Das, J. P., Parrila, R. K. & Papadopoulos, T. C. (2000). Cognitive education and reading disability. In A. Kozulin & B. Y. Rand (eds.), Experience of mediated learning: An impact of Feuerstein's theory in education and psychology. Pp 274-291. Oxford: Pergamon Press.
J. P. Das, University of Alberta Rauno K. Parrila, Queen's University Timothy C. Papadopoulos, University of Alberta
- Reading as a Cognitive Activity
- More on word reading: Distal and Proximal Processes
- The Four Cognitive Functions and Reading: The PASS Theory in brief
- Word Reading and PASS theory
- Cognitive Remediation of Reading
- PREP: PASS Reading Enhancement Program
- Review of PREP studies
- Longitudinal study with young children "at-risk"
- Participants and Procedure
- Results and Discussion
- A Final Word
- Author's Note
In this chapter, we will first lay the groundwork and present reading as a cognitive activity. Then we will provide a discussion of PASS and the PASS Reading Enhancement Program (PREP) that focuses on cognitive remediation of reading problems. This description is followed by a review of PREP studies. Finally, we conclude this chapter by reporting results from an ongoing longitudinal study utilizing both PASS and PREP.
Reading as a Cognitive Activity
Reading remediation provides numerous examples of the gap between theory and practice in remedial training. When educational and cognitive psychologists were unraveling the cognitive basis of word reading skills, curriculum and remedial programs mainly ignored the research and sometimes were not based on any alternative body of research. To an outsider, the guiding assumption seemed to be that once children understand the significance of reading as a holistic activity, they will learn to read. Unfortunately, large numbers of children do not, and would certainly benefit from training in the basic cognitive skills underlying reading (see Adams, 1990, for a more detailed discussion of whole language vs. phonics arguments). In sum, reading remediation was rather theoretically neutral if not insular to advances in theories on cognitive functions underlying reading. It was not the natural outcome of theoretical understanding or empirical findings; instead, the cognitive basis of reading and reading failure were side-stepped. Changes in remediation techniques began to gain limited popularity, mainly because of a renewed interest in Vygotsky and the influence of Feuerstein's "learning potential" movement. We will present next an account, a brief one, of the cognitive basis of word reading as it has been developing in the research literature. This will lead us to discussing a reading remediation program based on the idea of reading as a cognitive activity.
More on word reading: Distal and Proximal Processes
When confronted with a word, a beginning reader can either recognize the word by sight (often referred to as "sight reading") attempt to guess the word from context, or recode the string of letters in terms of their respective sounds or phonemes; this activity is usually referred to as phonological coding. Sight reading and guessing from context are strategies commonly associated with poor rather than fluent reading (see e.g., Share, 1995) whereas phonological coding is the most commonly used strategy of good readers. The reason is simple: the spoken lexicon is far bigger than the words that can be recognized by sight or reliably guessed from the context.
Thus, when a beginning reader is confronted with a previously unseen word, he or she is faced with at least five interrelated tasks which must be undertaken to reliably recognize the word. First, all (or at least most) of the letters have to be recognized and differentiated from their visually confusing neighbors (e.g., b-d, g-q-p; O-D, E-F, V-Y). Second, the sounds (phonemes) of the letters or letter combinations must be retrieved and differentiated from their phonetically confusing neighbors (e.g., /g/-/k/; /b/-/p/, /t/-/d/, /s/-/z/). Third, all phonemes must be stored in working memory in their exact order of presentation. Fourth, the entire set of phonemes in working memory has to be blended together to form a phonological representation of the whole word. Finally, this phonological representation of the word has to be used to gain access to the lexicon. If the word is in the child's (spoken) lexicon, he or she can move on to the next word.
