877 914 4366
0 Items

The Matthew Effect and Learning Resilience

Geoff Nixon

By Geoff Nixon

Learning Confidence – You Reap What You Sew

Investor Warren Buffett was asked about his key to success. His quick answer?  Reading. He does this because he loves learning. For him, the Matthew Effect which promises rewards to those put in the work, is all powerful.

He’s not the only one transformed by learning. Elon Musk says he discovered how to build rockets by becoming an avid reader. Oprah Winfrey’s love of books prompted her to start an international book club. And billionaire Bill Gates reads around fifty books each year. A love of learning is their rocket fuel.

A huge part of a love of learning is learning confidence. If you find learning invigorating, interesting and rewarding, you will approach it with vigor and enthusiasm.  Which of course leads to learning progress. On the other hand if you find learning challenging,frustrating and even humiliating,your attitude will be less enthusiastic. This will most often lead to less effort, less willingness to take risks, and ultimately the elf-fulfilling prophecy of a slower learning trajectory.

When Trajectories Slow

Not surprisingly, different habits and attitudes to learning lead to very different academic trajectories during the school years, and then to very different career trajectories.

This gap in trajectories starts at an early age.  You might notice it in vocabulary or difficulty in picking up new things in a preschooler or elementary age child.  Then a little later in life you might notice that subject knowledge lags or the understanding of various events or concepts is not quite right. Ultimately, in an adult is shows up in a weakened ability to reason and think, to not only take in and understand knowledge, but to be to process it, put it altogether and draw inferences and conclusions. This takes practice of prior steps, first reading, then comprehending facts.

And then, even more profound, these difficulties most often undermine curiosity and desire to learn. And if you stop wanting to learn, you stop learning.

Think about it this way.

If reading and learning are exhaustings, and then because comprehension is weak you don’t get much of it anyway, would you run to opportunities to read and learn?  Meanwhile, those that love learning, keep learning and growing. Put it another way, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It’s a unique phenomenon known as “The Matthew Effect.”

The Matthew Effect

Psychologist Keith Stanovich was the first to coin the term “the Matthew Effect” as a way of illustrating the negative psychological effects a child experiences as a result of struggling to acquire literacy. The term has its origins in scripture, namely the verse in Matthew that reads, “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath,” or in layman’s terms, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The logic applies to learning also

In terms of education, it’s the idea that good learners gather momentum because success builds confidence. They become learning risk-takers, they develop a risk-taking learning resilience. Setbacks are merely a bump in the road. They shrug them off and try again. And not only do they not fear new concepts, they look forward to new things, they find them interesting, even exciting.

The reverse is most often true for struggling learners. Learning setbacks are taken to heart, yet another defeat or worse, humiliation. And so struggling learners find it get passed failure or to try again. And they avoid new things. They dread homework and reading because they expect it will end badly.

These defeats become another source of self-doubt, that eats away at self-esteem.  They get down on themselves, they are fully aware they are disappointing their parents and their teachers.  And many also recognize that they are falling behind their peers, which they interpret as making them inferior.

Over time, a confidence divide grows between the good learners and the struggling ones.

The Matthew Effect and a Child’s Future

When early students slip behind in reading, most never catch up with their peers. A 2012 study by Donald J. Hernandez focused on third-graders. His findings revealed that children with a lack of reading proficiency at 8 years old are four times more likely to become high school dropouts.

We live in a knowledge economy. It’s a reading-intensive, information-rich society that discriminates against those who can’t keep up.

As a result, those who struggled with early learning (for whatever reason) often face challenges in securing rewarding jobs as adults. Education and a love of learning are the tickets to most career paths.

And yes, it is also the ticket to higher paying jobs. However, perhaps more importantly, it is also the ticket to the career opportunities that will make your child happy. Doing work they love and mixing with people that enjoy what they enjoy.  And in life, doing something you love is a big step up. It makes a huge difference to your life’s experience.

Ultimately, it’s learning resilience and a love of learning that will create those life options for your child.

So how can we reverse The Matthew Effect?

Getting on the Right Side of the Matthew Effect

How do you help your child be a confident learner, build learning resilience and love learning.

That can only come from with in.

No amount of tutoring or adult cheerleading is going to truly persuade a child they are a good learner.  They encounter difficulties all day every day, reminding them they are not.  And so, tutoring or workaround ideas should be your back up plan.

The only real chance of finding true learning confidence is a learning intervention. That should be your first action.

Finding The Source of Your Child’s Delays

Learning is natural, it’s what humans do.  All babies come out of the womb with busy minds, figuring out language, figuring out balance, figuring out life.  We are conditioned to love this process of learning.

Most of the time, if a child loses that love of learning, it’s because of something is making that learning harder than it should be – a reading difficulty or a learning difficulty.

Your first step should be to find out what kind of difficulty it is. Mostly it comes down to two broad areas – language-based (processing) or sensory integration. Here is a symptoms list for auditory delays, the largest category by far of learning issues.

Find an Intervention

Once you have some kind of understanding of your child’s delays, rather than tutor around it, our recommendation is to try interventions to try to resolve the impediments to learning, to make a love of learning possible.

The brain is plastic, and most of the cognitive skills needed for learning can be improved with practice.  Children with learning difficulties just need more practice than others.

Gemm Learning provides neuroscience-based learning interventions. Our testimonial pages are full of stories of children who were able to get on to the right side of the Matthew Effect after spending 4-6 months on our service.

To find out if we can help, you could have your child complete a reading test or you could request a free consult.

Send this to a friend