Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Poor Readers' Use of Orthographic Information in Learning to Read New Words: A Visual Bias or a Phonological Deficit?

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Poor Readers' Use of Orthographic Information in Learning to Read New Words: A Visual Bias or a Phonological Deficit?

Article excerpt

In this study, we examined the ability of 11-year-old poor readers and reading age controls to learn new print vocabulary. It was found that the poor readers were slower than the controls to learn to read a set of non words accurately but that, when asked to pick out the nonwords in a visual recognition memory task, they reached criterion much more quickly than did the controls. However, when the groups were compared on auditory recall of the items being learned, the poor readers were at a disadvantage. Thus, the poor readers developed a visual store for the nonwords more quickly than did the controls but were slower to establish phonological representations for the nonwords. It was concluded that the poor readers were slower to establish a form of sight word reading that was well underpinned in memory by connections between the letters in the spelling and the phonemes in the pronunciation, suggesting that they had a greater reliance on an orthographic-semantic pathway in word recognition than did the controls.

It has been shown in many tasks that poor readers' visual skills are unimpaired, their recall of nonsense pictures, abstract shapes (McDougall, Huhne, Ellis, & Monk, 1994; Swanson, 1984,1987) and letters from an unfamiliar orthography (Vellutino, Pruzek, Steger, & Meshoulam, 1973) being appropriate for chronological age. On the other hand, in the phonological domain, poor readers have been found to have impaired verbal short-term memories (Brady, Shankweiler, & Mann, 1983; Jorm, 1983), difficulty in reading nonwords (Baddeley, ElHs, Miles, & Lewis, 1982; Snowling, 1981), and problems hi carrying out phonemic and phonological awareness tasks (Bruck & Treiman, 1990; Jorm & Share, 1983; Manis, Custodio, & Szeszulski, 1993; Stanovich, Cunningham, & Cramer, 1984). It has been concluded that poor readers encounter difficulty in the visual domain only when visual stimuli have to be named (Ellis, 1981; Swanson, 1984; Vellutino et al., 1973) or when they are required to integrate visual and verbal codes (Swanson, 1987; Vellutino, 1979).

As far as reading is concerned, the ability to read phonologically has largely been gauged by tasks generated by the dual-route model of reading (Coltheart, 1978). This posits the existence of a direct visual (i.e., lexical) route to reading and an indirect phonological (i.e., sublexical) route. Regular words (e.g., hand) can be read by either route, whereas it has been argued that irregular words (e.g., glove) can be read only by the direct visual route. Therefore, an advantage in reading regular versus irregular words shows that the reader is using phonological information to recognize words, in addition to the information generated by the visual route. It has indeed been found that performance on regular and irregular words can be differentiated, in children and in adults. Waters, Seidenberg, and Bruck (1984) found regularity effects in Grade 5 children, but the effects were more pervasive in younger and less mature readers. Regularity effects are still found to occur in the reading of adults, but by this stage, regularity effects are less pronounced and are more likely to be found only in reaction time data, since accuracy is usually at ceiling (Seidenberg, Waters, Barnes, & Tanenhaus, 1984). As the word forms become more familiar, therefore, the direct visual route comes to predominate in skilled adult reading. As far as poor readers are concerned, in most studies, their regularity effects have been of the same magnitude as those of their reading age (RA) controls (Metsala, Stanovich, & Brown, 1998), although there have been a few exceptions to this (e.g., Beech & Awaida, 1992; Johnston, Anderson, Perrett, & Holligan, 1990).

Another way of testing for the ability to take a phonological approach to reading is the nonword reading task, in which novel letter strings (e.g., brank) are read in order to gauge how efficiently this route operates. …

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