To accomplish these five tasks, we will argue, a beginning reader will require the use of both proximal and distal cognitive processes as well as the necessary knowledge base without which the processes will be void of content. In the context of word reading, the necessary knowledge base can be defined as consisting of two components: (a) knowledge of letters/letter combinations and the sounds they make, and (b) a spoken lexicon that allows the recognition of words after they have been sounded out. The proximal cognitive processes are the mostly linguistic skills that are directly related to the five tasks mentioned above. The most frequently recognized proximal processes in word reading are phonological processes, defined commonly as cognitive processes that deal directly with the sound structure of the spoken language. Wagner and Torgesen (1987) suggested three subcategories of phonological processes: (a) phonological awareness awareness of the sound structure of language; (b) phonological recoding in lexical access recoding written symbols into a sound-based representational system to get from the written word to its lexical referent; and (c) phonetic recoding in working memory recoding written symbols into a sound-based representation system to maintain them efficiently in working memory. Wagner (1988) divided phonological awareness further into phonological analysis (the ability to break whole words into their constituent phonemes) and phonological synthesis (the ability to blend isolated phonemes together to form whole words). Thus, following this outline we have four categories of proximal processes or skills: phonological analysis, phonological synthesis, phonological recoding in lexical access, and phonological recoding in working memory.
It is easy to understand how each of these processes, combined with letter knowledge and the lexicon, play a role in accomplishing the last four of the five tasks outlined above. Accordingly, children with reading difficulties have been found to perform poorer than their normally reading peers in tasks as varied as deleting phonemes from three-letter words, repeating random word or digit series, naming letters and sounds rapidly, and repeating nonsensical sentences or series of words consecutively (Das, Mishra, & Kirby, 1994; Das, Mok, & Mishra, 1993; Kirby, Booth, & Das, 1996; Papadopoulos, Parrila, Das, & Kirby, 1997; Shankweiler et al., 1995; Watson & Willows, 1995). A recent review by Share and Stanovich (1995, p. 9) concluded that "there is virtually unassailable evidence that poor readers, as a group, are impaired in a very wide range of basic cognitive tasks in the phonological domain." This seems to be true for both "garden variety" poor readers (Stanovich, 1988) and for the reading disabled population (Rack, Snowling, & Olson, 1992; Siegel & Ryan, 1988; Snowling, Goulandris, & Defty, 1996). In one of the most frequently cited articles in the field, Torgesen, Wagner, and Rashotte (1994) took the argument a step further and suggested that phonological processing abilities are causally related to normal acquisition of reading skills. The strongest support for this claim can be found in longitudinal studies examining the relationship between prereaders' phonological processing scores and their reading development one to three years later (e.g., Bradley & Bryant, 1985; Wagner et al., 1997).
The first task the beginning reader faces, recognizing and differentiating printed letters, requires orthographic coding rather than phonological processing. Orthographic coding is a difficult construct and both its definition and role in reading has not been agreed upon (see Vellutino, Scanlon, & Tanzman, 1993). We will follow here Vellutino et al. (1993) and define orthographic coding as the ability to represent the unique array of letters that defines a printed word. Moreover, Vellutino et al. (1993, p. 322) suggest that orthographic coding ability is "a visual coding ability that depends on such facets of the visual system as visual feature analysis, attention to visual detail, and visual pattern analysis, as well as on such general abilities as the ability to detect, represent, and categorize invariance."
The problem with orthographic coding is that there seems to be a distinction between clinical studies of acquired dyslexia, which often report cases of "visual dyslexia" (e.g., Newcombe & Marshall, 1981) and large scale correlational studies on developmental dyslexia, which often report that orthographic skills do not account for any additional variance in reading after phonological skills were accounted for (however, see Barker, Torgesen, & Wagner, 1992). It seems reasonable to assume that an activity such as word recognition is not possible without some sophistication in processing of the visual information contained in printed letters (Vellutino & Denckla, 1996). Therefore it seems likely that the experimental tasks purportedly assessing orthographic processing have not yet managed to isolate visual information processing, rather than that orthographic processing plays no role in word reading (see Vellutino et al., 1993, for a similar argument).
Distal cognitive processes are more general and modality unspecific underlying cognitive processes. These enable the development of proximal processes. Thus, the influence that distal cognitive processes have on reading is not necessarily direct but can be mediated by one or several proximal processes. More specifically, we will suggest that two types of cognitive processes are relevant for word reading: (a) those that contribute to the development of phonological and orthographic processing, and (b) those that allow the successful deployment of phonological and orthographic skills. The PASS (planning, attention, simultaneous and successive processing) theory of intelligence (Das, Naglieri, & Kirby, 1994) includes both kinds of processes.
