Can any child get better at reading? When a child learns to read, a new world opens up. A world of information and fantasy, hidden behind those strange signs. The new world to be discovered is not just for fun.
Learning to read well is extremely important for a child’s chances. Just think of what you need to be able to read in daily life: subtitles, posts from the tax authorities, and so on.
Can any child get better at reading?
How good a person is at reading is determined by genetic factors as well as by the environment and experiences during development.
Predisposition to become good at reading alone does not say everything.
A student who does not pay attention in reading class and does not practice may not get the most out of it.
While a student with less talent who works hard and perseveres, if it doesn’t work right away, may eventually learn to read better.
Learning to read involves changes in the brain. Connections between brain cells needed for reading work better and faster if they are used more often.
Reading will therefore become faster and more automatic, the more a child reads. By practicing a lot or little, a child, therefore, influences his or her brain networks for reading.
Frequently used connections become stronger, less used connections become weaker.
This is also known as using it or losing it. That’s why a lot, a lot of practice is so important.
From ‘I can’t do it anyway’ to ‘I can’t do it yet’
Being able to read well also influences a person’s self-image, chances of a good education, and job.
A child who falls behind with reading at a young age often also has a smaller vocabulary, and can therefore also fall behind in other subjects because it is less able to internalize information.
A child for whom reading is difficult will read less, and therefore make less rapid progress. This has a lot to do with what we call mindset.
Mindset is the belief a person has about whether he or she can get better at something or not.
Children with a fixed mindset, for example, when it comes to reading, are convinced that it is almost fixed how good they are (or can become) at reading and that they have little influence on this themselves.
Students with a growth mindset do believe in their own influence on how well they can read, and in the usefulness of practice.
Scientific research shows that this last group of children is more motivated, for example, because they are less likely to give up if something doesn’t work right away.
A child with a fixed mindset is more likely to think ‘I can’t do it’, while a child with a growth mindset is more likely to think ‘I can’t do it yet’.
The influence of stereotypical expectations
‘Boys are worse at language, but better at science. There are strong stereotypes regarding boys and girls, stronger than in many other countries.
This is very unfortunate because a stereotypical image often leads to certain expectations from parents or teachers.
Those expectations can have a lot of influence. For example, a girl who isn’t very good at math might be told that it’s okay if she isn’t very good at math.
While a boy with the same progress as before is told that he must do better.
But it can also be stereotypical ideas that come from ethnic backgrounds, which sometimes causes teachers to have too low expectations of students with an immigrant background.
It has also been found that negative attitudes towards a learning disability can have consequences for students.
For example, the performance of children with dyslexia was predicted by the unconscious negative attitude of teachers. The stronger the teacher’s negative attitude towards dyslexia, the lower the spelling performance.
This was not only found for the assessment by the teacher himself, but also for the scores.
Stereotypical ideas can thus promote a fixed mindset. ‘I can’t help Eva anyway, because she has dyslexia. “I’m just not that good at reading because I’m a boy.”
Research shows that when a growth mindset is stimulated in students, they are less influenced by stereotypical expectations. As a parent or teacher, you can help your child or student by encouraging a growth mindset with your help and feedback.
For example by saying ‘you can’t do it yet’ when a child says ‘I can’t do it anyway’.
It can also help to reward effort instead of just the result, and it is not advisable to give compliments that are aimed at a fixed talent: you are good at reading.
In this way, a child can make the connection between a good result and his own efforts, such as practice, something that he or she can influence.
You can also explain to a child that a lot of practice helps the brain to get better at it, that this does not come naturally. Use it or lose it!