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Is the “Matthew Effect” Affecting Your Child’s Desire to Read?

Does your child dislike 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, struggling readers tend to avoid books and everything else related to reading.

The Downward Spiral

Reading difficulties can be caused by many factors, including vision problems, learning differences such as dyslexia, or the lack of a solid phonics base. Whatever the cause, when a child has reading problems, it sets in motion a terrible downward spiral.

Downward spiral infographic dipicting the negative Matthew effect

It makes sense: when your child dislikes reading, he doesn’t get enough practice. Without practice, he doesn’t develop automaticity, and reading becomes hard—which leads to even less practice.

The Upward Spiral

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.

Upward spiral infographic dipicting the positive Matthew effect

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.

This Is 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 can have 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.

Graph showing gap between good readers and poor readers caused by the Matthew Effect widens as time goes on

How to Help Your Struggling Reader

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 reading outside of school. 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 - '20 Best Tips for Teaching Reading and Spelling'

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.

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CARIN BOSMAN

says:

These are the most practical tips ever. Thank you

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Carin!

Amissa

says:

My 7 year old daughter loves to be read to but HATES reading herself. She will avoid it completely if she can. Since switching to All About Reading she has made improvement in abily and attitude (most days at least).

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m very pleased to hear your child is improving with All About reading, Amissa! Thank you for sharing that.

Melissa Cornelius

says:

We believe our 13yo son is dyslexic. He is working with an O/G tutor and has improved, however I am seeing some gaps. He is still guessing words and missing basic stuff. I am not sure where to place him with the reading program. I printed the placement tests, but I am still not confident it my assessment. I don’t want to discourage him by starting with Level 1. He hasn’t been tested/evaluated yet. Should I wait until the evaluation before purchasing AAR? I now for sure he needs to start with AAS Level 1. Oh, I am so overwhelmed!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Melissa,
I think you can work with All About Spelling level 1 and the tips and ideas in our Break the “Word Guessing” Habit blog post to help your son.

When students start to have success with reading, they may find they like how quick and easy it is to just “know” a word, that is reading it fluently. So they will often try to “know” words they really don’t know and will guess. Often, having a student read aloud to you daily and requiring him to not guess but to sound out words goes a long way toward breaking the word guessing habit.

And the phonograms and rules taught in All About Spelling will fill any basic gaps he may have.

However, if you do want to use All About Reading with him as well, use our placement tests and place him according to that. I would not recommend starting him on level 1 unless he has trouble with the level 2 placement test.

Melanie

says:

Hello my son is struggling with reading and is in 4th grade. We’ve started on level 1, but he still just has challenges and doesn’t want to do anything revolving reading.
I would appreciate any help!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Melanie,
I’m very happy to help you. How has it been going in All About Reading level 1? What lesson are you on? Is your son able to sound out the words without difficulties? How are the stories going? Is he gaining fluency and smoothness in his reading? In what ways is he having challenges?

You can email me at support@allaboutlearningpress.com, if you prefer to take this conversation private. Ask for Robin.

When an older student has struggled for some time, they may remain resistant to reading for a while. Until they learn enough that they start to gain skill and confidence in reading, it will still something that is preferrable to avoid. Most people will avoid things that are difficult and that they have not been successful at for years. It is understandable.

But keep up the 20 minutes a day 5 days a week work. With consistent instruction and practice, change will occur.

Do let me know exactly in what way he is challenged. I’m very interested in helping you to help your son have success with reading!

Maggie

says:

I think we are going to give all about reading a shot this year. I have only used all about spelling with my older kids, and just read books. My youngest is dyslexic and really struggling. Hoping a new program will help.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Maggie,
Please let me know if you have questions, need help with placement, or anything else.

Tanya

says:

My son is struggling with level 2 and therefore isn’t excited about when we start the lessons each day.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Tanya,
I would love to help you help your son feel more excited, or at least dread less, about his daily reading lessons. In what ways is he struggling with level 2?

He may need to go back to where he is successful with reading and then move forward more slowly so that it isn’t a struggle. However, without knowing details of his struggles, I can’t say for sure. If you prefer, you can reach me privately by email at support@allaboutlearningpress.com. Ask for Robin.

Raquel

says:

This describes my kid perfectly.

Brittney

says:

My son is not the biggest fan of reading and struggles trying to read, which is disheartening to me as a mom who absolutely loves to read and will choose to read in every free chance I get. We’re slowly working on improving and I know with patience he will get it and eventually enjoy it.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Brittney,
When reading is still a struggle, it is too hard to be enjoyed. Addressing those struggles is the best thing that can be done to help such children learn to appreciate reading.