The Four Cognitive Functions and Reading: The PASS Theory in brief
The Planning, Attention-Arousal, Simultaneous and Successive (PASS) cognitive processing model is described as a modern theory of ability within the information processing framework. It is based on Luria's analyses of brain structures (1966; 1973; 1980). Luria described human cognitive processes within the framework of three functional units. The function of the first unit is cortical arousal and attention; the second unit codes information using simultaneous and successive processes; and the third unit provides for planning, self-monitoring, and structuring of cognitive activities. Luria's work on the functional aspects of brain structures formed the basis of the PASS model and was used as a blueprint for defining the important components of human intellectual competence. Because thorough reviews of the PASS model and related research are presented elsewhere (Das, Kirby, & Jarman, 1979; Das, Naglieri, & Kirby, 1994; Naglieri, 1989; Naglieri & Das, 1990), only a brief summary is provided here.
The cognitive processes that occur within the three functional units are responsible for and involved in all cognitive activity (see Figure 1 below). The first functional unit of Attention-Arousal is located in the brain stem and reticular activating system (Luria, 1973). This unit provides the brain with the appropriate level of arousal or cortical tone and "directive and selective attention" (p. 273). Attentional processes are engaged when a multidimensional stimulus array is presented to the subject, in a task requiring selective attention to one dimension and the inhibition of responses to other, often more salient stimuli. Luria stated that only under optimal conditions of arousal can the more complex forms of attention involving "selective recognition of a particular stimulus and inhibition of responses to irrelevant stimuli" occur (Luria, 1973; p. 271). Moreover, only when sufficiently aroused and when attention is adequately focused can an individual utilize processes within the second and third functional units.
The PASS Model of Intelligence (adapted from Das, Naglieri, & Kirby, 1994).
The second functional unit is associated with simultaneous and successive processing of information. Luria's description of the second functional unit follows the work of Sechenov. Luria described "two basic forms of integrative activity of the cerebral cortex" (Luria, 1966; p. 74). The processes of the second functional unit are responsible for "receiving, analyzing, and storing information" (Luria, 1973; p. 67) through the use of simultaneous and successive processing. Simultaneous processing is associated with the occipital-parietal areas of the brain (Luria; 1966). The essential aspect of simultaneous processing is surveyability, that is, each element is related to every other element. For example, in order to produce a diagram correctly when given the instruction "draw a triangle above a square that is to the left of a circle under a cross", the relationships among the shapes must be correctly comprehended. Successive processing is associated with the fronto-temporal areas of the brain and involves the integration of stimuli into a specific serial order where each component is related to the next. That is, in successive synthesis, "each link integrated into a series can evoke only a particular chain of successive links following each other in serial order" (Luria, 1966, p. 77). For example, in language processing, successive processes are involved with decoding and production of syntax and with speech articulation.
The third functional unit is concerned with plans and decision-making. It is located in the prefrontal divisions of the frontal lobes of the brain (Luria, 1980). Luria stated that "the frontal lobes synthesize the information about the outside world... and are the means whereby the behavior of the organism is regulated in conformity with the effect produced by its actions" (p. 263). Planning processes provide for the programming, regulation and verification of behavior, and are responsible for behavior such as asking questions, problem solving, and the capacity for self-monitoring (Luria, 1973). Other activities of the third functional unit include regulation of voluntary activity, impulse control, and various linguistic skills such as spontaneous conversation. The third functional unit provides for the most complex aspects of human behavior including personality and consciousness (Das, 1980; Das, Kar, & Parrila, 1996).
The PASS theory provides a model to conceptualize human intellectual competence that is a blend of neuropsychological, cognitive and psychometric approaches. Operational definitions of the four processes and the rationale for test construction are derived from the theory which consequently led to the identification of valid and reliable measures of each PASS process, contained in a new battery of cognitive tests, the Das-Naglieri Cognitive Assessment System (Naglieri & Das, 1997).
