understand what is said or read to you, those two things are essential. And if either one of those is zero in a multiplication equation, then reading comprehension isn't going to happen. So if you can't lift the words off the page, you're not going to comprehend text. dyslexic students have trouble lifting those words off the page, they can't comprehend text as well. But likewise, if you don't have the knowledge that we talked about earlier, you don't have the language comprehension in place or the vocabulary you need, you're not going to understand what you read, either. And so that simple view really talks about those two categories of skills, decoding or word recognition processes, and language comprehension processes, which are absolutely both 100% essential, but the what's happened in the field is that these two factor models like the simple view and Scarborough's reading rope is another concept.

Sucheta Kamath: It's printed in my brain.

Kelly Cartwright: Yes, they, they it that's a wonderful model as well, she doesn't talk about it as a model. She said she never I've had conversations with her, she said she did not intend it to be a model, it was just a way to depict the complexity of reading, because she unpacked in those strands, all of the things that go into word recognition, and all of the things that go into language comprehension, and that's great. But neither of those models, simple view, or the rope model, tell us how readers manage these things. You know, we're saying that reading is a lot of stuff, all of these very many things. And yet, the How does it happen? You know, what, what's going on. And not only that, but they what happens with these simpler models that kind of chunk everything into two parts, people begin to assume that decoding happens first. And then once you've decoded it, then you use language comprehension to understand what you read. And that these are separate things, but they're not actually separate. They overlap. They interact, they mutually influence one another. And so my colleague Neil Duke, and I are looking at the research that's happened since the mid 80s. There's much research to show that those things inter interact and overlap your vocabulary. Knowledge facilitates your word recognition, for example. So we depict in our active view of reading model, if you can imagine, like a Venn diagram of listeners, a Venn diagram, where word recognition and language comprehension overlap, and in that overlap are things that help us with both. So maybe morphological knowledge, knowing word parts, they are meaningful, but they also help you decode. So it's a little bit of each, right. But it still doesn't say yet, how it is that readers are making this happen that the these two factor abuse tend to make us think that okay, if I've got a student with reading difficulties, then they either need some decoding or word recognition help, or they need language comprehension help, but there are readers out there that can decode words yet, and they do have knowledge and understanding when we talk to them, but they still aren't comprehending what they read. And they have trouble with executive functioning skills. They can't manage all of these things at once and put them together in service of reading comprehension. And so if you imagine our Venn diagram, we've got our overlapping word recognition and language comprehension, pointing to reading comprehension. Behind that word recognition and language comprehension Venn diagram, we added a circle to the model called self regulation, and self regulation and that's where our executive skills, our motivation, our strategic processes, are where all of those things drive our ability to sound out words they and our maybe our our thinking about Gee, Should I shift the way I'm sounding out this word to get to the right pronunciation, right? The self regulation drives our language comprehension. And it helps us to manage and coordinate these things, all in service of reading comprehension. So that's why we call that the active view of reading, because we are pulling in the way the reader themselves is actively engaged in the process. It's not just a passive, filling up of enough decoding knowledge or word recognition, knowledge and skill and enough language comprehension, the readers got to be able to do something with it all at the same time.

Sucheta Kamath: You know, as you're explaining to this, so beautiful, and thank you again, I cannot, literally cannot thank you enough. I mean, when I started my journey, the research was so not clear. And people were not even using the term executive function to describe this complex administrative aspects of information management and meet meaning making or bridging the gap between intention or goal to understand and failure to understand, you have to do something about it. And you know, one is this Ebert andScotts paper, in 2016. I'm sure there's more research that talks about this, but they point out that 30% 35%, of gap or low reading ability is not explained by appropriate decoding or listening comprehension skills. So there's something more that's happening, which is that self management piece. And then the second thing I wanted to add to this process, that you have talked a lot about it, and I do talk a lot about it is metacognition, that means, when do I know that I have stopped getting it. And in order to prevent that, too, from continuing, because you can be on the page and rereading something without making meaning, you need some self monitoring process. And that, to me, is not actively taught enough in the classrooms, so that the children are made aware that learning is not do this and then produce a result. It is you as you're discovering this process of meaning making gathering knowledge, building these complex models of understanding, you need to know when there's a gap, and you need to have some mechanism mechanics put in place to bridge the gap. So can you quickly tell us about metacognition and role of metacognition in self regulated learning? What how it yields best results for the student?

