Reading Difficulties and Dyslexia: An Interpretation for Teachers


J.P. Das

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    For Gita my counsellor, companion, wife

    List of Tables

    • 4.1 Examples of Items in an IQ Test 32
    • 14.1 Woodcock Test Results-I 126
    • 14.2 Woodcock Test Results-II 127
    • 14.3 Woodcock Test Results-III 128
    • 14.4 Woodcock Test Results-IV 128
    • 14.5 PREP and CAS Changes 140
    • 14.6 Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children—Third Edition (WISC-III) 141
    • 14.7 David's Pretest and Posttest Comparisons Following PREP 141
    • 14.8 Wechsler Individual Achievement Test-II (WIAT-II) 141
    • 14.9 Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing (CTOPP): Composite 142
    • 14.10 Wechsler Individual Achievement Test—Second Edition (WIAT-II) 142
    • 14.11 Cognitive Assessment System (CAS) Results 143
    • 14.12 Woodcock Reading Mastery Test (Grade Equivalent Scores)-I 145
    • 14.13 Woodcock Reading Mastery Test (Grade Equivalent Scores)-II 146
    • 16.1 Results of t Tests for PASS and Reading Variables for Three Planned Contrasts 162

    List of Figures

    • 1.1 Special Children: Who are They? 5
    • 2.1 Tasks for Assessing Phonological Awareness 16
    • 3.1 Developmental Stages of Reading 24
    • 3.2 PET Scans of the Brain during Reading Activities 27
    • 4.1 The PASS Model 36
    • 4.2 A Task for Assessing Receptive Attention 40
    • 4.3 Tasks for Assessing Simultaneous Processing 41
    • 4.4 Example of a Planning Test Item 41
    • 4.5 Example of a Successive Processing Test Item 42
    • 5.1 Reading by Sight and Sound 56
    • 7.1 Know the Ropes of PREP 76
    • 7.2 The Three Philosophies of PREP 79
    • 7.3 Three Teaching Approaches 80
    • 16.1 The Relationship between Object-Naming and Reading 169
    • E1 Articulation and Pause Time 181
    • E2 Three Parts of Reading 182
    • N1 Rapid Letter Naming 192

    List of Abbreviations

    ADDAttention Deficit Disorder
    ADHDAttention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
    ARDAverage IQ Reading-Disabled
    CAChronological Age
    CACChronological Age Controls
    CASCognitive Assessment System
    COGENTCognitive Enhancement Training
    CTOPPComprehensive Test of Phonological Processing
    FASFetal Alcohol Syndrome
    fMRIfunctional Magnetic Resonance Imaging
    FNFirst Nations
    MAMental Age
    PETPositron Emission Tomography
    PREPPASS Reading Enhancement Program
    RACReading Age Controls
    RANRapid Automatic Naming
    SACCStudent Activity Completion Checklist
    STMShort-Term Memory
    WIATWechsler Individual Achievement Test
    WISCWechsler Intelligence Scale for Children
    WRMT-RWoodcock Reading Mastery Tests-Revised
    ZPDZone of Proximal Development


    Dyslexia and “poor reading” can be distinguished by assuming that dyslexia is a specific reading difficulty whereas poor reading is a general one. However, the distinction is not always strictly maintained in this book. Both terms essentially refer to reading difficulties. “Reading Difficulties” is used as a general term to identify children and adults who struggle to read and comprehend what they are reading. However, some of them may not have any difficulty in listening comprehension. Their difficulty may be specifically related to reading, which is converting written words to speech. Decoding letters to their corresponding sounds, and learning how to pronounce different parts of the word, especially unfamiliar words, are extensions of the same problem experienced by dyslexics. The teacher can test how well or poorly a child with dyslexia can read, but the reading test would not tell her/him if there is an underlying deficit in “phonological” processing, which involves converting a written word to its components of sound. This is explained in the first few chapters of the book.