Please let me know if you need anything or have questions.

Ashelley

says:

I had a children who dreaded to read, but little by little the more engaging and consistent we have made lessons the more he felt better at completing lessons!

Thank you for these tips!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are welcome, Ashelley. I am pleased to hear that consistent work with engaging lessons has helped your son to feel better about reading. That is a first step toward becoming a confident reader!

Sherry

says:

I have seen the Matthew Effect several times in kids, just didn’t know that it had a name. So, are you saying, that even if a child sees it as complete drudgery, if they keep at it, they will start seeing an upward spiral? We are using AAR and AAS with two dyslexic kids, ages 6 and 7. Both are starting to see improvements, but we are still at the drudgery stage, especially with the 7 year old. We are also playing lots of games with “sight words “ hoping that will help with some fluency. He enjoys the games, but it is truly hard work!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sherry,
Basically, yes. Since you are addressing their reading difficulties with All About Reading, if you keep at it consistently your children will start to spiral upward.

But, it can take a while for a student that has struggled to change his or her mind about reading. For example, my son struggled greatly and he was 12 before he could read on grade level (this was before All About Reading was published). I kept him reading for 20 to 30 minutes a day at least 5 days a week even though he didn’t enjoy it. He got through a lot of books in those years, some I chose and some he chose, but he pretty much never read more than the assigned amount until he was 15. Then, suddenly, he kept reading for most of a day to finish a book he was enjoying (it was Ender’s Game). Since then he has been happy to read and will read in his free time, although he is more likely to read a book for information (like building a backyard forge for blacksmithing) than he is to read a novel.

Regarding working on sight words to build fluency. For many students that isn’t as effective as it may seem. First, it increases the likelihood that students will develop a word guessing habit as they try to know words on sight. Second, memorization is often very difficult for dyslexic students (and others). It is very hard work for them to memorize even a few words. It is often best to stick to the few words that truly need to be memorized because they are not able to be sounded out. Our Sight Words: What You Need to Know article may be useful for you.

As long as your children are able to sound the words out in All About Reading without difficulties, they are doing well. Students may need to read a word thirty times or more before they can read it fluently without having to sound it out! So, just know that some beginning readers do need a lot of practice and review. Here’s an article on How to Develop Reading Fluency that can help you understand the overall scope of achieving fluency.

Some ideas that can help:

The Change-the-Word activities are especially helpful for working on blending and paying attention to ALL sounds in a word. Change one letter at a time, starting with simple 3-sound words like: bat-sat-sit-sip-tip-top…and so on. They are also really helpful for working on consonant blends when you get to those lessons. You can play this activity more often than scheduled in AAR.

The Word Cards allow you to track what has been mastered and what still needs work. Keep word cards in daily review until your students can read them easily, without needing to sound them out. Here are some fun review ideas for word cards. The word cards will stack up as you go so just rotate through a portion for 2-3 minutes each day and then pick up in the book wherever you left off previously. And here’s a fun little video explaining what to do when the cards stack up.

The fluency practice pages can be re-used as well. You might enjoy our 16 Ways to Make Practice Sheets Fun. (And check out the comments as well, lots of fun suggestions in there!)

Students who struggle with fluency will also benefit from rereading the same story two or three days in a row to gain fluency and confidence. Buddy Reading can be very powerful in helping students who are in this stage of struggling with fluency.

Rereading the stories will help accomplish these goals:
– Increase word rate
– Improve prosody. Prosody is “expressive reading.” It involves phrasing (grouping words into meaningful phrases), emphasis, and intonation (raising pitch at the end of questions, lowering pitch at the end of sentences)
– Improve automaticity (be able to recognize most words automatically without having to sound them out each time)
Here’s more help with Overcoming Obstacles when Reading AAR Stories.

You can also do a variation of buddy reading called “echo reading.” You read a few sentences with full expression, and then your child reads the same sentences, matching your expression as close as possible. Do this for approximately five minutes a day, or whatever is a comfortable length of time for your child. Add in lots of praise when your child shows even a bit of improvement.

The “Fun with Emojis” article gives an enjoyable way to work on reading with expression too. This can be a great way to make reading fun that also sneaks in some extra practice from the fluency pages or readers. Check out Reading with Expression for this activity and others.

Sherry

says:

Thank you for your detailed response! Lots of good suggestions for us to start. We do love this program and all the support you provide.