Kelly Cartwright: Absolutely. And we I think we know more, we and I, you and I talked earlier about Zimmerman's work and self regulation and strategy use, but that that line of work in self regulated strategy use has really been better explored in the field of reading for longer than executive skills and reading, but some scholars suggest and I'm one of them that buys into this idea that those and there's evidence to suggest this is the case, that self regulation, those metacognitive monitoring strategies, the ability to stop and visualize what's happening in the text so that you know that you know what's going on, right? You're actively building connections between what you know, and what you're getting out of the text, all of those strategic processes that we engage, as we read. Those are served by and undergirded by those basic core executive function skills, working memory, inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, shifting between strategic processes to make sure you understand relies on strong executive function skills, but knowing whether you know, something is often hard to do. And when kids don't understand that reading is active. When they learned early on, that the purpose of reading is sounding out or decoding. They they don't I remember talking to I'll tell you a story to go with this. I remember talking to a reading interventionist and she was working with a child who, who was having trouble with reading and reading comprehension and she had him read the text and many children like this child, if you ask them what a good readers do, they'll say, well, they don't make mistakes when they read. They you know, they they read fast they they get done first all of these things where it's focused on getting it done like a passive getting it done task, not an active engagement with this knowledge filled text, right? They're not even getting the meaning out of it. They don't know that's what it's for. And this poor child, she said, Okay, well tell me what you read. And he said, Wait, you mean how have to know what it means to. So I think that, you know, just even helping them understand that there's a reason why we're doing this. It's not just the sounding out it that we have to have that we have to equip them with, with great phonics skills and knowledge, we have to have that. But it's beyond that goes beyond that. And it's helping them to understand that they are taking that knowledge and combining it with those strategies to know that they know something to realize they understand it, because they have visualized that meaning now. So I've been in classrooms where we see comprehension strategies on walls, and they just teach the strategy. Okay, everybody, let's do some predicting, that doesn't help. If they're not working with texts and knowledge, it doesn't help, you've got to link all of that strategic process, to actual texts and knowledge. And that's important, do it. And it's hard for any of us to do lots of things at once like that, but, you know, taxes, our executive functions as educators.

Sucheta Kamath: I've had I hope I'm remembering this Maggie Jackson. She's a journalist. And she talks a lot about teaching out she reports on a successful teaching methods and one example was, or maybe I'm mixing up Daniel Willingham example, but they were talking about Underground Railroad. And in order to illustrate the point, the teacher had an exercise of baking bread, just to talk about how and students remembered the bread more than they remembered anything to do with the Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. So I feel like sometimes this in good faith effort, the teachers bring in experiential aspects to learning, but they're completely unrelated to the mechanics or the content or knowledge building. And students will of course, remember the experience more than if the experience of reading was not self monitored. So it's such a great example of that.

Kelly Cartwright: And then I've also seen other examples where because Underground Railroad, it takes me back to the Amelia Bedelia books you mentioned earlier, there's all sorts of mistakes and media's up deal. Yeah, the Underground Railroad is neither underground, literally, or a railroad so that it's poor, the young readers are trying to parse that out, as well as you know, keep the bread out of it. And that's difficult. Yeah.

