Since poor readers spend significantly less time reading than skilled readers they lose opportunities to develop the vocabulary, verbal reasoning, other cognitive and language skills developed by wide reading. The consequence is the Matthew Effect or the “rich get richer” reading phenomena described by Stanovich (1986), in which good readers become more proficient in language and reading skills, whereas poor readers suffer from increasing negative effects in terms of vocabulary, comprehension, and overall cognitive development.
In the Matthew Effect a vicious cycle develops in which children without good reading skills begin to dislike reading, read less than good readers both in and out of school, and fail to develop the vocabulary promoted by reading. The development of vocabulary knowledge facilitates reading comprehension, and reading is a major mechanism leading to vocabulary growth – which in turn will enable more efficient reading. Therefore, a reciprocal relationship exists that should continue to drive further growth in reading throughout the developmental cycle.
Large ability differences were found by Allington (1984) as early as midway through first grade. In his first grade sample, the total number of words read during one week of school reading sessions ranged from a low of 16 for one of the children in the less skilled group to a high of 1,933 for one of the children in the skilled reading group. The average skilled reader read approximately three times as many words in the group reading sessions as the average less skilled reader. Nagy and Anderson (1984) estimated that “the least motivated children in the middle grades might read 100,000 words a year while the average children at this level might read 1,000,000. The figure for the voracious middle school readers might be 10,000,000 or even as high as 50,000,000. If these guesses are anywhere near the mark, there are staggering individual differences in the volume of language experience, and therefore, opportunities to learn new words. “
Stanovich (2000) explains how children who are reading well and have good vocabularies will read more, learn more word meanings, and read even better. Children with inadequate vocabularies - who read slowly and without enjoyment - read less, and as a result have slower development of vocabulary knowledge, inhibiting further growth in reading ability.
The differences in reading volume between readers of differing skill are also due to environmental correlations. Children who become better readers have selected (e.g., by choosing friends who read or choosing reading as a leisure activity), shaped (e.g., by asking for books as presents) and evoked (e.g., the parents noticed that looking at books was enjoyed or perhaps just that it kept the child quiet) an environment that will be conducive to growth in reading (Stanovich, 2000)
Allington, R.L. (1984). Content coverage and contextual reading in reading groups. Journal of Reading Behavior, 16, 85-96
Nagy, W.E., & Anderson, R.C. (1984). How many words are there in printed school English? Reading Research Quarterly, 19, 304-330
Rathvon, N. (2004). Early Reading Assessment: A Practitioner's Handbook. New York: The Guilford Press.
Stanovich, K.E. (1986). Matthew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 21, 360-407
Stanovich, K. E. (2000). Progress in understanding reading: Scientific foundations and new frontiers. New York: The Guilford Press.