As a child, I loved LEGOs and spent hours upon hours building with them. We got Fleur Megablocks early and she aspired to build towers taller than her. I tried getting her in Duplos (toddler LEGOs), only to find her interested in the Minifig(ure)s. For the past 6 months she has really been interested in Magna-Tiles to build zoos for toy animals and houses for her Minifigs.
Coincidentally, she has also had a verbal explosion about the same time.
And I’ve run across a study looking at bleed over affects spatial ability into the verbal domain. These are older students, getting new lessons on spatial ability who then showed skill gains in verbal reasoning backed by changes in the brain through longitudinal fMRI scans.
The more students improved on spatial scanning and mental rotation, abilities that are specifically theorized to support mental modeling, the more they improved on verbal reasoning, and improvement on spatial scanning mediated the association of the spatial curriculum to improved verbal reasoning.
This might be something akin to findings that students who struggle with reading find word problems more difficult, so improving reading also improves math ability. The mental modeling aspect is truly fascinating.
The SAT wants verbal and math to be separate things, but we keep finding that they are subtly linked.
I stumbled across the cutest of scenes. I went looking for Fleur because it was too quiet.
She was in her room with the Olivia book between her and Cora the doll. While not yet able to read, she does have it mostly memorized and was telling it to Cora.
She also will offer to read to us. Usually they are her favorites, so she basically memorized the story.
What amuses me most about her play reading is the made up parts. There is a slight pause where she realizes she doesn’t know and composes something to go with the picture. I can see why she picked it.
It reminds me of how the brain fills in the gaps for memory retrieval. If the actual memory has pieces missing, it finds relevant information and inserts it into the recall. The problem is that is what gets remembered in future retrieval instances. This is what distorts recall such that eyewitness testimony can be manipulated by police or lawyers.
Cognitive scientists have known for decades that simply mastering comprehension skills doesn’t ensure that a young student will be able to apply them to whatever texts they’re confronted with on standardized tests and in their studies later in life.
One of those cognitive scientists spoke on the Tuesday panel: Daniel Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia who writes about the science behind reading comprehension. Willingham explained that whether or not readers understand a text depends far more on how much background knowledge and vocabulary they have relating to the topic than on how much they’ve practiced comprehension skills. That’s because writers leave out a lot of information that they assume readers will know. If they put all the information in, their writing would be tedious.
But if readers can’t supply the missing information, they have a hard time making sense of the text. If students arrive at high school without knowing who won the Civil War, they’ll have a hard time understanding a textbook passage about Reconstruction.
We were low-income growing up. But, we were rich in other things.
The air conditioner wasn’t run in the middle of the day when I was young. We couldn’t afford it. The library was close by, so we spent most summer days there. Supposedly I was reading when I was three.
Later, when we were better off financially, my mother got us encyclopedias so my brother had easy access to information from a young age without having to leave the house.
So, we had easy access to background knowledge and vocabulary.
To help students practice their “skills,” teachers give them texts at their supposed individual reading levels, rather than the level of the grade they’re in.
According to Shanahan, no evidence backs up that practice. In fact, Shanahan said, recent research indicates that students actually learn more from reading texts that are considered too difficult for them—in other words, those with more than a handful of words and concepts a student doesn’t understand. What struggling students need is guidance from a teacher on how to make sense of texts designed for kids at their respective grade levels—the kinds of texts those kids may otherwise see only on standardized tests, when they have to grapple with them on their own.
We were always pushed to read well above our reading level. Growth requires tackling harder challenges. Of course, standardized tests claimed I was reading at a college level by middle school, so I image that was always a challenge.
For Fleur, we have a good library of board books. I have been enjoying the professorial approach of explaining how things work. (The wife long ago detached her retina rolling her eyes at my doing such to her and Galahad.) Now, I have an appreciative audience. Developing her background knowledge and vocabulary is my life’s calling. Hopefully, I can excite her learning about various things.
Scholarly culture theory highlights book-oriented socialization, indicated by adolescents’ home library size, as a source of cognitive competencies, skills and knowledge that are valued not only in formal education but also by employers in different places and historical periods. Scholarly culture does not comprise arbitrary cultural signals that identify elite members and earmark them for privileged positions in society: it enhances performance and as such it is valued in various historical circumstances and by modest families as well as the elite.
Growing up, I was surrounded by books. My mother had well over a thousand. As did I by the time I graduated high school. We also spent time at the public, K-12 school, and university libraries. Naturally, my first job was in a library. And, it is only a quirk of luck that I am not a librarian instead of a technologist. Well, an automation librarian. Fleur already has over a couple hundred books.
The study specifically has adults reach back into their memory and recall how many books they had. I worry about this kind of self-reporting because people use books as status symbol might inflate the number.
But, books in the home (as recalled from memory) as an adolescent, the level of literacy, numeracy, and technology skills grew up until about 350. Beyond that, there were not great gains. This seems like another of those Goldilocks things were there is great effect but only to a point. The gains are best from a handful to 80 but still good up until about 350.
In the cohort, people who were between 25 and 65 years of age between 2011 and 2015, grew up with hardly any books, and managed to finish only lower secondary school (9 years) typically performed in the literacy test at about −0.55 of a standard deviation below the mean. Their counterparts with university degrees had roughly average literacy levels (0.00). The same level of literacy was achieved by people who were surrounded by many books in adolescence but whose schooling ended in Year 9 (0.02). So, literacy-wise, bookish adolescence makes up for a good deal of educational advantage.
The effects are seen across culturally diverse countries.
I wonder though, if a robust library system affects how many books a household might have? I feel like we were an aberration for both having thousands of books and spending lots of time in libraries. Perhaps countries or even cities with easy access to books in libraries mean families invest less in personal collections but yet still adhere to scholarly culture?
But, my confirmation bias is excited about this study as it means my intention to surround Fleur with books, read with her, and foster a love of books & research is on the right track.
This makes sense to me. Keep in mind this is a number over what kids whose parents do not regularly read to them. The more one reads the more exposure. More exposure improves vocabulary by tuning the brain in this critical period to the acquisition of it.
At these volumes, variety is needed to maintain novelty and stimulation. That means a personal library probably is not going to cut it unless you are wealthy. Fleur has a couple hundred books already. I expect her to have a healthy library. But, we will need to supplement with the library or hanging out in a bookstore.
Libraries also have programs for encouraging reading. A thousand books seem to be the target for the programs I see. But, I think that is the kid reading not being read to.