The Matthew Effect
“Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” Matthew chapter 13, verse 12.
Daniel Rigney in his book, The Matthew Effect, states that, ‘…the word-rich will get richer while the word-poor will get poorer.’ For teachers, this has severe implications.
One reason for the Matthew Effect is that good readers learn new reading skills quickly and consequently become better readers whilst poor readers become increasingly frustrated with reading and find it so effortful and exasperating that they avoid it at all costs. Therefore, they slow down their rate of improvement.
A further consequence is that our more literate students then gravitate towards literate friends. These friendships make a difference because subsequently, the vocabulary of students in this group becomes more developed as they continue to interact with each other and so the cycle moves on. If students’ spoken language is of a higher quality then this will ultimately be reflected in their written work.
Significantly, the Matthew Effect is not just about the progressive decline of poor readers but also the widening gap between these students and the more adept readers, as the graph clearly illustrates.
As teachers, we need to explicitly address the needs of the word-poor in an attempt to bridge the gap between these students and the word-rich. Ways of doing this could include engaging in discussions with students in form or during Accelerated Reading about their reading habits and also share with them your favourite books, thereby embedding the relevance of reading for life.
Rigney, D. 2010. The Matthew Effect: How Advantage Begets Further Advantage. New York: Columbia University Press.