Reading And the Mind
The cognitive consequences of reading extend beyond its immediate task of giving meaning to a particular passage. The consequences of giving meaning are reciprocal and exponential in nature. Accumulated over time they carry profound implications for the development of a wide range of cognitive capabilities.

The reciprocal influences of reading achievement are so profound over a period of time that the good get better and the slow become slower something like the rich-get-richer and poor-get-poorer phenomenon.

Against this concept, we see that very early in the reading process poor readers, who experience greater difficulty in breaking the spelling- to-sound code, begin to shun reading as an activity and gradually are exposed to lesser and lesser text than their more skilled peers.

Further exacerbating the problem is the fact that the less-skilled reader will often find himself saddled with text and material that is difficult and gradually becomes impossible to read and comprehend.

The combination of deficient decoding skills, lack of practice, and difficult text material results in unrewarding early reading experiences that lead to lesser and lesser involvement of the child in reading-related activities. Lack of exposure and practice on the part of the child who then shuns reading delays the development of automaticity and speed at the word recognition level. Slow, capacity-draining word recognition processes require cognitive resources that should be allocated to comprehension. Thus, reading for meaning is hindered; unrewarding reading experiences multiply; and practice is avoided or merely tolerated without real cognitive involvement.

This disparity in the reading experiences of children will lead to other consequences for their future reading and cognitive development.

For a child who is on the road to learn to read, his skill set will develop with greater amount of text that he is exposed to and the recognition of words and text will become less resource demanding and more automatic.

Eventually as text becomes more complex, general language skills, such as vocabulary, background knowledge, familiarity with complex syntactic structures, etc., become the limiting factor on reading and the actual reading ability of the child.

Between the child who becomes a better reader and the child who struggles to read in Grades II, Grades III and upto to Grade V, the sheer volume of reading done by the better reader has the potential to provide a cognitive boost - as reading wide and deep serves to develop these very skills and knowledge bases.

This then can mean that many cognitive differences observed between readers of differing skill may in fact be consequences of differential practice that itself resulted from early differences in the speed of initial reading acquisition. The increased reading experiences of children who master the spelling-to-sound code early by class II and upto Class V - thus might have important positive feedback effects that are denied the slowly progressing reader creating a long term disparity of cognitive skills, behavioral habits, and background variables.

The reason that reading volume is a particularly effective way of expanding a child’s vocabulary arises from the differences in the statistical distributions of words that have been found between print and oral language.

In certain very important cognitive domains, there are strong reasons to expect a positive and unique effect of better reading. For example where vocabulary development is concerned- the vocabulary growth during a child’s lifetime occurs through exposure to language rather than through direct teaching in the school or home. So the more a child reads, the better he becomes and the greater the vocabulary depth and width he attains.

The reading volume, which is the ‘amount’ of reading done rather than oral language, is the prime contributor to individual differences in the vocabulary of a child.

Language is lexically impoverished as compared to written language. With the average frequency of the words in samples of oral speech being quite low.

Children’s books are written in such a manner that there is a relative rarity of words, which is greater than that in all of an adult conversation.

This relative difference in word rarity has direct implications for vocabulary development. As most vocabulary is acquired outside of formal schoolroom teaching, then the only opportunity to acquire new words occur when a child is exposed to a word in written or oral language that is outside his/her current vocabulary. That this will happen only while reading rather than while talking or watching television.

So if parents want that their child’s vocabulary should show growth then after the pre - primary school is over, and when children are promoted to Classes II and above children must be exposed to words that are rare and new as much as possible and, it is print that provides many more such word-learning opportunities.

Books where a child has to physically read the text have over fifty percent more rare words in them. These newer words stimulate the brain to develop a vast base of vocabulary. Any activity that does not include actual reading of text and which purports to engage the mind is not sufficient- and for vocabulary to increase a child has to read and read extensively.

A substantial number of parents share how they read to their child every night. Reading to a child is a good habit, but reading to a child without involving the child in following the text using his own finger is not sufficient. Humans are evolutionarily programmed to hear, but to reading has to be learnt.

When a child reads extensively from text, he/she develops the lexical tools, which are required in attaining one's goals in an advanced society. Between children, who go on to become good readers and those children who do not develop good reading skills, it is this large difference in the lexical richness which exists between speech and print which is a major source of the difference in vocabulary development.

As an example, if we take the child, who is in class III, and about to move onto a higher class, the difference between being a good reader and a poor reader, will be the extra 30 minutes that the good reader spends on an everyday basis to read text which is rich in new and rare words.

To put it even more simply, a child on the 85th percentile of reading evolution, would be reading about 20 times as much as a child on the 15th percentile. Using the same platform, the average child in the high 98th percentile reads almost 2,000,000 words per year outside of school, more than 200 times more words than the child at the 10th percentile, who reads just around 8000 words outside of school during that year. To put it even more glaringly, the entire years out of school or reading for the child in the bottom 10th percentile amounts to just two days reading for the child in the high 95th percentile.