The four cognitive processes contribute to performance but do not determine it completely. Output, or performance, is the response or behavior that can be influenced by at least three other major factors: knowledge base, motor planning of the output, and motivation. All cognitive processes operate within the context of the existing knowledge base. It includes information that we have accumulated by both formal (e.g., through instruction and reading) and informal (e.g., experience) means (Das, Naglieri, & Kirby, 1994). This fund of accumulated knowledge can greatly enhance information processing by providing it with appropriate context but it can also hinder it by introducing irrelevant material or unproductive habits. Moreover, individuals sometimes show a gap between what they know and what they can do, that is, between knowledge and performance. Output, or performance, may have to be properly programmed before we can express what we know. Performance can thus be influenced by cognitive processing and knowledge base, as in the Figure 1, but also by factors such as the ability to come up with an appropriate motor program, as well as motivational and personality factors. Reading a word aloud in a foreign language, for example, can have an output problem assembling the right pronunciation and forming a motor program for articulation.
Word Reading and PASS theory
Theoretically, successive and simultaneous processing are both important for word reading. Dual-route theories of word recognition, for example, suggest that a word is recognized either through direct visual access, or through phonological coding of its sounds. The first should relate to mainly simultaneous processing via orthographic processing, and the second primarily to successive processing via phonological processing. Thus, the two processes should show correlations with word reading. Figure 2 below shows a simplified presentation of these relationships.
Figure 2. Processes underlying word recognition (adapted from Das, Naglieri, & Kirby, 1994).
Due to the importance of phonological processing in word decoding, successive processes are naturally expected to be more important at this level. Similarly, Share (1994) suggested a "domain-general temporal processing dysfunction" in reading disabled children to account for inconsistencies in phonological processing literature.
After the very initial stages of letter and visual word identification, simultaneous processing may play a secondary role in word reading. It should, however, be more
strongly related to reading comprehension (Kirby & Das, 1990; Kirby & Williams, 1991). In reading comprehension, simultaneous processing is needed in the relating of meaningful units and in their integration into higher level units (Kirby, Booth & Das, 1996). Planning and attention are necessary in all levels of reading, although common decoding tasks are not likely to be affected by minor differences in these executive processes. However, their importance should rise as a function of task complexity.
Several empirical studies have examined the relationships between PASS processes and reading. As would be expected from the above description, poor successive processing has surfaced as a primary characteristics of children with reading problems (e.g., Das, Mishra, & Kirby, 1994; Kirby, Booth & Das, 1996; Kirby & Robinson, 1987; Leong, 1980; Snart, Das, & Mensink, 1988). Intervention studies, reviewed in detail below, have shown improvements in reading as a result of training in successive processing. Moreover, successive processing problems experienced by poor readers have not been limited to verbal material and can persist even after the effect of short-term memory is controlled for (Eden, Stein, Wood, & Wood, 1995).
Existing studies have also indicated that, in particular, simultaneous processing but also planning, are indeed important for reading comprehension (Das, Cummins, Kirby, & Jarman, 1979; Kirby & Das, 1977; Das, Mensink, & Mishra, 1990; Das, Snart, & Mulcahy, 1982; Kirby & Gordon, 1988; Little, Das, Carlson, & Yachimowicz, 1993; Naglieri & Das, 1988). In sum, these studies demonstrate that simultaneous processing and planning measures with no reading component are good predictors of reading comprehension, whereas successive measures are better predictors of word reading performance. We should also note that none of the above mentioned studies have included young enough subjects to examine the role of simultaneous processing in letter recognition. The role of attention is less clear and several studies have found no differences between good and poor readers. However, if the attention task used involves phonological stimuli, then it can be associated with reading problems (Das, Mishra, & Kirby, 1994).
Cognitive Remediation of Reading
The above characterization of reading as an interplay between knowledge base and proximal and distal cognitive processes suggests that deficient reading can result from problems with any of these components. The most profound problems would rise from deficient distal processes. However, when reading remediation programs have been based on research of reading as a cognitive activity, they have generally focused on proximal processes and/or knowledge base (letter and letter-sound knowledge) to the exclusion of distal processes that may underlie problems in proximal processes. Phonological processing training studies with young children have consistently reported positive effects on reading, particularly if they included explicit instruction in letter-sound associations (see e.g., Bradley & Bryant, 1985; Ball & Blachman, 1991; Byrne & Fielding-Barnsley, 1991). The problem is that the training studies have shown the largest effects in enhancing the reading skills of regular students, rather than remediating or preventing problems of at-risk students. The studies that have actually targeted at-risk students have produced inconclusive evidence on the efficacy of phonologically based remediation programs: training in phoneme segmentation and blending skills produces positive effects on these skills, but these effects seldom transfer to word reading and decoding (see e.g. Barker & Torgesen, 1995; Hurford et al., 1994; Mantzicopoulos, Morrison, Stone, & Setrakian, 1992). The only study that we are aware of that produced unequivocally positive results was that of Blachman, Ball, Black, and Tangel (1994). They reported improvement of the treated at-risk children compared to control children after a year long intervention that consisted of first teaching phonological processing and letter-name and letter-sound knowledge, and then building on and expanding this knowledge by using a specific reading program. Their study raised the question of changing the reading curriculum altogether.
