Part 3, wider observations

Children learn to understand speech and engage in speech themselves very easily (in most instances) simply through mere exposure. However, visual word recognition is something that begins with the child being explicitly taught the symbols (e.g., letters…and eventually words) that will later be recognized. Given that these statements are true, what implications might this have for children with vastly different parental, educational, and social backgrounds?

UoN MSc Psychology forum discussion November 2021

This weeks’ cognitive psychology forum discussion (above) is concluded. My own responses, blogged earlier this week, were perhaps too broadly philosophical, but others in the group found much more directly relevant references to share. I summarise the most pertinent below, to which I claim no credit, other than to have been an appreciative recipient.


Early exposures make a big difference. A number of sources were cited in the discussion, including the following.

the frequency of reading to children at a young age has a direct causal effect on their schooling outcomes regardless of their family background and home environment.

G. Kalband and J.C. van Ours 2012 (reporting to Department for Early Childhood Education in Victoria, Australia)

Parents and the home environment are essential to the early teaching of reading and fostering a love of reading; children are more likely to continue to be readers in homes where books and reading are valued

Clark and Rumbold, 2006

Dr. Parry discusses how abuse repeatedly activates our stress response neural system, which has vast knock-on effects within early years brain development including associated speech and language delays. So, even when a child is normally exposed to language at home, trauma or abuse appears to entirely disrupt the required cognitive tools on a neurobiological level


“mere exposure” only gets you so far and then it’s down to the individual child and how motivated they are.

By the time children enter the school system, there are already a considerable amount of individual differences in knowledge, motivation, and in having the tools to advance at the same rate as other children.

It is the children with an environment that is interactive, varied and stimulating, and responsive to their needs who do better academically, emotionally, financially, in their relationships, and in long-term health prospects.

One student contributed some recent specific and alarming findings of Professor Keith Topping, who led the 2017 What Kids Are Reading Report. This found that primary age children are more likely than secondary age children to push themselves to read challenging texts and that reading age is reported to fall against the “reading age” to several years below this metric and by the end of secondary school, reading age was typically at least three years below chronological age.

The class is also fortunate to have a number of mature students who are themselves teaching staff, and therefore able to offer personal observations. One such teacher outlined the realities of challenge where infant school children converse in English as an additional language. Accordingly, this often requires foundational expressive, pragmatic, and receptive language skills, but meaning any wider learning challenges that may exist are difficult to separately identify as early as would otherwise be hoped.

Another teacher further highlighting the reality of challenge in working within a system that perhaps assumes a greater access to technology than communities that are social-economic challenged can hope to reflect. During the difficulties through Covid-19, this was reflected in the demands of government that all lessons be recorded – to allow student flexibility and access to learning – but giving no account for whole classes representative of students without access to a home computer.

Social background

As one student puts it, to bring about a positive outcome we must first attend to the factors contributing to that outcome. Another cites the DfE published 2012 research into the importance of reading for pleasure, noting its references to OECD (2002) findings that reading enjoyment is more important for children’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status. As Dr. van Heuven notes about visual word recognition; it is affected by word frequency, age of acquisition and word length. All of these factors are affected by the environment of upbringing

Social Psychology is offered by another. Deci and Ryan (1985) suggests that our environment can impact our intrinsic motivation for a subject by granting autonomy and competency and therefore supporting Cognitive Evaluation Theory becoming weighted towards early privilege. Another highlights that this is a form of cultural capital – more readily available to children from higher class backgrounds.

Early Endowment Foundation

EEF and Public Health England: Early Language Development: Needs, provision, and intervention for preschool children from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds

This report, for the Education Endowment Foundation October 2017, was also highlighted.  The report makes three key recommendations:

  1. Providing evidence-based training and interventions that promote language-boosting environments in early years settings and between child and carer.
  2. Effective monitoring of children’s progress, in order to identify those falling behind.
  3. Maintaining a close link with the theoretical framework underpinning current research, to ensure that interventions are relevant.


Anecdotal evidence was offered to suggest girls being more receptive to reading as youngsters than boys. Another therein offering research pointing to the dangers of gender generalisations that psychology has been historically tended toward as such binaries and the problematic impact which overall has caused more particular harm than it has offered helpful generalisation.


About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

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