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The Matthew Effect in Reading - All About ReadingDo you have a child who dislikes reading?

Would your child rather do chores than read a book? Does your child avoid reading whenever possible? When it’s time for reading lessons, are there tears or grumpiness involved?

Children who dislike reading are usually struggling readers. Just as nonathletic people tend to avoid exercise, children for whom reading doesn’t come easily tend to avoid books and everything else related to reading.

Perhaps the child can’t read because he has an undiagnosed vision problem, such as convergence deficiency disorder. Maybe the reading difficulty is caused by a learning difference, such as dyslexia. Or perhaps the child simply does not have a solid phonics base.

When a child has reading problems, it sets in motion a terrible downward spiral.

Lack of enjoyment leads to less reading practice. The child doesn’t read enough to develop automaticity …

  • which leads to reading becoming unpleasant
  • which leads to poor vocabulary growth and poor attitude toward school work
  • which affects motivation to read
  • and the downward spiral continues.

The Matthew Effect in Reading - All About Reading


Conversely, when reading comes easily to a child, it sets in motion a wonderful upward spiral.

When reading is easy for a child, he usually likes to read – and because it’s easy for him, he reads more. As a result, he develops automaticity, reading becomes even more pleasant, and he has excellent vocabulary growth. The upward spiral continues.

The Matthew Effect in Reading - All About Reading

As you can imagine, after several years the gap between children who are on the “downward spiral” and children who are on the “upward spiral” can become quite large.

There is actually a name for this gap: the Matthew effect.

As it relates to reading, the Matthew effect refers to the idea that good readers read more, causing them to become even better readers. Conversely, poor readers shy away from reading, which has a negative impact on their growth in reading ability. This causes the gap between good readers and poor readers to widen.

The Matthew effect comes from a parable told by Jesus and recorded in Matthew 25:29. The idea behind the parable eventually worked its way into the maxim, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” The term Matthew effect was first used in the scientific field to explain how, when two scientists independently do the same work, the more prominent scientist often receives the credit for work done by the lesser known scientist. Later, cognitive science researcher Keith Stanovich1 applied the term Matthew effect to reading when he observed the effect that poor reading skills has on all areas of a student’s academic life.

Children who are good readers experience more success, and they are encouraged by that success to read more. As they become even more successful at reading, their vocabulary and comprehension grows, which often leads to greater success in all academic areas. On the other hand, readers who struggle at decoding are less likely to want to pick up a book. They get much less practice and fall behind – often way behind – their peers. They fall behind not only in reading and spelling, but also in other content areas such as history and science.

This chart shows how the gap between good readers and poor readers widens as time goes on.

The Matthew Effect in Reading - All About Reading

What can you do if your child struggles with reading?

The Matthew effect has such a strong negative impact on poor readers that the sooner you can intervene, the better. There are three ways you can help your reluctant reader, starting now:

  1. Teach your child how to read using an explicit phonics method such as All About Reading. In Anna Gillingham’s words, “go as fast as you can, but as slowly as you must.”
  2. Read aloud to your child every day. Hearing good literature will help your child develop vocabulary and comprehension, even while he is learning to read on his own.
  3. Encourage independent reading. Help your student select books that are at the right reading level for him and contain topics that interest him.

Above all, don’t get discouraged and don’t give up. Reading affects all other academic areas, so it is important to get your child the help he needs. If your child is struggling, please know that we are here to help.

Do you have a child who avoids reading? Let us know in the comments below.

Free report -

1 Stanovich, Keith E. (1986). Matthew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 22, 360-407.


All About Reading - Giveaway from All About Learning PressEnter to win an All About Reading level of your choice!

All About Reading is a fun and engaging program that starts with essential pre-reading skills and continues on to teach all five key components of reading. It contains everything your student needs to become a fluent reader for life!

If you have a pre-reader, start with the pre-reading program. For older children, be sure to check out the reading placement tests to help determine the best level for your child. Read On »

Flat Ziggy's Summer Reading Adventure - All About Learning PressIt’s almost July, and for many that means school is out for the summer!

Summer is a time for fun. It’s a time for swimming, biking, vacations, picnics—and adventure!

But summer shouldn’t be a time to stop reading, and Ziggy is here to help make sure your kids don’t forget to add reading to their summer fun list.

So who is Ziggy?

The Zigzag Zebra (affectionately known as Ziggy) is a familiar face to users of our pre-reading program, but for those of you who have never met him, you’ll soon discover that Ziggy is a young zebra who loves to read right alongside young students. He is a supportive friend for beginning readers, and he loves to have a good time as he helps kids learn.Read On »

Real Moms, Real Kids: How AAS Saved My Dyslexic SonHave you ever felt like you needed a miracle? You’ve exhausted all avenues, but you can’t give up—because it’s your child. Your child can’t read or spell. The school system has let him down and it feels like the world has let him down—but you won’t let him down. Even so, a miracle would be nice because you don’t know what to do next.

If you have ever felt the desperation that comes from watching your child fail in such a critical subject area, and if you have ever feared for your child’s future, then you will relate to Heather Cole’s story. I know I did. Read On »

D Is for Dynamic Dads - An ABC Snack from All About ReadingDad’s special day is almost here, and in honor of dynamic dads everywhere, we’ve got an extra special snack to share with you!

All our ABC Snacks recipes are fun to create and tasty to eat, but this one takes the cake! The fun part is that this isn’t just a snack to make for dad…we want you to make it look like dad!

Your kids can get their creative juices flowing, because unlike the rest of our snacks, this one doesn’t have a recipe to follow. The ingredients are up to you. Read On »

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Discover the Homophone Machine - All About Learning Press

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Real Moms, Real Kids: Organizing AAR with Lexi Henegar

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