An alternative approach to reading remediation, one that we have utilized in our work, is to start from the distal processes and build upon them. We will now introduce PREP (PASS Reading Enhancement Program) which is an elaboration of that approach. This is followed by a review of studies that have examined the effectiveness of PREP with elementary school age children.
PREP: PASS Reading Enhancement Program
The PASS Reading Enhancement Program (PREP) is based on well-accepted theories of child development and cognitive psychology. It aims at improving the information processing strategies that underlie reading namely, simultaneous and successive processing while at the same time avoiding the direct teaching of word reading skills. PREP is also founded on the premise that the transfer of principles can be facilitated through inductive rather than deductive inference (Carlson & Das, 1997; Das, Mishra & Pool, 1995). Accordingly, the program is structured so that tacitly acquired strategies are likely to be used in appropriate ways. Attention and planning are also aspects of each task. Specifically, attention is required and used in performing each task, and planning is augmented by encouraging the children to engage in discussions, both during and following their performance.
An integral part of the structure of each task is to develop strategies such as rehearsal, categorization, monitoring of performance, prediction, revision of prediction, sounding, and sound blending. Thus, children develop their ability to use these strategies through experience with the tasks. Rather than being explicitly taught strategies by the tutor, children are encouraged to become aware of their use of strategies through verbalization. Growth in the ability to use strategies and be aware of appropriate opportunities for their use is expected to develop over the course of remediation.
The program consists of ten tasks that vary considerably in content and the requirements of the student. Each task involves both a global training component and a curriculum-related bridging component. The global component includes structured, non-reading tasks that require the application of simultaneous or successive strategies. These tasks also provide children with the opportunity to internalize strategies in their own way, thus facilitating transfer (Das et al., 1995). The bridging component involves the same cognitive demands as its matched global component and provides training in simultaneous and successive processing strategies, which have been closely linked to reading and spelling (Das, Naglieri, & Kirby, 1994).
The global tasks begin with content that is familiar and non-threatening so that strategy acquisition occurs in small stages (Das et. al., 1994). Complexity is introduced gradually. Through verbal mediation (occurring through specific discussions of strategies used) the global and bridging components of PREP encourage children to apply their strategies to academic tasks such as word decoding. The global and bridging components are further divided into three levels of difficulty. This allows the child to progress in strategy development and, for those who already have some successful processing strategies in place, to begin at an appropriate level.
A system of prompts is also integrated into each global and bridging component. The series of prompts creates a scaffolding network that supports and guides the child to ensure that tasks are completed with a minimal amount of assistance and a maximal amount of success. A record of these prompts provides a monitoring system for teachers to determine when material is too difficult for a child or when a child is able to successfully progress to a more difficult level. A criterion of 80% correct responses is required before a child can proceed to the next level of difficulty. If this criterion is not met, an alternate set of tasks, at the same difficulty level, is used to provide the additional training required.
To summarize briefly, PREP is a reading enhancement program that aims at improving the information processing strategies that underlie reading, while at the same time avoiding the direct teaching of word reading skills.
Review of PREP studies
Early studies using experimental versions of PREP produced positive results in both cognitive processing tasks and reading performance. That poor reading may coexist with cognitive processing deficits that go beyond phonological processing (Das, 1995a) became apparent with the first intervention study. Krywaniuk and Das' (1976) sample consisted of Grade 3 Canadian Native children attending a reservation school. All of the children were poor in both English reading and in several successive processing tests such as serial and free recall of words, short-term memory for visually presented digits, and a cross-modal coding task. An 18 hour intervention program that focused on successive processing (and to a lesser extent simultaneous processing in which the children had no problems) was given to 20 children whereas the remaining 15 children received only 3 hours of intervention and returned to their classes.