The Dyslexia Association of India™, encourages children to read as much as they can within the school context as well as in the out of school scenario, as the unique contribution that independent or out of school reading makes toward reading ability, aspects of verbal intelligence, and general knowledge about the world, is a crucial measure of success and a very potent source of the rich get richer and poor get poorer achievement pattern.

In fact now, it is an established factor, that when performance is statistically equated for reading comprehension and general ability, reading volume is still a very powerful predictor of vocabulary and knowledge differences. Therefore reading volume is not simply an indirect indicator of the ability; it is actually a potentially separable, independent source of cognitive difference between children.

How does an early attempt by a child who tries to read text impact on the learning ability of the particular child as the child grows? We all know that good decoding skills are required for fluent reading. Decoding skills might mediate a relationship between reading volume and a variable like vocabulary size in numerous ways. High levels of decoding skill, certainly a contributor to greater reading volume, might provide a relatively complete context for figuring out the meaning of words during reading. Therefore reading volume and vocabulary might be linked via their connection to decoding ability. Children who are good decoders read a lot and have the best context available for inferring new words. On the whole it seems that even if we account for general intelligence and decoding ability, the amount of text read and reading volume contribute significantly and independently to vocabulary knowledge in children who are in class III-V.

This conclusively leads us to understand that reading volume, although clearly a consequence of developed reading ability, is itself a significant contributor to the development of other aspects of verbal intelligence. Also there are grounds for believing that the reading volume facilitates growth in comprehension ability, general knowledge, spelling, and verbal fluency.

As children transition from primary school into middle school, children go from learning to read to reading to learn. It is here that the reading volume can predict individual differences in growth in reading comprehension along with a variance in the academic and cognitive output of the child.

There is a reciprocal relationship between reading volume and comprehension ability. The greater the reading volume the higher the comprehension ability of the child. If we consider a child, who is an class I, and assess the speed of the initial reading acquisition for this child, we can to a large extent predict later tendencies to engage and reading activities being on a higher scale when the same child reaches class XI, even after differences in general cognitive abilities are considered. The contribution of three standardised measures of class I reading ability, which are decoding, word recognition, and comprehension, predict the reading volume for the same child when he reaches class XI. In fact we now believe, that if a child of average intellectual ability was to indulge in more out of school reading, this particular child would be able to overcome cognitive bottlenecks which a child with high intellectual ability would not be able to overcome if the better equipped child was not involved in extensive reading - in-school and out of school. In fact we can say that the intelligence we find in a child in class I does not uniquely predict the reading volume that this particular child will attain when he was she reaches class XI. Therefore an early start in reading is important in predicting a lifetime of literacy experience – and this is true regardless of the level of reading comprehension ability that the child eventually attendance.

This is something that parents should appreciate because it means that when a child begins to read at an early age, she is more likely to read more over the year's, and, furthermore, this very act of reading can help the child compensate for modest levels of cognitive ability by building her vocabulary and general knowledge. Ability is not the only variable that counts in the development of intellectual functioning. Children who read a lot, and who begin to read as soon as possible, will eventually cause to enhance their verbal intelligence; That is, reading and reading more will make them smarter.

Early success at reading acquisition is one of the keys that unlocks a lifetime of reading habits. The subsequent exercise of this habit serves to further develop the reading comprehension ability in the child in a positive and reciprocal way. The more at ease a child is with the reading and the greater the volume of text he or she can read in a single sitting the faster the child will be able to enter into a positive feedback loop, leading to a level of participation in literacy activities that sets the trend to a lifetime habit of reading - which will then subsequently set the stage for future opportunities - opportunities that will not be enjoyed by children who enter into this reciprocal relationship more slowly.

The crucial message that any parent of a child can take away from this, is that it is difficult to overstate the importance of getting the child off to an early successful start in reading and that we must ensure that the child's decoding and word recognition abilities are progressing on a solid foundation. Children who read well, begin earlier, read extensively, read their school books, take the pain to do out of school and reading, and increase the breadth of their vocabulary knowledge set in motion an upward spiral of enhanced cognitive abilities which are the precursor to academic excellence and eventually success in life. For a substantial number of children who are afflicted with learning disabilities, parents and teachers should utilise at least one partially malleable habit that is readily available at hand, that will itself develop the abilities of the child, and that is the habit of reading.

The Dyslexia Association of India™ has specific programmes that help and assist children as early as Class I learn how to read, become regular in their reading habit and eventually read to learn. For more information on what we offer, please feel free to e mail us on (info@dyslexiaindia.org.in) or call us on +91 88260 22886.