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Becoming an expert reader depends upon having extensive reading experience. Researchers often refer to an individual’s cumulative reading experience as their level of “print exposure,” and they have found that print exposure is linked to educational achievement, that it depends on reading fluency, and that it varies widely among both children and adults. Reading a lot will certainly make you a better reader, but does it have any other cognitive consequences? Cunningham and Stanovich conducted a series of studies to answer this question. Their studies consistently showed that sheer volume of reading is a powerful predictor of verbal skills and world knowledge. In addition, they concluded that “reading yields significant dividends for everyone—not just for the ‘smart kids’ or the more able readers.”
In another study, Cunningham and Stanovich collected data from a group of students over a ten year period, to examine the relationship between early skills and 11th grade print exposure. Across a range of 1st grade measures, the most important predictor they found was the students’ reading fluency, as measured by tests of decoding, word recognition, and comprehension. It is worth noting that they found an even stronger connection between 3rd and 5th grade reading fluency and 11th grade print exposure. This suggests that students who don’t get off to a quick start can overcome that setback, as long as they eventually become fluent readers.
Just how much does children’s exposure to print vary? Data collected by Anderson, Wilson, and Fielding, who investigated how much time fifth graders spent reading books outside of school. They found quite a range: children at the 10th percentile averaged only one tenth of a minute per day, while children at the 90th percentile averaged more than 20 minutes per day – 200 times as much – and the students who read more made greater gains in reading comprehension.
Students who don’t choose to read independently are usually non-fluent readers, and they may benefit from interventions that improve fluency and increase print exposure. As daunting as this gap looks, adding just 10 minutes of book reading time each day could substantially reduce it. Increased exposure would move a student from the 30th percentile to somewhere above the 70th percentile in words read per year.
Teachers can’t control how their students spend their time outside of school. However, by providing well structured guided oral reading practice, they can help their students gain fluency and increase print exposure during the school day. Scientific Learning Reading Assistant™ software is a tool that helps teachers provide this kind of research-based reading intervention. Reading Assistant is designed to help students across a wide range of ages and ability levels to become more fluent readers.
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