    Beyond phonology (converting written words to speech), there may be broader cognitive deficits. For example, difficulty in sequencing, what comes after what—when asked to spell “push”, the dyslexic child cannot tell if the word begins with “b”, or if the letter “u” must precede “sh”. This is the usual difficulty in successive processing. Do these children have low intelligence, and therefore cannot read? The answer certainly is “no”. Dyslexics and children with reading difficulties, who cannot decode words, are found at all levels of intelligence, ranging from low to high. Comprehension, on the other hand, may be partly associated with low levels of intelligence, but not in all cases. This is further explained in the chapter on comprehension.

    This book is an interpretation of dyslexia and reading difficulties in terms of the underlying processes. It gives the reader a condensed source of current knowledge. So far as theory is concerned, the book interprets the topic in terms of PASS (Planning-Attention-Simultaneous-Successive) processes, that is, the four major processes of knowing and thinking that replace traditional views of IQ and redefine intelligence. These ideas are elaborated in special chapters in the book.

    Reviewing the contents of the book, basic questions, such as what is dyslexia and how do reading difficulties develop, are answered in Part I of this book. How do I deal with dyslexia? Is there a valid remedial procedure that I can use? These questions are central to Part II. Part III briefly looks at ongoing concerns regarding reading difficulties that have not been covered in detail elsewhere in the book. Finally, the Epilogue presents a brief review of new developments in research on dyslexia and reading difficulties. The Notes elaborate the ideas in a chapter, and for some chapters make the contents come alive with practical examples. For some other chapters, they offer clarification of issues that were too complex to deal with in this brief survey.

    The book is not an exhaustive scholarly discourse on dyslexia and reading difficulties. It is intended to be like a sampler menu offered in a gourmet restaurant: You can view the full menu but only have time to dip into a few select dishes.

    For the school psychologist, this book is an interpretation that gives preeminence to the PASS theory of cognitive processes and their assessment. Specifically, it uses PASS theory to explain “unexplained reading disability”, that is, reading problems that are not explained by a traditional IQ test. Typically, when a teacher refers a reading-disabled child to a psychologist for assessment, the results may do nothing more than confirm what the teacher knew all along—that the child has normal or better than normal nonverbal ability, but significant weakness in verbal ability. The teacher puts the report aside with a sigh, and continues as best he or she can to teach the child to read. The book goes a step further by offering remediation programs, which are derived from the theoretical framework of PASS.

    PASS theory has gained popularity and now its battery of assessments, the Das-Naglieri Cognitive Assessment System (CAS), is being used with confidence in several countries for general assessment as well as for assessment of special children. In English or in translation (Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese and Korean, as of this year), CAS is used for diagnosis of the underlying cognitive deficits of dyslexics and poor readers. This book demonstrates how the PASS theory and assessment can answer the question: What do I do following the cognitive assessment of children with reading difficulties? The answer is important not only for guiding remediation, but also for understanding the nature of the specific reading problem known as dyslexia.

    The book provides a brief but authentic discourse on topics that are vital to understanding the continuing enigma of dyslexia. What is phonological awareness and how can it be placed within the context of cognitive processes? Is dyslexia due to a block, an embolism as it were, in the course of the natural flow of reading progression from symbolic to orthographic stages of reading? Can neuropsychology expand our understanding not only of reading but also of spelling and writing? And finally, is there a rational basis for remediation that is supported by both cognitive psychology and neuropsychology?

    Neuropsychology takes the school psychologist back to the structure and func tions of the brain that are constantly evolving as a result of the experiences of the individual in school as well as through experiential learning. The book will be perceived by school psychologists as having a theoretical bias, but this should not interfere with existing knowledge; rather, it ventures into the frontier regions of the field, searching for explanations and solutions in the broad beam of a theory's flashlight.

    Before completing the preface to the book, I want to discuss two major problems that challenge the teachers and school psychologists and are a cause of frustration for the parents. The first problem is the child's reluctance to write. The second is related to understanding or comprehension—how can we help children to improve comprehension.


