Early Literacy Research Library (ELRL) - Article

Examining Shared Reading and White Matter Organization in Kindergarten in Relation to Subsequent Language and Reading Abilities: A Longitudinal Investigation

Kelsey E. Davison, Jennifer Zuk, Lindsay J. Mullin, Ola Ozernov-Palchik, Elizabeth Norton, John D. E. Gabrieli, Xi Yu, Nadine Gaab; Examining Shared Reading and White Matter Organization in Kindergarten in Relation to Subsequent Language and Reading Abilities: A Longitudinal Investigation. J Cogn Neurosci 2023; 35 (2): 259–275. doi: https://doi.org/10.1162/jocn_a_01944,

Access: Institutional Access

Publication year


study description


core topic(s)

Early Literacy , Shared Reading

Population Characteristics


Exposures, Outcomes, Other

Brain/Neurocognitive , Child Behaviors and Skills , Language and Literacy Development , School Readiness and Educational Outcomes


This study examined shared reading and white matter organization in kindergarten in relation to subsequent language and reading outcomes among typically developing children.


Shared reading

outcomes evaluated

White brain matter organization and language/reading outcomes


Children from 20 schools in the New England area, diverse in type and population.


Children from 20 schools in the New England area, diverse in type and population, underwent initial school-based screening of prereading skills in spring of prekindergarten or early fall of the kindergarten year. A subset of children was screened for eligibility to participate in follow-up behavioral and neuroimaging sessions 1–3 months later. Eligibility, based on parent report, included normal hearing; right-handed; full-term birth (>36 weeks); native speakers of American English; no history of head or brain injury or trauma, or neurological, neuropsychological, or developmental diagnoses; and KBIT-2 matrices (nonverbal IQ; Kaufman & Kaufman, 2004) standard scores (SS) above 80. Additionally, children were classified for risk for reading difficulty based on initial screening assessment scores; at-risk children were overrepresented in the follow-up subset sample given the overarching focus on reading risk. Children who participated in the neuroimaging session were longitudinally followed until the end of second grade for reading skill evaluation... Before participation, verbal assent and informed written consent were provided by each child and their parent/legal guardian, respectively.

sample size

n=77 (children)


  • Measure of White Matter Organization: neuroimaging MRI sessions
  • Measure of Word Level Reading Abilities: Sight Word Efficiency (SWE) and Phonemic Decoding (PDE) subtests of the Test of Word Reading Efficiency–Second Edition (TOWRE-2)
  • Measure of Sentence Level Reading Abilities: Fluency, Rate, Accuracy, and Comprehension subtests of the Gray Oral Reading Test–Fifth Edition
  • (GORT-5)
  • Measure of Language Competencies: language comprehension assessed using the Sentence Structure subtest of the Clinical Evaluation of Language Function–Fourth Edition (CELF-4) and receptive vocabulary (PPVT-4)
  • Measure of Foundational Reading Abilities:
      • 1) phonological processing assessed using three subtests of the Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing (CTOPP)
      • 2) rapid autonomic naming skills (RAN) assessed using the Colors and Objects subtests of the Rapid Automatized Naming/Rapid Alternating Stimulus (RAN/RAS)
      • 3) letter sound knowledge assessed using the Letter Identification subtest of the Woodcock Reading Mastery Tests–Revised, Normative Update (WRMT-R NU)
  • Measure of Shared Reading Characteristics: questionnaire assessing the number
  • of hours that someone spends reading to the child each week (shared reading time) and the total number of children’s books at home (children’s books).
  • Measure of Parent SES: Barratt Simplified Measure of Social Status (BSMSS) Questionnaire


Findings reveal positive associations between the number of hours children are read to weekly (shared reading time) and the fractional anisotropy of the left arcuate fasciculus, as well as left lateralization of the superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF). Furthermore, left lateralization of the SLF in these kindergarteners is associated with subsequent reading abilities in second grade. Mediation analyses reveal that left lateralization of the SLF fully mediates the relationship between shared reading time and second-grade reading abilities. Results are significant when controlling for age and socioeconomic status.


This is the first evidence demonstrating how white matter structure, in relation to shared reading in kindergarten, is associated with school-age reading outcomes. Results illuminate shared reading as a key proxy for the home language and literacy environment and further our understanding of how language interaction may support neurocognitive development.


It is important to note that since the present study solely focused on shared reading, it remains unclear whether these effects are specific to shared book reading or may reflect the impact of multiple factors that shape the broad language and literacy environment (e.g., language interaction in general conversation outside book reading). Although results indicate that left lateralization of the SLF fully accounts for the relationship between shared reading time and subsequent timed word reading, future investigation should account for additional aspects of HLLE to further specify these longitudinal relationships.