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10 Ways You Can Combat the Matthew Effect in Your Classroom

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In our last blog post, we wrote in detail about the metaphor of the canary in the coalmine and the impact that the Peter Effect and teacher knowledge have on student learning. 

The Peter Effect really speaks to teacher knowledge and those impacts. Now, let’s switch the lens from looking at the teacher to looking at our children. We can do that through the lens of the Matthew Effect.  

What is the Matthew Effect?

The Matthew Effect refers to the idea that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. But, how do we apply that to reading development? 

When children fail at early reading and writing, they dislike reading and writing. As a result, they read less than their classmates who are stronger readers. This then impacts their growth in vocabulary and their access to higher-level concepts and literary elements.    

Conversely, when children are successful at early reading, they develop a love for it and seek out opportunities to read more and more. Their vocabulary expands and their knowledge of higher-level concepts grows.

So, the poor readers continue to be poor readers while the strong readers continue to get stronger. The gap between the two groups continues to expand. It becomes a negative perpetuating cycle.

We know that a child’s ability to read effectively will have a long-lasting impact on every aspect of their lives. Reading affects everything you do. 

But what are some things that families and teachers can do to offset this phenomenon?

Here are 10 ways you can work to combat the Matthew Effect in your classroom:

1. Early Intervention and Early Identification

Do not wait until third grade or later to provide interventions. Do not wait for your student(s) to fail. If we can catch an issue early on and then provide the instruction that we know is appropriate, we can begin to create those perpetual, positive cycles. This is so important for preserving our students’ social-emotional wellbeing. 

2. Consider the Classroom Environment

Think about the learning conditions in your classroom. Is it a positive learning space? Is it not too distracting? Have you set up quiet working spaces? A welcoming environment will help to instill a feeling of success in our learners. 

Aside from the physical classroom, you can use Morning Meeting to create a positive social-emotional environment in your classroom, too. When dyslexic students feel understood, they will respond better academically and emotionally. 

3. Provide All Students the Opportunity to Shine

When we better understand each of our students, we’re able to offer them non-traditional opportunities to shine in our classroom. Maybe, let a student who struggles to read do an art project to express what they know. 

4. End “Wait to Fail”

Instead, put in place a preventative model. If you wait for a child to fail, they will have already begun a negative perpetuating cycle before you ever even intervene. Do you want that? NO!

Instead, we want to use a preventative model and begin building upward. This will serve to preserve students’ self-esteem. 

5. Recognize At-Risk Behaviors

Are your students willing to take risks for learning? Do they trust themselves and what they know? Do they trust you as the teacher? 

Or, are they falling into a pattern of learned helplessness? Also, consider how easily frustrated they are becoming. Avoidant behaviors are also at-risk behaviors that you want to take note of.

6. Focus on Growth Mindset

When students know and understand themselves as learners, they can better respond both academically and emotionally. Offer opportunities in your classroom for your dyslexic students to identify and recognize themselves. Open up conversations that will raise awareness. 

7. Acknowledge Learning Differences 

Explain the brain to kids. When you do this, acknowledging these learning differences becomes an empowering subject. 

8. Provide Direct and Explicit Instruction

Providing direct and explicit instruction is at the heart of the work that we do. It’s our job to lay a solid foundation for our students. If they can break the code, then they can read, and then they’re able to move forward and work on closing the gap. That is the way we build confidence! At the heart of it all, it is student-centered. 

9. Family Communication

Be empathetic and aware that all families have different backgrounds. They come from all walks of life. Honor that, be respectful of that. Communication can be so, so powerful. Let families know that you are on the same side when it comes to helping their child. 

10. Option for Additional Tutoring

Not everyone will have access to additional tutoring outside of the traditional school day. But, when it is possible, this can help to reduce stress. 

Sometimes students need extra support in a small group or 1:1 setting and that can be really powerful. If that is an option for your students, it can serve to 

For even more on the Matthew Effect and literacy development in kids, check out our latest episode of the Together in Literacy podcast. If you like what you hear, don’t forget to rate, leave a positive review, and subscribe!

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