    Writing has become a problem with many children, including schoolchildren in India. Teachers complain about it because some children refuse to write. If even in examinations they are turning in a blank answer sheet, should the teachers fail the student and deny promotion to the next class?

    There are two important phases of writing, early childhood and a later phase after age 10. What could be the major questions, in both phases and specific to each phase?

    The mechanical part in writing includes simple skills such as holding the pencil or the pen, proper formation of letters, and leaving space between words. These are the basic skills in handwriting. Many children hate to write because they are generally clumsy. They may not have a good control over their fine movements and coordination of hand, fingers, and the eyes. Usually many of these children have no neurological or physical reason for their clumsi-ness. They were forced to write when they were not mature enough, at ages three and four. They pick up bad habits of writing because they cannot cope with the fine motor skills that handwriting requires. If left alone, and if they are not taught handwriting until they are above five years of age, many of them will find it easier to write, and even take pride when they have learnt the skills for handwriting.

    By the age of 10, schoolchildren have mastered the skills of writing and the simple rules of punctuation and grammar. Also, with the possibility of typing on a computer, the mechanical part in writing will not pose a problem. In fact, most children who hate writing will benefit if computers are allowed in the classrooms and examination halls. More information on writing is given in the chapter on spelling and writing as well as in the notes on that chapter.

    We read to know. We write to express. This is a simple fact, but teachers and parents may not remember this. The second phase of writing is all about expressing thoughts and feelings, intentions and emotions. Even as an adult, it is difficult to express one's thoughts accurately in writing. There is a gap between the intention or desire to communicate something and subsequently putting it down on paper. Emotions and feelings are not always adequately represented in writing. We cannot express in writing everything that we perceive, and we certainly cannot express adequately what we feel. Help children to improve their writing by asking them to imagine as if they are talking to another person who cannot see them, who cannot hear their tone, or see their face and gestures. Then, continue to write.

    Learning to read and write in two or three languages even before children are six has become a major difficulty for children in some countries. The problem is so serious, that it is a hindrance in making children literate. This is especially so in Indian schools, which begin to instruct in English at preschool.

    Teaching for Comprehension

    A serious consequence of forcing children to read and write in two or three languages, before they have reasonably mastered their mother tongue, is poor comprehension of what they read. Current newspapers in India have pointed out over and over again that schools in primary grades emphasize rote learning at the expense of comprehension. This is all the more harmful when using a second language (English) as the medium of instruction in the schools. Teachers and parents may not realize the big difference between reading English and reading any of the other languages, such as the Sanskrit-based ones (Hindi, Oriya, etc.), German and Greek—children make more mistakes in English reading because the letters do not always correspond to sounds (for example, the letter “a” is pronounced differently in “apple” and “ace”). If you read inaccurately, you cannot understand well.

    But there is hope for enhancing comprehension. We have encouraging results of using PREP, the remediation program (see PREP chapters in the book); we show how comprehension deficiency can be easily corrected in a short period of time by using PREP. Try to use the core elements of PREP in classroom instruction, especially when teaching bilingual children, for whom it seems easier to learn vocabulary by rote than comprehend the foreign language.

    The core elements of PREP tasks improve comprehension; some evidence is presented in the chapters on PREP. Comprehension skills increase in children through abstraction, perception of interrelationship among the obtained information, strategic thinking and the ability to focus on relevant information to the exclusion of the irrelevant ones. The children are also encouraged to become aware of their use of strategies through talking to themselves while solving a problem. This is specially helpful for those who are weak in planning strategies.

    I can only hope that many teachers and school psychologists will find the book's contents useful. They will also appreciate the value of research and its application in teaching reading. A long line of my former students have contributed to the ideas and studies in this book and continue to enrich my knowledge in reading. Notable among them are Professors John Kirby, Rauno Parrila, Timothy Papadopoulos, and George Georgiou, the youngest one in this group—a long line indeed, for George was not even born when John completed his PhD with me.