Erin

says:

I have a fifth grader with mild dyslexia who has fallen through the cracks at school for years. I’m now homeschooling and trying to “Fix” the neglected areas and poor learned reading skills. We are incorporating lots of reading and trying to find the joy in it. I’m also using some O-G programs to help her succeed.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Erin,
We have a Dyslexia Resources page that I think you will find helpful. Please let me know if you have any questions or need help with anything!

Kristi B

says:

I have one child that loves reading, can’t get enough! He’s excelling quickly. I have another child that would do anything if it meant he didn’t have to read. If given an option on what book to read, he picks the one that will take him the shortest time. No enjoyment for him. I’m thankful for these blogs, good information!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Kristi,
Keep having your child read daily for 20 minutes or so. Set a timer so he knows when he can be done. If he picks a book he can finish faster than that, make him pick another. This may encourage him to choose longer books, as he won’t feel like he has to finish one before stopping for the day. If it is just reluctance and he doesn’t have any reading struggles, he will find reading less and less a chore as he practices it daily. In time, he may even continue to read after the timer because he is enjoying it!

Amanda

says:

Thanks for sharing this. I really do think that morning should be enjoyable for kids as much as possible.

Teresa

says:

My twin boys were definitely on a downward spiral. It was until we started using All About Reading that they started to enjoy reading. It’s been a game changer!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

This is so wonderful to hear, Teresa! We love when children spiral up and up in their read!

Abigail

says:

I am homeschooling my daughter this year after she reached the point of crying when faced with any reading tasks last year in KINDERGARTEN! We have suspected dyslexia for years due to her difficulties in learning and in preschool, as well as having Apraxia, but a kindergartener who says she HATES reading and cries when even talking about reading?! (Our pediatrician asked her how learning to read was going at her yearly checkup and she cried just being asked about it!) NO. WAY. We are trying to stop this now because no kindergartener should hate reading. We do not want this downward spiral to continue! I did not know it had a name, but the info in this post was really helpful. My daughter cried the first 3 days of AAR but no tears since then, so we are making some progress (she still says she hates reading and huffs and puffs about having to do it, but at least no tears). She still loves being read to at least, which we do every day. But reading is SO HARD for her to do herself. We are hoping AAR will be the right thing for her to see success!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Oh, your poor dear child, Abigail!

Did your daughter complete the Pre-reading level before starting AAR 1? If yes, how did she do with the Language Exploration activities in each Lesson? If not, did you go over the AAR 1 placement test before deciding to use AAR 1?

I ask because one of the most common reasons a young child comes to tears and learns to hate reading so early is because he or she does not have the foundational Reading Readiness Skills necessary for reading success. It is often assumed that knowing letters and their sounds is enough, but it isn’t always.

Phonological awareness, one of the 5 reading readiness skills, is the ability to hear and manipulate the individual sounds of language, and children that aren’t strong in phonological awareness can struggle greatly with blending sounds into words. Many children will develop phonological awareness skills on their own, but other children need to be explicitly taught how to hear and manipulate sounds.

If your child isn’t strong in this area, spend time building up her phonological awareness skills. Our Fun Ways to Develop Phonological Awareness blog post has fun downloadable activities to help with this. In addition, the Pre-reading level makes it easy to work on these skills, as it has a fun activity in every lesson planned for you. These “Language Exploration” activities slowly build in difficulty as you progress through the lessons.

Regardless if your daughter needs to build up her reading readiness skills or not, do everything you can to keep reading time fun and light! Going through the Pre-reading level, even if it is mostly review, is one way to do this. Also, while we typically recommend working on reading for 20 minutes a day, in this case feel free to drop it to just 10 to 15 minutes a day if needed. Progress will be made in the consistency of daily lessons and not in any one day anyway.

Also, play lots of games. When in doubt, check our blog! We have lots of fun games here with more coming regularly. The fluency practice sheets can be particularly trying for students, so check out our 16 Ways to Make Practice Sheets Fun blog post for lots of ideas. Basically, go out of your way to make it playful learning. Whenever you see her getting a little frustrated, go back to something easy, even repeating a favorite activity from a previous lesson, so you can end the day’s reading on a happy note.

If at any time you need more ideas or have questions or concerns, just ask. I’m very interested in helping you help your daughter learn to love reading!

Maryam

says:

My 9 year old son is developmentally delayed. He enjoys being read too and can read some 2 and 3 letter words but it takes him longer to memorize words and he sometimes doesn’t feel up to putting in the effort to read himself.
He has a speech delay and I think it would help him to read words more easily if he were taught where letter sounds come from, does this program do that?
Is there a reward system that this program uses to encourage students to read?
I appreciate your help!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Maryam,
All About Reading has proven itself successful for students with a wide variety of learning struggles.

