What does soccer have to do with reading?
According to Daniel T. Willingham, who recently wrote an editorial for The New York Times called “How to Get Your Mind to Read,” reading comprehension has more to do with factual knowledge than general reading ability. Most people can sound out words alright, but making meaning of them is another story. The reason wealthier students do better on IQ tests and standardized tests are their greater knowledge of various topics. For example, I once took an IQ test, and one of the questions I got wrong was a question about farming. Needless to say, I had no experience of farms.
Professor Willingham sited an experiment on third graders. The readers who were identified as “poor” readers were “three times as likely to make accurate inferences about” a passage on soccer as readers identified as “good” readers who didn’t know much about soccer. “This implies that students who score well on reading tests are those with broad knowledge; they usually know at least a little about the topics of the passages on the test.” He concludes that “comprehension is intimately intertwined with knowledge.”
Professor Willingham advises that education officials write “content-rich grade level standards” and using “high-information texts in early elementary grades,” which “historically have been light in content.” In other words, children need to be taught general knowledge throughout their lives.
The best thing you can do to help your own children is to read to them daily when they are little and encourage independent daily reading when they get older. They should read about topics that interest them on an appropriate level so that reading will be a joy, not a chore. I recently gave my 11- year old niece Guinness World Records 2018, which she and her siblings devoured, just as my own children had at that age. Children should choose their own books, but can also gain broad knowledge by reading magazines and newspapers, going on historic trips and to museums, and by having family discussions about various topics. Children absorb new information like sponges – parents can take the initiative to help them broaden their minds.