Sucheta Kamath: And you know, what I used to do, when I taught one of my favorite things to do in executive function training was to actually teach this prediction skills or even like a give titles of the book, and then predict three ways the book might have been written, or give kids you know, children's book, and then last two pages are blank, and then you have to write the ending to a book. So just I think just tying things together is so important. And lastly, with my own kids, when they used to sit and read Harry Potter and very thick book, books, which is hard to know, come from check their comprehension. So I used to do something called spot checking. So I would just randomly choose a page that they have already finished reading, and read a paragraph out loud, and ask them to tell me what happened before and what happened after, to tie where and not literally, but like, what led up to it? You know, just I think so some of the ways I think. Once again, I think you're making this point that this is a very complicated aspect of educating children to become self sufficient, self reliant, but at the same time, because of the complexity, it is easy to really suck enthusiasm out of it, or make children lose interest or leave them feeling that joy of reading and joy of gaining knowledge can be lost in translation. So as we end I was wondering if you have some words of wisdom about how do we manage to do both, like really root their understanding in sound, knowledge or process, but also kind of think big that this is a lifelong habit, you know, become a lifelong reader and enjoy knowing about lives of others that we can only we can't meet these people, but we can read about them. So just curious, what do you think about that?

Kelly Cartwright: There? That's a big question, but I think one of the key things we need to do is make sure all the children can read, they can actually lift that print off the page, not by guessing by looking at pictures, but rather by being able to sound out this words, but we also need to give them choice. If the child wants to read a manga book, or you know, whatever, Harry Potter or Babe Ruth, or whatever choice and control are motivating, when we assign one thing and force them to do that one task and they have no motivation, then it you know that we're much more inclined to persist in a difficult task, if we're internally motivated to do that task. And so if we are working with fifth graders, or eighth graders, when we give them a choice of the novel that they need to read and analyze, they're more motivated and engaged because they have that choice. And choice is just one piece. But motivation is something that should be ever present. Because if we're demotivating them, just like you and I, I'm not motivated to write complex papers on topics that don't interest me. Right. So I'm not motivated to read complex texts on topics that don't interest me. So, yeah.

Sucheta Kamath: After I mean, no, we haven't published yet. But as we are doing this interview, but we will be soon publishing the work by or my interview with Ayelet Fishbach. She is the scientist who studies motivation. And to me, you know, in education, we really need to empower teachers with this knowledge about where the science of motivation is where the science of reading is, and science of self regulated learning in terms of executive function. This has been just most invigorating and exciting conversation as we end, I always love to ask my guests, which you already have recommended two books. But since you are a voracious reader, I was thinking, Is there any other fiction that you have enjoyed, or you recommend for readers, listeners.

Kelly Cartwright: Readers and listeners, yes, this, I am finishing the third book right now in a series. And the first book in the series was actually gifted to me. And the title is, I'm looking over there is The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules. It was a Swedish author. And they're all translated into English. But this woman, Martha, and her friends in the retirement community decide that they don't like how they're being treated in the retirement community. And so they decided that they would be treated better in prison. And they robbed a bank, I don't remember what the first crime oh my god, they commit a series of crimes, and it's all of their exploits. It's, it's a statement on how we care for elderly and what they're capable of. But also, it's just comical in the way that she's unpacked it. And I would also say anything by Phaedra. Patrick, and he is a great author. And the first book that I read by her this was one of my beach vacation finds last year. It's called The Messy Lives of Book People. 

Sucheta Kamath: Oh, I love that.

Kelly Cartwright: I read it. I don't usually read things twice. I read it twice, because there are lots of connections to make in that text. So that you need, you almost need to read it twice to get them all.

Sucheta Kamath: So lovely. Oh my god, this is so great. And thank you so much as we wrap up. So listeners, thank you again for joining us on this journey. That's all the time we have today. Thank you so much again, Kelly for being our guest. As you can see, these are such important conversations. And particularly, I can't thank you enough for really, you are one of my favorite researchers and authors who has concretized in and bridge the gap in literacy or such, particularly what executive function means to education is about impulse control or good behavior. But these more nuanced complex aspects of executive function are often left out of the conversation when we are thinking about teaching. So thank you for your work. And listeners if I know you're loving this conversation, so continue to give us feedback. Send us an email if you like. And also please leave us a review. And definitely if you love this episode, share with your friends and family because that's how they can find Kelly and her work. So thank you again, Kelly for being a guest today.

Kelly Cartwright: Thank you for having me.