reading skills in brazil
Researchers from the Frontiers scientific community recently conducted a study in Brazil to examine the cause of low reading skills in Brazil’s young children. The study tested 106 children ranging from ages six to eight. The study found that poor memory skills are closely correlated with lower reading skills.

The 106 children tested came from a variety of backgrounds. Half of them live below the poverty line, half above. Researchers intentionally split participants this way to determine the impact of socioeconomic status on basic reading skills. After testing the children, researchers found that memory skills had the most severe impact on young readers, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

The testing consisted of 12 cognitive assessments. Researchers were able to determine that memory skills correlate with reading abilities based on the fact that the children who were evaluated by their teachers as “poor readers” scored the lowest on the Working Memory/Cognitive Flexibility sections of the test. The other three components of the assessment were Interference Suppression, Selective Attention and Response Inhibition.

Higher level readers, on the other hand, consistently performed better on the Working Memory/Cognitive Flexibility sections of the test. The difference between high and low level readers’ results were not as significant in the three other areas. Therefore, the examiners conducting the test were able to hypothesize that memory and reading skills are related somehow.

A strong memory allows a child to concentrate on an activity for an extended period of time, which may account for children with strong memories who find reading easier at a young age. These children have a greater attention span and can focus on learning how to read for a longer period of time than children with weaker memories.

In countries where student to teacher ratios are poor and classrooms are small, the potential for distractions in the learning environment is very high. Children with strong memories and, therefore, extreme concentration abilities can focus on their studies better than students with less cognitive flexibility.

Unfortunately, distracting conditions are common, meaning that some children inevitably will score lower on reading tests. By providing funding to decrease student to teacher ratios and build more functional classrooms, it is possible to decrease distractions in classroom settings which hinder learning in children with weaker memories. By fixing the classroom environment, educators can solve a seemingly un-fixable problem.

Emily Walthouse

Sources: Frontiers, Psyblog
Photo: Economist