Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Matthew Effect

This idea, the Matthew Effect, has been haunting me.  I want every parent of a struggling reader to LISTEN UP!!   The Matthew Effect in reading was named for the verse in Matthew 25:29 that reads, "For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath."  Essentially, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

According to the Matthew Effect, first called this by Keith Stanovich, the "rich" are the learners who excel in literacy early on, and the "poor" are those who do not, or the "haves" and the "have nots".  In the very early years, reading assessments will show a small difference in literacy foundations.  Each year, however, the gap in learning will become wider and wider.  Third grade is an essential year for the Matthew Effect.  Educators often call this the last year of "learning to read".  The gap will be significant by this point.  By fourth grade, these students will be considered as "reading to learn".  After the fourth grade year, most of these "have nots" will never be able to catch up.  {{NEVER BE ABLE TO CATCH UP}}.  The thought of a child not ever being able to catch up terrifies me.  This child will become an adult.  This gap will become wider.  This person will feel more and more inferior as the gap gets wider and wider.   What kind of child are we raising when this happens? How "poor" will this child become?

As a teacher, I see the basis of this every single day.  The "rich" beam with pride over their accomplishments.  They rack up points and check off the boxes of achievements.  They attend ice cream parties for their good grades and rack up AR points and incentives along the way.  Their names are displayed in class boasting their achievements.  They get free burgers, personal pizzas, and tokens for games at local restaurants.  They get gold cords at graduation. They have no reason to pat themselves on the back.  They have been applauded abundantly by society.  Their accomplishments are obvious just by walking in the classroom and seeing the rows of stars displayed beside their names.  How very rewarding.  These children will become "richer" and "richer" as they glide along in their euphoria. They read more and more and continue to be encouraged.

Meanwhile, in the far corner of the room {{or sitting right by the teacher}}, there is a child who is getting "poorer" and "poorer" every single day.  This child has been in intervention since pre-k, but the intervention hasn't helped much. This kid hates to read because he will never collect stars by his name. He is called out of class daily to go to Mrs. Daigle's room.  Everyone knows that Mrs. Daigle helps kids who are stupid and can't read.  When he has to read in class, the "rich" sigh and stare at him as he sounds out each word, or they spew the words at him before he has two seconds to sound... them... out. When the teacher asks questions about what he just read, he can't answer.  He worked so hard just reading, that he didn't get any of the meaning.  He forgot he was supposed to remember what he read.  She makes him read it again. It doesn't help. It never helps. During library, he stares at the shelves for 40 minutes.  Any book he can check out and read will look like a baby book.  He wants to read chapter books like the "haves".  He checks out big books and pretends to read them.  Maybe they won't notice that he can't read it.  But they do. He's only earned one star beside his name on the chart, and everyone can see how dumb he is the second they enter the room.  He quit trying to earn AR prizes or incentives because he can't possibly win.  What's the use?  He sits in class and draws while the honor roll students go to the "honor roll party" in the gym each term.

The "have not" struggles all day long.  Since he can't read well, he can't read his science or social studies textbook to answer the assigned questions.  He usually pretends he doesn't care about the assignment....but it's better than saying, "I read it three times, and I'm too dumb to understand it." He reads less and less.  Reading for enjoyment is a thing of the past. When he gets home from school, he is exhausted, but he still has homework.  Seriously.  He has worked so hard all day long, and he has to go home and continue working...for hours.  His parents are tired and work harder than most parents with him each night just so he can pass.  He can't play basketball, and he {{LOVES}} basketball.  He's actually GREAT at basketball.  But, playing any sport takes away from the time he spends studying or finishing homework, so his parents won't let him play.  He works harder than the "honor roll" students.  He has to. He doesn't get stars for his work.  He doesn't get free ice cream, or tokens, or pizza, or anything.  At all. Ever.  He prays to get a C, maybe a B.  He doesn't even consider an A is possible.  He's too dumb.  He NEVER reads a book by choice.  Who has time for that?  Reading is not fun, anyway.

So, the gap increases each year.  After 4th grade, there is very little intervention taking place. School is hard, and it only gets harder as the pace increases and fewer people take the time to slow down for you.  The Matthew Effect can be blamed for students who drop out of school and students who think college is impossible.  Why would anyone CHOOSE more school? 
I don't have a solution for this problem, just a plea.  If your child seems to be reading below grade level in the early elementary years, please do something.  Seek intervention, hire a tutor, do something.  I know you think he will catch up, but chances are, he will not...ever. 


Questions regarding your child?? Want me to write about a specific topic? email me!