Reading what?

Good readers need background knowledge — not just skills — concludes John Merrow after talking to E.D. Hirsch, Mike Smith and Linda Katz about reading development.

(Hirsch) explained what is called “the Matthew Effect” to Virginia’s legislators . . . “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” . . .  the more you have learned, the more you are capable of learning and likely to learn. The reverse is also true: the less you know, the harder it is for you to acquire knowledge.

“You have to read about something, whether it’s baseball or Patrick Henry or space travel or a pet dog,” Merrow concludes.

And it’s important that all children have common reading experiences — shared content. Finally, closing the vocabulary gap is best done in situations that replicate how vocabulary-rich children in the study acquired their larger vocabulary — through conversation, not in cold classrooms where drill is the M.O.

Merrow is touting the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

I’m tutoring two first-grade boys, one of whom has really struggled. On Monday, he doubled his reading speed. On Thursday, he enjoyed reading.