The results indicated that longer intervention improved serial and free recall, visual digit memory, and word recognition, but not WISC scores or any of the other cognitive test scores. In sum, intervention was successful in raising both successive processing and reading scores, which were targeted, but did not effect the non-targeted cognitive processes.
Brailsford, Snart, and Das (1984) provided 15 hours of remedial training in simultaneous and successive processes to a group of learning-disabled children, aged 9 to 12, enrolled in reading resource room programs. The matched control group received the same amount of remedial reading instruction. The results showed significant group by time interaction in one simultaneous task, in all successive processing tasks, and in the Standard Reading Inventory scores (McCracken, 1966), all in favor of the remediated group. Similar gains were not evident in the Gates-MacGinitie reading comprehension subtest. This result could be interpreted to suggest that simultaneous and successive processing strategies emphasized in training generalized to a reading task requiring active organizational strategies but not to the more structured multiple choice format reading task.
The training tasks used in both of these early studies could be best described as global in terms of their relation to reading, that is, they did not include training in reading related proximal processes. Therefore, the positive results are even more surprising and offer strong support for cognitive remediation. Later studies have replicated the positive results with a combination of global and bridging tasks, whereas training in either component alone has not necessarily been successful. Das, Mishra, and Pool (1995) used PREP with a group of Grade 3 and 4 students with reading disabilities who exhibited delays of at least 12 months on either the Word Identification or Word Attack subtest of the WRMT-R. Participants were first divided into two groups, PREP remediation and a no-intervention control group. The PREP group received 15 sessions of training involving groups of two students, over a period of 2 1/2 months. Children in the control group participated in regular classroom activities. After the intervention, both groups were tested again using the Word Identification and Word Attack subtests. The results indicated that while both groups gained during the intervention period, the PREP group gained significantly more on both Word Identification and Word Attack, as evidenced by a significant Group x Time interaction. In the second part of this study, children from the control group received either the global or the bridging component of PREP for the same length of time. Neither of these groups benefited from the program to the same extent as the original PREP group that received both components.
Similarly, Molina, Garrido, and Das (1997) found that when a Spanish version of full PREP (20 hours of remediation) was given to a group of 9- and 10-year-old Spanish children with reading difficulties, they did significantly better than a matched control group in reading, planning, simultaneous processing, and successive processing tasks. Similar gains were not evident in the group that received only the bridging component of the PREP (10 hours of training). The lack of positive results in this case, however, could have resulted also from the shorter intervention that the bridging group received.
Carlson and Das (1997) report on two studies using a small-group version of the PREP for underachieving Grade 4 students in Chapter 1 programs. In the first study, the experimental group received 15 hours of "add-on" training with PREP over an eight week period. Both the PREP and control groups (22 and 15 students, respectively) continued to participate in the regular Chapter 1 program. Word Attack and Word Identification tests were administered at the beginning and at the end of the intervention. The results showed significant improvement following training in PREP, as well as significant Group x Time interaction effects. The second study replicated these results with a larger sample of Grade 4 students. Since these original studies, several other replication studies completed in the same school district have essentially reproduced the original results with children from Grades 3, 4, 5, and 6, and with both bilingual (Spanish-English) and monolingual (English) children (Carlson, 1996). Moreover, these results have been robust even when the remedial sessions have included up to 10 participants. We should also note that in one of these studies, positive results were found both on reading and on successive processing tasks, thus providing a replication of the earlier findings by Krywaniuk and Das (1976) and Brailsford et al. (1984).
Finally, the effectiveness of a modified PREP (for an older group of children) was studied by Boden and Kirby (1995). A group of fifth- and sixth-grade students who were identified a year earlier as poor readers were randomly assigned to either a control or an experimental group. The control group received regular classroom instruction and the experimental group received PREP, in groups of four students, for approximately 14 hours. As in previous studies, the results showed differences between the control and PREP groups on the Word Identification and Word Attack tests after treatment. In relation to the previous year's reading scores, the PREP group performed significantly better than the control group.
