Studies Connect Behavior, Reading

By Linda Jacobson — February 21, 2006 1 min read

Reading skills and social development in young children are so closely connected that problems in one of those areas can lead to problems in the other, according to two studies published in the January-February issue of Child Development.

In the first paper, Sarah Miles, a doctoral student at Stanford University, found that children who had a lot of friends in 1st grade were likely to display strong reading skills in 3rd grade. Children with low reading skills in 1st and 3rd grades, she found, were likely to exhibit aggressive behavior in 3rd and 5th grades.

Her research focuses on a sample of 400 disadvantaged children who were part of the federal government’s School Transitions Study, a multisite longitudinal study. Ms. Miles collected data at the end of each school year, from 1996 to 2000. She examined literacy skills by viewing the results of reading and comprehension tests given to each child. She used a teacher questionnaire to determine social skills.

The findings, Ms. Miles suggests, highlight the importance of strong reading instruction in early grades and of interventions for children who are struggling.

“Children do not develop in particular domains independently of other domains,” she writes. “To the contrary, social development and academic development are inextricably connected.”

The second study, by researchers at King’s College London and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, shows that Ms. Miles’ finding is especially salient for boys.

Led by Kali H. Trzesniewski, a psychologist at King’s College, the researchers found that reading problems and behavior problems cause each other—but only in boys. While behavior problems did lead to reading difficulties for girls, reading problems did not cause behavior problems for girls, they found. The team used the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study, a national sample of 15,905 twin pairs from Britain born in 1994 and 1995.

“These findings may help guide interventions by showing that targeting either reading problems or behavior problems during the preschool and early primary school years is likely to produce changes in both behaviors,” says the study.

A version of this article appeared in the February 22, 2006 edition of Education Week