The reading edge

Why avid readers get a major leg up in thinking skills and life in general.

Getting children off to an early, successful start in reading is important for their success as readers and also as learners. In their article, “What Reading Does for the Mind,” authors Anne Cunningham and Keith Stanovich suggest a direct and exponential correlation between reading volume and cognitive development.

Research shows that children who read a lot have better vocabularies than their peers who read little. No surprise there, but the real revelation is that the avid readers—especially those who read independently outside of school—have higher cognitive abilities, better reading ability, verbal intelligence and practical knowledge of the world. What’s more, this finding is true regardless of grade point average or test scores.

If reading volume leads to gains in cognitive ability, how can we ensure our children develop into avid readers? In a ten-year study, the authors discovered that a child’s first-grade reading and cognitive abilities predicted eleventh-grade reading volume.

Students who get off to a fast start in reading are more likely to read more over the years, and furthermore, this very act of reading can help children compensate for modest levels of cognitive ability by building their vocabulary and general knowledge. Those who read a lot will enhance their verbal intelligence; that is, reading will make them smarter.

Key messages from the research:

  • It is difficult to overstate the importance of getting children off to an early successful start in reading. We must ensure that students’ decoding and word recognition abilities are progressing solidly. Those who read well are likely to read more, thus setting an upward spiral into motion.
  • We should provide all children, regardless of their achievement levels, with as many reading experiences as possible. Indeed, this becomes doubly imperative for precisely those children whose verbal abilities are most in need of bolstering, for it is the very act of reading that can build those capacities.