How processing skills are related to reading and spelling achievement was studied by a group of researchers from McGill University and University College/London led by Robert S. Savage. They explored the relationship of various cognitive processes among below-average, average and above-average readers and spellers.
Previous research provides strong support for the belief that below-average readers lack the phonological skills that are well developed in above-average readers. There are sound findings that poor readers have difficulty with phonological processing tasks such as nonsense- word reading and often show a core phonological deficit.
Rapid naming and memory
Savage et al. studied whether there are additional deficits in cognitive-processing areas such as rapid naming of visual objects, motor skills, speech perception and working memory that differentiate poor from good readers. This study revealed that only two factors — rapid naming and memory — contributed to differences in literacy.
Sixty-one elementary children in one London school were selected on the basis of standardized test data to be representative of literacy achievement in Britain. These children were tested in reading comprehension, oral fluency, word reading, spelling and the processing skills mentioned above. The results revealed that rapid naming differentiates below-average from average readers and spellers but does not differentiate those who are above-average achievers. Both short-term and working memory tasks differentiate below-average from average spellers only, indicating a more limited influence. Neither of these processing skills differentiated the whole range of reading and spelling performance found in general education classrooms.
It seems that the development of fluent reading and spelling can be impaired both by general phonological processing problems and also by poor verbal naming and memory. Rapid naming appears to be closely related to phonological processing tasks rather than to rapid speech or motor skills. An adequate level of naming speed appears necessary for average and above-average reading performance. Phonological processing tasks such as nonsense-word reading are consistent predictors of reading and spelling throughout a wider range of ability. There is also a threshold level of working memory that is needed to achieve adequate spelling skills.
The results found by Savage and his colleagues indicate that below-average students show difficulties in verbal short-term memory and rapid naming tasks that may compromise their performance in reading and spelling.
These researchers point to two limitations of their research. They recommend that their correlational research should be followed by long-term research that studies the prediction in young prereaders of reading success from difficulty with phonological, naming-speed and short-term memory processes. They also suggest that some of the patterns seen in this study may partly reflect the performance of a small number of children with attentional problems.
“Relationships Among Rapid Digit Naming, Phonological Processing, Motor Automaticity, and Speech Perception in Poor, Average, and Good Readers and Spellers,” Journal of Learning Disabilities, Volume 38, Number 1, January/February 2005
Published in ERN March 2005 Volume 18 Number 3.