Breaking Down Children’s Reading Habits
It is a question that has been around for decades – do children who read more become better readers or do better readers just choose to read more?
While the question has been answered before, Dr. Florina Erbeli, assistant professor of special education in the Department of Educational Psychology, sought to answer the question in a different way.
In line with other research, Erbeli found children chose to read based on their proficiency in reading. But she also focused on something more specific – the influence of genetic and environmental factors on children’s reading habits.
“Reading comprehension was mostly influenced by genes, whereas print exposure was mostly influenced by environment. What that means is there are factors in the environment – such as their literacy environment in the early years – that drive how much kids read,” said Erbeli.
When thinking about ways to influence the amount a child reads, Erbeli said one focus needs to be on changing something in the home or school environment.
Despite the findings of this study, Erbeli said it is important to note that this study does not answer questions directly related to reading comprehension interventions. However, this study does set the stage for future research that could have an impact on poor reading comprehension.
“We want to continue to promote the exposure to books and improve the amount of reading, but we don’t know the impact of such an intervention from this study,” said Erbeli. “The goal of a potential intervention study would be to answer the question of whether intervening on the reading comprehension side impacts print exposure.”
Importance of being a skilled reader
While Erbeli’s passion for literacy research stems from her time as a teacher, she knows the importance of being a skilled reader goes far beyond the classroom. Research has shown that, in terms of health and behavioral outcomes, skilled readers perform better as adolescents and adults.
One of Erbeli’s colleagues does research in adult literacy, specifically with incarcerated populations.
“The prevalence of those that cannot read is so much higher in these populations versus the general population,” said Erbeli. “This is one of the direct ways we see how literacy can influence other areas of life, and not just reading and writing.”
While many parents are concerned about whether their child will be at risk for reading failure, Erbeli said most risk assessments do not happen until after children begin schooling. For her, these assessments need to be happening before a child goes to school.
“There are a number of indicators that would show you, as a parent or teacher, that someone might be at risk,” said Erbeli. “For example, once they start learning letters – letter knowledge is a very strong predictor of whether someone might be at risk.”
As a parent, what can you do to give your child the best chance at literacy success?
Erbeli suggests using rich language at home and reading books to your children. Oral language has shown results in improving literacy skills.
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