Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Sequential prediction of literacy achievement for specific learning disabilities contrasting in impaired levels of language in Grades 4 to 9

Sanders, E.A., Berninger, V.W., Abott, R.D. (2017). Sequential prediction of literacy achievement for specific learning disabilities contrasting in impaired levels of language in grades 4 to 9. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 51(2), 137-157.

Do you ever think about your thinking, and try to explain it? The process of ‘translating’ your cognitive or thinking skills using language (or linguistic representations) is known as cognitive-linguistic translation. Cognitive-linguistic translation has been associated with reading and writing outcomes in typically developing children, possibly because reading and writing place demands on both our cognitive and linguistic skills (Niedo et al., 2014).

Working memory refers to the ability to briefly store and manipulate information in mind. Working memory has also been found to be related to reading and writing achievement. This study considers a number of proposed subcomponents of working memory:

  • word-form coding, which involves storing and processing information about the sounds (phonology), written letters (orthography), and meaning units (morphology) of a word 
  • phonological loop, which stores the phonological forms of words, and is important in naming visual objects or reading words (orthographic forms) 
  • orthographic loop, which stores representations of written letters and words (orthography), enabling the sequential finger movements that are required for writing letters or words; 
  • supervisory attention and executive functions, which refers to the ability to focus (or regulate) attention to relevant information and switches the focus of attention as relevance changes.

The aim of the study was to examine the relationship between cognitive-linguistic translation and working memory subcomponents to reading and writing in children with specific learning disabilities, including dysgraphia (handwriting impairment), dyslexia (word reading and spelling impairment), and oral and written language impairment.

Children in grades 4 to 9 completed a large battery of achievement tests measuring multileveled reading, writing, and language achievement, to assign participants to the dyslexia, dysgraphia, and oral/written language impairment groups based on which group best characterized their specific learning disability. Participants also completed a number of tasks measuring cognitive-linguistic translation, word-form coding at the phonological, orthographic, and morphological levels, phonological loop, orthographic loop, and executive functions including focused attention and switching attention.

The authors used a sequential multiple regression to examine how working memory components and cognitive linguistic translation predicted academic achievement. The results showed that while cognitive-linguistic translation accounted for a significant percentage of variation in reading and writing achievement, all of the working memory components accounted for additional unique variance in reading and writing achievement. With respect to writing achievement, a lower percentage of variance was accounted for by the predictor variables, relative to reading achievement. When a variable coding group membership was added to the regression model, there was a small percentage of variance accounted for, suggesting that there are some additional differences in learning disability profiles beyond what was captured by cognitive-linguistic translation and working memory components.

Overall, these findings suggest that cognitive linguistic translation, word-form coding, phonological loop, orthographic loop, supervisory attention, and executive functions all contribute uniquely to reading and writing achievement in children with specific learning disabilities. This highlights the usefulness of considering specific components of working memory and cognitive-linguistic translation when making learning disability diagnoses. Additionally, assessing these cognitive constructs in addition to academic achievement may also assist in individualizing instructional plans to improve academic achievement in children with specific learning disabilities.

Niedo, J., Abbott, R. D., & Berninger, V. W. (2014). Predicting levels of reading and writing achievement in typically developing, English-speaking 2nd and 5th graders. Learning and individual differences, 32, 54-68.

Blogger: Alex Cross is a M.Cl.Sc. and Ph.D. Candidate in Speech-Language Pathology, supervised by Dr. Lisa Archibald and Dr. Marc Joanisse.

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