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The Matthew Effect in Early Reading

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Have you heard of the Matthew Effect?

It’s a concept that references a Bible verse that basically says the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Matthew 25:29

Keith Stanovich is a lead researcher about the Matthew Effect in Reading. Stanovich describes a phenomenon in how new readers acquire the skills to read: early success in acquiring reading skills usually leads to later successes in reading as the learner grows. On the opposite side, failing to learn to read before the third or fourth year of schooling may be indicative of lifelong problems in learning new skills.

The Matthew Effect was originally an economic concept that is also applied to education and other fields. I first saw it 20 years ago when I started teaching, but have been reminded of it recently as I look at the learners in my classroom who just need more time and attention. By time, I don’t mean a longer time (like period of months), I mean time throughout the day (like RtI or intervention).

What Is the Matthew Effect in Education?

Keith Stanovich is a lead researcher about the Matthew Effect in Reading. Stanovich describes a phenomenon in how new readers acquire the skills to read: early success in acquiring reading skills usually leads to later successes in reading as the learner grows. On the opposite side, failing to learn to read before the third or fourth year of schooling may be indicative of lifelong problems in learning new skills. Children who fall behind in reading read less and thus acquire less information and new skills, widening the gap between them and their peers.

Here is a great article outlining the Matthew Effect and its application to education. Read to the end of the article for suggestions that teachers can avoid the Matthew Effect in the classroom. Here is another article from Reading Research Quarterly written by Stanovich. This article was one of my first introductions to the concepts.

Video by Stanovich about the Matthew Effect

This video by Stanovich also explains the research behind the Matthew Effect

Why Should Teachers Know About the Matthew Effect?

For students who have difficulty reading, early, consistent, and intensive reading intervention is key to their success. If students get targeted intervention in the early years they can learn to read and narrow the achievement gap.

What teachers do in their early elementary classrooms has a profound effect on the achievement of students.

How can Teachers Influence the Matthew Effect

There are a number of ways, including direct instruction in phonics, phonemic awareness, and other reading intervention strategies. Along with these specific reading strategies, teachers can work with parents, encourage word exposure through read alouds and rhymes, and garner community resources to surround students in an language rich academic environment at school and at home.

More Early Reading Resources

Here are a few more blog posts and resources that might enhance your teaching of early readers. These posts include resources about phonics, phonemic awareness, and other early reading ideas.

The Matthew Effect in Early Reading

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