Reading is a complex skill that depends upon the brain’s ability to visually decode words. Reading requires activation of neural networks that connect different areas of the brain; this does not occur until a child is cognitively ready to read. An early interest in books, letters and words, accompanied by an ability to memorise well, frequently results in young children with high intellectual ability being able to read at an earlier age than most children of average ability. Some students, including intellectually gifted children, may struggle with reading well after starting school, indicating the need for an assessment to investigate the possibility of a learning disability.
The link between intelligence, language acquisition and reading skills is clear. As the brain acquires language, the neural structure changes and develops an individual’s capacity to think, analyse information, synthesise ideas and create. Mariah Evans, a sociologist from the University of Nevada identified that students raised in homes with five hundred books are likely to progress an average of 3.2 years further in education than students who have not had as much exposure to reading, highlighting that early development of literacy skills is correlated with the completion of higher education.
With the rapid development of technology, students now have access to a range of devices with which to read, write and develop literacy skills. A recent International Computer and Information Literacy Study (ICILS) revealed Australian students consistently have greater access to software resources for teaching and learning than in other countries. Students are accessing technology with a range of purposes, including reading. Another study, conducted by the UK Literacy Trust demonstrates the change in young people’s use of different reading formats across the previous eight years. This study indicated a fall in the amount of reading of newspapers (-35.90%), magazines (-32.00%), websites (-14.58%), fiction (-12.43 %) and non-fiction (-4.55%); whereas reading of blogs (+17.39%) text messages (+15.25%), lyrics (+7.36%) and social network sites (+4.10%) had increased; suggesting reading of longer, more complex material is being replaced by the consumption of shorter, less-challenging texts.
Avid readers exponentially increase their language skills (including vocabulary, sentence construction, grammar and the expression of abstract ideas) through reading. Language builds the brain’s capacity for thought. Steven Stahl, the author of books about teaching vocabulary, said: “We use words to think; the more words we know, the finer is our understanding of the world.” Whether using a range of devices or reading within a traditional format, it is the structure of language, the complexity of text and the ideas expressed that provide stimulus for thought and the development of literacy skills.
© Michele Juratowitch