Academic journal article The Journal of Speech-Language Pathology and Applied Behavior Analysis

Training in Phonological Awareness Generalizes to Phonological Working Memory: A Preliminary Investigation Preliminary Investigation

Academic journal article The Journal of Speech-Language Pathology and Applied Behavior Analysis

Training in Phonological Awareness Generalizes to Phonological Working Memory: A Preliminary Investigation Preliminary Investigation

Article excerpt

Introduction

Scholars and practitioners alike are by now well aware that children with language impairments are at increased risk for difficulties in learning to read (e.g., Aram, Ekelman, & Nation, 1984; Aram & Nation, 1980; Bishop & Adams, 1990; Gillam & Carlile, 1997; Korngold, Menyuk, Libergott, & Chesnick, 1988; Menyuk & Chesnick, 1997). The relationship between phonological awareness (PA) and early reading achievement has been clearly established for the general population (e.g., see reviews by Adams, 1990; Blachman, 1994; Wagner & Torgesen, 1987). It is also been well-documented that children with language impairments have delays in phonological awareness abilities (e.g., Bird, Bishop, & Freeman, 1995; Bishop & Adams, 1990; Catts, 1993; Kamhi & Catts, 1986; Kamhi, Lee, & Nelson, 1985; Menyuk & Chesnick, 1997), and intervention studies have shown that we can successfully foster PA skills in preschoolers and kindergartners with both speech and language impairments (e.g., Gillon, 2000, 2002; Laing & Espeland, 2005; Segers & Verhoeven, 2004; van Kleeck, Gillam, & McFadden, 1998).

Phonological awareness, however, is only one of the phonological processing skills known to be important to early decoding. In addition to PA, the contributions of phonological working memory (WM) to early decoding (word attack skill in early reading) have been well established for children who are typically developing, children with reading disorders, and children with language impairments (see Catts & Kamhi, 1999; Goswami & Bryant, 1990; Wagner & Torgesen, 1987 for reviews). Phonological WM has been measured by both word and nonword repetition and span tasks. Of these two kinds of measures, nonword recall tasks are believed to more "purely" reflect phonological working memory, since they must be carried out independent of semantic lexical knowledge (Gathercole, in press; Gathercole & Baddeley, 1990; Henry & Millar, 1991). Studies outside of the area of reading corroborate that children with language impairment perform more poorly than age- and language-matched peers on nonword repetition and nonword span tasks, suggesting that these children have a diminished phonological WM capacity (e.g., Bishop, North, & Donlan, 1996; Dollaghan & Campbell, 1998; Edwards & Lahey, 1998; Ellis Weismer, Tomblin, Zhang, Buckwalter, Chynoweth, & Jones, 2000; Gathercole & Baddeley, 1990; Gillam, Cowan, & Day, 1995; Gray, 2003, 2004; Marton & Schwartz, 2003; Montgomery, 1995, 2000a, 2000b).

As we continue to work to develop interventions that take empirical findings regarding the basic cognitive underpinnings of early decoding into account, these findings might lead us to ask if we should be targeting phonological WM in addition to PA in order to provide the best possible foundation for later early decoding skills in children with language impairments. First, however, we might ask if it is feasible to directly improve phonological WM skills. We know that nonword recall is highly heritable (Bishop et al., 1996) and that it is not readily affected by environmental influences (Alloway, Gathercole, Willis, & Adams, 2004; Campbell, Dollaghan, Needleman, & Janosky, 1997). One possible consequence of these facts is that the phonological memory skills underlying nonword recall may be resistant to treatment (Gathercole, in press).

We are aware of only one study that has trained children in nonword repetition in order to improve phonological WM, and hence early reading ability. The study involved 120 Greek-speaking kindergartners who were assigned randomly to a control or treatment group (Maridaki-Kassotaki, 2002). The treatment lasted for the school year, and the treatment group showed superior performance over the control group on a reading test at the end of first grade. This was only one study, and it was not conducted with children learning the English script. …

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