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Myth #2 -- Children will eventuallylearn to read if given enough time

This is the second mostpernicious myth, and it is closely related to the first.  Many whoargue that reading is natural also argue that children need to be giventime to develop their reading skills at their own pace.  This is adouble-edged sword because while it is true that children should be taughtto read in developmentally appropriate ways, and that we should alwaysaddress instruction to each child's zone of proximal development, we shouldnot simply wait for children to develop reading skills in their own time. A child who is not developing reading skills along with his or her peersis a reason for great concern.

Research has revealed an extremelydangerous phenomenon that has been dubbed the "Matthew Effect."  Theterm comes from the line in the Bible that essentially says that the richget richer and the poor get poorer.  That certainly describes whathappens as children enter school and begin learning literacy skills. Over time, the gap between children who have well developed literacy skillsand those who do not gets wider and wider.  At the early grades, the"literacy gap" is relatively easy to cross, and with diagnostic, focusedinstruction, effective teachers can help children with poor literacy skillsto become children with rich literacy skills.  However, if literacyinstruction needs are not met early, then the gap widens -- the rich getricher, and the poor get poorer until the gap gets so wide that bridgingit requires extensive, intensive, expensive and frustrating remedial instruction. The gap reaches this nearly insurmountable point very early -- researchhas shown that if a child is not reading grade-appropriate materials bythe time he or she is in the fourth grade, the odds of that child everdeveloping good reading skills are very slim.  It is still possible,but it is much more difficult, and the child's own motivation becomes thebiggest obstacle to success.


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Last Updated 8-7-03