Taken together, these studies make a clear case for the effectiveness of PREP in remediating deficient reading skills during the elementary school years. Moreover, most of the studies included participants experiencing rather severe difficulties in learning to read and thus qualifying as "reading disabled" rather than just poor readers. We believe that these are precisely the children who are most in need of cognitive remediation.
Longitudinal study with young children "at-risk"
The studies reviewed above have not addressed the effectiveness of the PREP program in preventing rather than remediating reading problems. This is the main focus of the study presented here. Moreover, most studies did not employ a stringent control condition, a plausible competing program. Thus, we will now report preliminary results that extend research on PREP with three important changes: (1) the control condition is a competing program given to a carefully matched group of children; (2) the participants are beginning readers in Grade 1 and therefore younger than the Grade 3 to Grade 6 participants in the previous studies; and (3) the training is shorter in duration than in most of the previous PREP studies.
Participants and Procedure
The initial group of participants consisted of 101 Kindergarten children identified by their teachers as being at-risk for experiencing early reading difficulties (excluding ESL and mentally challenged students) who were subsequently given an assessment battery consisting of 9 cognitive tasks (2 planning tasks, 2 attention tasks, 2 simultaneous processing tasks, and 3 successive processing tasks taken from the standardized version of the Das-Naglieri Cognitive Assessment System; Naglieri & Das, 1997) and 3 phonological processing tasks (rhyming, sound isolation, phoneme elision) during the Spring of their kindergarten year.
Ninety of these children were given the same assessment tests together with Word Attack and Word Identification tests again in Grade 1. Sixty-one of them (22 of which were female) scored below the 26th percentile on both Word Attack and Word Identification (WRMT-R) and were included in the remediation. In this group, there was an attrition of 3 participants during the intervention. The mean age for this group was 76.6 months (SD = 3.8). After identifying the final sample, two matched remediation groups were formed. Matching was performed by clustering participants on the basis of 14 standardized criterion variables, which included 9 cognitive processing tasks, 3 phonological processing tasks, and 2 reading tasks (Word Attack and Word Identification). Although matching took place simultaneously in a 14 dimensional space, the subsequent t tests on raw scores showed no significant differences between the groups on any of the 15 variables (all p's > .3).
Remediation took place over two months during the Spring of Grade 1 and consisted of 18 twenty-minute sessions which were administered during school hours by trained experimenters. Students were worked with individually or in groups of two or three, depending on the number of students receiving particular remediation in their schools. The variation in the groupings was similar across both programs in the beginning of the remediation.
The PREP group received eight of the ten tasks in the original program which were adapted for the Grade 1 level. The following eight tasks were presented to the children in the order listed: Window Sequencing, Connecting Letters, Joining Shapes, Matrices, Related Memory Set, Transportation Matrices, Tracking, and Shape Design. For a detailed description of the tasks and procedures, see Das and Kendrick (1997).
The second remediation group received a meaning-based program that emphasized the philosophy of the whole-language approach to teaching reading. The meaning-based program in the present study was designed as follows. In order to provide opportunities for learning to read in a natural way, children were read stories that they selected from the instructor's collection of quality children's literature. The stories, which were rich in language, covered a wide range of topics. No direct, systematic reading instruction was provided. Instead, the children participated in discussions about events and pictures in the stories as they related to their own personal experience. The overall objective of the meaning-based program was to encourage children to derive meaning from print by reconstructing the author's message, based on their own experiences.
Post-testing included only the Word Identification and Word Attack tests and took place after each child had completed the remediation. The Word Attack test was used to measure participants' ability to apply phonic and structural analysis skills to pronouncing nonsense or low frequency words that are not recognizable by sight. This ability is often called spelling-to-sound correspondence and is one of the most commonly used predictors of early reading skills. Stimulus words in this test consisted of simple consonant-vowel combinations (e.g., "dee", "apt", "ift"). The Word Identification test requires the participant to read isolated (and, at this level, also high frequency) words (e.g., "is", "you", "and").
Results and Discussion
Table 1 presents the means and standard deviations for the pre- and post-test Word Attack and Word Identification raw scores for both remediation groups.
Table 1. Word Attack and Word Identification scores as a Function of Remediation and Testing Time.
