Date of Award

1991

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Susan Brady

Abstract

The primary goals of this study were to examine the association between working memory and phoneme awareness, and to explore the relationships of these phonological processes with decoding and comprehension components of reading ability. Previously, only a few studies had examined the role of working memory in phoneme awareness, and the findings were inconclusive. A further goal of the present study was to examine whether simple phoneme awareness tasks (requiring counting or segmenting of phonemes) relate differently to reading skills than do compound phoneme awareness tasks (requiring deletion or manipulation of phonemes).

Second-grade children whose reading skills were normally distributed served as subjects (n = l40). In addition to examining the abilities of the entire subject pool, two subgroups of skilled and less-skilled

decoders were compared to determine if children having difficulty learning to read perform differently on phoneme awareness and working memory tasks. The subjects were given three working memory measures, three simple phoneme awareness tasks, and three compound phoneme awareness measures.

The results suggested that working memory ability is not strongly linked to performance on phoneme awareness tasks. Thus, these constructs represent relatively independent phonological processes. Second, the simple phoneme awareness tasks were found to factor separately from the compound phoneme awareness measures, suggesting it is important to distinguish between these two levels of metaphonological awareness.

For the entire pool of subjects, the working memory, simple phoneme awareness, compound phoneme awareness, and IQ measures were differentially related to decoding and comprehension performance. Decoding, a more basic skill, related highly to expertise on compound phoneme awareness measures, with simple phoneme awareness making a smaller contribution. Similarly, the subgroups of skilled and less-skilled decoders were significantly differentiated by their performance on both simple and compound phoneme awareness measures, but not on working memory. Comprehension performance, in contrast, was best predicted by compound phoneme awareness, verbal and nonverbal IQ, and working memory. The value of phoneme awareness measures for prediction and assessment purposes was discussed, as was the issue of how to control for IQ when examining phonological processes related to learning to read.

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