Anyone who is familiar with the Seeing Stars® program knows how critical the process of Airwriting is to developing symbol imagery for reading. After hearing a feature article on NPR and doing some research on the motor cortex, it seems likely that Airwriting provides stimulation to the part of the frontal lobe of the brain that controls voluntary movement and, in particular, reading and writing.
The NPR piece introduced the story of a writer named Howard Engel who lost his ability to read due to a stroke that impaired his visual cortex. Suddenly, all writing looked like gibberish. He had lost his ability to make sense of the shape of letters and words. However, Engel could still write and, quite bizarrely, could understand what he had written. Over time, he discovered he could understand printed words if he traced the letters of each word with his finger, mimicking the motions of writing.
This story intrigues me because of the connections I see between Engel’s word tracing and the Airwriting tasks I give my students. I also found research that shows the part of the motor cortex assigned to hand movements have a strong association with the language processing parts of the brain as well. Thus, the act of writing a word in the air strengthens the student’s motor and visual processing.
We know that students experiencing learning difficulties often benefit from multi-sensory approaches that help train the brain to interact with language stimulus in more productive ways. I have lots of anecdotal evidence that Airwriting helps develop and improve students’ reading accuracy and always assumed it only helped strengthen symbol imagery. How exciting to learn that Airwriting likely helps students’ brain connect the motor cortex to the language processing parts of the brain in a way that mimics natural reading skills.