Separate independent samples t tests showed that the pre-test scores did not differ significantly for either measure, whereas the post-test scores for Word Attack were significantly different. Testing Time (2) x Remediation Group (2) repeated measures ANOVAs were computed separately for Word Attack and Word Identification. The main effect of Testing Time was significant in both analyses, indicating that over the three-month period the participants had advanced in their basic reading skills. For Word Attack, the Remediation Group x Testing Time interaction was also significant. This result indicates that the PREP group improved significantly more than the meaning-based group in pseudoword reading. No significant interaction was obtained for Word Identification although the PREP group seemed to benefit slightly more from the remediation.
Perhaps the most rigorous test of an intervention program's success is whether or not it produces relative gains in terms of standardized norms. Accordingly, both the pre-test and post-test percentile scores were calculated and compared to the monthly age norms provided in the Woodcock manual. Table 2 presents the means and standard deviations for the pre- and post-test Word Attack and Word Identification percentile scores.
Table 2. Word Attack and Word Identification Percentile Scores as a Function of Remediation and Testing Time.
Table 2 shows that on the Word Attack task, children in the PREP group gained 13.66 percentile points in standing relative to the norm sample whereas the meaning-based group gained approximately half as much, that is, 6.71 percentile points. For Word Identification, the gains were more limited for both groups: the PREP group gained 4.69 percentile points and the meaning-based group gained 3.74 percentile points.
A detailed examination of individual performances indicated that 14 children from the PREP group gained 15 percentile points or more during the remediation, exhibiting significant gains relative to the norm sample. Eight children scored at the 30th percentile or higher on the Word Attack post-test. In the meaning-based group, 7 participants gained 15 percentile points or more, and 2 participants scored at the 30th percentile or higher during post-testing. On Word Identification, similar gains were made by 4 participants from the PREP group and by 2 participants from the meaning-based group. Taken together, these results show that 9 participants who were included in the PREP remediation group would not have qualified as having a significant early reading problem if they had been tested after the remediation. In contrast, only 3 participants from the meaning-based remediation group displayed similar progress.
In sum, these results indicate that while both programs were effective in producing small gains on a word recognition task, PREP produced significantly larger gains on the pseudoword reading task. Given the unproportionally high number of exception (irregular spelling) words in the Word Identification test, it may not be surprising that the positive effect of PREP did not generalize into this task after all, the main purpose of PREP is to enhance the cognitive processes on which phonological decoding is based. While Word Attack measures directly phonological decoding, Word Identification requires familiarity with the exception words included in the test, and this required reading practice as well as skill.
A major empirical concern of this chapter was understanding and remediation of reading difficulties. The findings from older studies as well as the preliminary results from the study presented here point to the need for a theoretically derived remediation program with training in relevant cognitive processes. The PASS theory allows us to go beyond phonological training and use PREP. In terms of PASS, successive processing is suggested to be the locus of reading difficulties, not merely a correlate of them. If this is correct, then improving successive processing is necessary for some designated children improving the basic word-level skills. The studies reviewed above certainly give support for this interpretation. Cognitive remediation can help students reading skills.
A Final Word
In conclusion, this chapter presents a recent review, a stock taking, as it were, of the level of sophisticated research in the field of cognitive education. We hope to convince the reader that the eclectic nontheoretical approach to remedial training belongs to the past. The theoretical underpinnings of remediation that we have illustrated include the Vygotskian notion of expanding children's zones of proximal development, a notion that is clearly manifested in the mediated learning and instrumental enrichment research of Feuerstein. Together with Vygotsky, we believe that children with intellectual handicap of one kind or another actually face dual handicaps that of intellectual deficiency, that prevents them from learning, and that of negative reaction from society to their handicapping condition (Das, 1995b).
J. P. Das, JP Das Developmental Disabilities Centre, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada; Rauno K. Parrila, Faculty of Education, Queen's University, Kingston, Canada; Timothy C. Papadopoulos, JP Das Developmental Disabilities Centre, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.
This research was funded by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) to John Kirby and J. P. Das. The authors wish to thank the Edmonton Public School Board, and especially the students, teachers, and principals for their participation and cooperation. We would also like to thank Richard Wagner for providing the Phoneme Elision and Sound Isolation tasks.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to J. P. Das, JP Das Developmental Disabilities Centre, 6-123G Education North, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, T6G 2G5, Canada. Electronic mail can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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