One reward system that All About Reading employs is a progress chart and stickers to mark progress through the program. It seems simple, but a progress chart is highly motivating for students.

But more than anything, All About Reading encourages students to read by keeping the lessons short and fun. We recommend working on reading instruction for just 20 minutes a day 5 days a week. Short lessons allow students to work with high focus throughout the entire lesson, and also to not dread each lesson. In addition, each lesson contains either a fun activity or an interesting 100% decodable story. This Reading Activity Bundle contains activities from the various levels so you can see what they are like.

In addition, we have a number of sample lessons for each level available on our Resources for Teaching at Home blog post.

I’m not sure what you are asking about in regards to where letter sounds come from. If you are asking about teaching students that the soft C sound (when it says /s/) comes to us from Latin and the hard C sound (when it says /k/) is from Old English or Germanic roots, no. All About Reading does not do that. That level of knowledge is not helpful for a student just learning how to read simple words like cut and kit. That level of knowledge may be interesting, but it isn’t overly helpful for students reading on a college level either.

However, if you mean does All About Reading teach phonograms and all the sounds that each phonogram makes, then yes. That is a major focus of our programs. Students will learn by the end of All About Reading level 1 that the letter C says two sounds, /k/ and /s/. The letter E also has two sounds, O and Y have four sounds, and the other vowels have three sound each. Our blog post How to Teach Phonograms discusses phonograms, how All About Reading teaches them, and includes a link to our free Phonogram Sounds app.

All About Reading also teaches students reliable rules so students know what sounds to use to sound words out. For example, the The Kids’ Club Rule allows students to know when C will say it’s soft /s/ sound. However, All About Reading avoids unreliable rules. An example of a “rule” often taught that All About Reading avoids because it is unreliable is the When Two Vowels Go Walking rule.

Lastly, I would like you to know that we offer a one-year money-back “Go Ahead and Use It” guarantee. If you decide to order All About Reading from us and find it is not a good fit for your student, you can return it up to a year from your purchase date, even if it is used.

Please let me know if you have additional questions or need more information. We have placement tests to help you determine the correct starting level. However, considering the age of your student, if you find he is not ready for All About Reading level 1, let me know. I may be able to help you build up his foundational Reading Readiness Skills without using the Pre-reading level.

Audree

says:

Yes my child struggles to read. He has a great vocabulary and actually started using big words at a young age. He is not good at spelling. He is interested in reading and brings home numerous books from library but never reads them. He should be in 6vor 7th grade but going in 5..he is 12 ..help

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Audee,
Often older students that struggle with reading do so because they have gaps in foundational knowledge that will allow them to be successful in reading. All About Reading is specifically designed to teach without gaps and to take the struggle out of reading.

Here are a couple of blog posts you may find helpful:
The “No Gaps” Approach to Reading and Spelling
10 Tips for Reaching Your Struggling Learner
Signs of a Reading Problem

Please let me know if you have specific questions or need more information or help with placement.

Stephanie J.

says:

Thanks for all the great tips!

Carley

says:

I am so thankful for AAR! It makes reading FUN!!!

INGRID GONZALEZ

says:

I am about to embark on this journey of homeschooling and so far this curriculum has been a blessing , easy to understand and my DD loves it. can wait to start with youngest Daughter too.

Sherry Mccarty

says:

This would help my boys.

Samantha Wu

says:

This is true

Jennifer C.

says:

I always learn something new every time I read one of your posts.

Amanda Buron

says:

My daughter doesn’t have any problems reading, she’s just rather be out in Nature, playing Barbies, anything except reading. I even allow her to pick her own books to read.

Shannah Hudson

says:

This is definitely my 9 year old. She has dyslexia and is struggling with spelling and reading.

Heather Troupe

says:

I think this would help my daughter.

Etolia Crawford

says:

This makes sense!

Robyn

says:

I am working with my kindergartener to try to get her excited to learn to read, she loves listening to books and hearing stories but her lack of confidence makes her hesitate when I try to encourage her own reading. I love helpful posts like this that give ideas and encouragement as well as practical advice!

Kellie Carlson

says:

Both my kids avoid reading and I will be starting homeschooling for the first time this year with a 4th grader and a 2nd grader. I’m trying to find the best curriculum for them and this one is looking more and more like this one will be our answer.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Do you have any questions or need more information, Kellie? Just let me know!

Kellie

says:

I have children who have been both great readers and ones who struggled with reading. The Mathews effect makes great sense for parents and helps them turn those who struggle with reading into great readers.

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