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Catch 22? Reading Requires Understanding, And Understanding Requires Reading

In order to read fluently, children also need to understand what is in front of them. Researchers from Florida have now investigated how closely the two abilities are interconnected.

Hardly anyone will remember what it was like to learn to read. To have grasped the meaning of letters for the first time, or to first understand letters in a row as words and sentences.

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If you ask researchers, two skills develop when reading. First of all, children understand the structures of writings, recognizing rules and learning to decipher words. They learn to read, first falteringly, then more and more fluently. But there is something else to reading. Understanding. At some point, children absorb the knowledge from their stories and books, develop an understanding of even complex concepts, and are able to evaluate the content of texts. The ability to take meaning from what is read is called reading comprehension. But how are these two reading skills related?

According to a study in twins (1), scientists around psychologist Callie W. Little from Florida State University suspected that the ability to read fluently has an effect on the understanding of texts, and vice versa. Their results are particularly interesting for schools and teachers.

To test how the two reading skills are related, the scientists had to measure both characteristics simultaneously and over a longer period of time. They included around 1700 pairs of twins between the ages of six and ten years in their study and examined them using various methods.

Their ability to read improved continuously over the course of the school years. However, the increase was larger during the first few years and slowed somewhat afterward. The students who learned most quickly were those who already started school with good initial qualifications. In addition, the scientists observed that the flow of reading had a real impact on understanding. They, therefore, considered fluid reading to be a condition for later understanding what they have read. But there also seems to be a connection in the other direction. Even if this connection is not so strong, reading comprehension also seems to have an effect on the ability to read fluently — at least in these early years.

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The researchers suspect that supportive measures for both fluent reading and understanding of texts could therefore have the greatest success with children. However, many training courses have, so far, only promoted reading flow; understanding is usually hardly taken into account.

And the other findings of the researchers may also be of interest to schools. The researchers have also investigated the role of the genome in reading. In previous twin studies, scientists were able to show that both reading speed and comprehension are, in part, hereditary. Heredity varied between 29-84 and 32-82 percent, respectively. Scientists speak of a high heredity from a value of 45.

In the study by Little and her colleagues, the influences of heredity and the environment in the first grade were the same for reading comprehension as for reading flow. However, according to the scientists, how the two reading skills developed afterwards depended almost exclusively on environmental influences that the twins shared. This included, above all, the family and the school. The support that children receive from their environment in these young years makes a significant contribution to the development of their reading skills.

This is part 16 of a series covering twin health provided by Paul Enck from the Tübingen University Hospital and science writer Nicole Simon. Further studies in twin research can be found at TwinHealth website. Translation was done with the assistance of DeepL translator (www.deepl.com/translator)

Reference:

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  1. Little CW, Hart SA, Quinn JM, Tucker-Drob EM, Taylor J, Schatschneider C. Exploring the Co-Development of Reading Fluency and Reading Comprehension: A Twin Study. Child Dev. 2017 May;88(3):934-45. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12670

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