Adolescent dyslexic students lean on vocabulary knowledge for reading fluency

iStock_000020139977XSmallAdolescent students’ with dyslexia still struggle to decode words. But if they have a good working vocabulary, they can compensate for this deficit and achieve some level of oral reading fluency, says a recent study in Mind, Brain and Education.

However, students who have both poor word reading and poor vocabulary knowledge have little by which to “bootstrap” their reading and will tax their working memory in the process, the study says. Both vocabulary knowledge and verbal working memory play an increased role in oral reading fluency in adolescents with dyslexia compared with younger counterparts. These 2 factors also are more important predictors of oral fluency in adolescents with dyslexia than word-level skills, according to this study of 77 dyslexic adolescents.

“During connected text reading, bottom-up (decoding) and top-down (vocabulary) processes are in play simultaneously, and it is possible to identify words in context through either route,” the researchers write. “For fluent readers, bottom-up processes are automatic, so it is the most efficient path to take. In contrast, for dyslexic readers, lower level inefficiencies mean that considerable working memory resources must be allocated in the service of the same goal.”

The relationship between working memory and oral reading fluency varied depending on individual differences in vocabulary knowledge and on the tasks involved, the researchers write.

Students in the study took The Gray Oral Reading Test, Third Edition (GORT-3; Wiederholt & Bryant, 1992) which requires participants to read a series of increasingly difficult passages orally. The GORT provides measures of oral reading rate, word accuracy and comprehension. Word-level skills were assessed using both the Word Attack and Word Identification subtests of the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test (Woodcock, 1987). Oral language competency was assessed using the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, 3rd edition (Dunn & Dunn, 1997), which is a widely used measure of receptive language. The measure of nonverbal intelligence, Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, 3rd edition (WISC-III, Wechsler, 1992) was also administered to all participants.

The researchers analyzed the results of all the tests to assess relationships among the different predictors.

Most research on dyslexia to date has focused on early childhood and relatively little is known about dyslexia in adolescence. Many adolescents with dyslexia struggle to become fluent readers even if they can read with accuracy. Unfortunately, so little is known about dyslexia in adolescence that it is difficult for educators to help these students avoid the profound lifelong consequences of poor literacy skills.

The two Harvard researchers write that this study is a first step in better understanding all the factors that come into play for dyslexic adolescent readers.

“Influence of Verbal Working Memory Depends on Vocabulary: Oral Reading Fluency in Adolescents With Dyslexia,” by Todd Rose and Parisa Rouhani, Mind, Brain, and Education, Volume 6, Number 1, pps. 1-9.

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