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Summer reading programmes 'benefit disadvantaged students more'

14/06/2017 Kelly

Children from poorer backgrounds are more likely to benefit from summer reading programmes, a new study from the US has shown.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology research enrolled dyslexic children aged between six and nine years old in six-week summer courses to help them develop the sensory and cognitive processing necessary for reading, such as thinking of words as units of sound, or analysing the meanings of printed words.

Children participating in the study spent four hours a day working on their reading skills for five days each week, with MRI scans used to assess brain activity, alongside commonly used tests of reading proficiency.

Before the programme started, children from higher and lower socioeconomic (SES) backgrounds generally fared equally poorly in most areas, though students from wealthier upbringings recorded higher vocabulary scores on average.

Based on previous studies, the researchers expected that the reading programme would have more of an impact on students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds, but the opposite proved to be true, with poorer children generally seeing the most pronounced benefits.

Children whose reading scores improved also displayed changes in their brain anatomy, including a thickening of the cortex in the temporal occipital region - a large network of structures involved in reading.

Researchers theorised that the results may have been different than expected because their programme was run during the summer, rather than during the school year.

Rachel Romeo, a graduate student in the Harvard-MIT Program who worked on the research, explained: "Summer is when socioeconomic status takes its biggest toll. Low SES kids typically have less academic content in their summer activities compared to high SES, and that results in a slump in their skills. This may have been particularly beneficial for them. because it may have been out of the realm of their typical summer."

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