  • Epilogue: New Horizons in Understanding Reading

    In the previous chapter we reviewed some selected research that is expanding our understanding of reading and the rate at which a reader reads. We were able to provide a framework from PASS theory and neuropsychology. In this epilogue, we continue the review of contemporary concerns in reading and failure to read by focusing on two basic components of reading.

    Phonological Awareness and Rapid Automatic Naming: Two Cores of the Same Fruit

    It has been known for some years now that both phonological awareness and rapid automatic naming (RAN) speed are associated with reading. But what do these tongue twisters mean? Both describe the new reader's ability to use and understand rhymes, and detect and manipulate sounds. My preliterate 4-year-old son surprised us one day when he overheard me helping my 7-year-old sister spell the word cobbler. He jumped in with “It's cobb then ler”, demonstrating that he had already acquired the basic principle of segmenting words into sounds. The two children enjoyed playing the “secret codes” word game: “When I say jara, you know I am saying raja (king), when I say nira I mean rani (queen).” We also played with spoonerisms, such as learty hunch means hearty lunch, gaterwate means watergate, and tice noy means nice toy. By the age of five, he enjoyed playing the take the sound away game: “If I was carrying a chair, and a strong wind blew the ch away, what would I be carrying?” He would say, “Nothing!” and blow a puff of air at me with a laugh!

    Phonological Awareness and Reading

    It is widely accepted that most children with reading difficulties have a core phonological deficit that interferes with their ability to develop phonological awareness, that is, the ability to perceive and manipulate the sounds of spoken words. Children who are learning to read differ widely in phonological awareness; some are very good at it by their second year in elementary school, while others at that age still find these simple games very difficult.

    Phonological awareness has been repeatedly shown to be a strong predictor of reading ability, in both alphabetic and nonalphabetic writing systems. Studies have also shown that a child's level of phonological awareness, measured when reading instruction begins, accurately predicts his/her reading performance in later years. This holds true even after such variables as print exposure, letter knowledge, and verbal intelligence have been allowed for, and can be demonstrated as early as kindergarten. However, most researchers agree that phonological awareness alone does not account for all reading problems in children. Studies have shown that several cognitive processes are also good predictors of reading, at kindergarten and even before.

    RAN: The other Core Ability for Learning to Read

    Recently, RAN has been acknowledged as a second core deficit in reading disabilities (see for example, Wolf and Bowers, 1999). RAN is described as the ability to name, as fast as possible, visually presented familiar symbols, such as colors, shapes, objects, and letters. It is the foundation for the skills of letter recognition, learning the sounds of words, and translating spelling to speech. As with phonological awareness, RAN performance has been shown to distinguish average from poor readers during childhood and into adulthood. Similarly, even after statistically equating IQ, reading experience, attention deficit disorder, socioeconomic status, articulation rate, and, most importantly, phonological awareness, RAN remains a reliable predictor of reading.

    We know that naming of colors, shapes, and objects can significantly predict the naming of words. A recent study by Wolf and Bowers (1999) offered some experimental evidence, demonstrating that the perception of objects and written words share some common features. These include grammatical encoding, phonological (syntactic) encoding, and articulation demand. The difference is that object recognition involves a semantic, or conceptual, system, whereas for naming written words, a syntactic system is sufficient. This study also suggested a theoretical reason for this common ground—object recognition and naming written words must share some fundamental cognitive process.

    Tests of cognitive processes show that successive processing is central to early reading. It is significantly involved in word decoding, especially for pseudo-words and words to be read aloud (that is, requiring punctuation). Tasks testing successive processing correlate strongly with these basic reading requirements, the strongest correlations being those with the Speech Rate task (the fast repetition of three simple words), the Naming Time task (naming rows of single letters, digits, color strips, or simple and familiar words), and the Short-term Memory task. Simultaneous processing also plays an important part in basic reading skills, such as blending (in word reading) and comprehension of meaning. A consistent training program to enhance successive and simultaneous processing, independent of reading, can help children who are at risk for reading difficulties.

    The importance of RAN in predicting reading ability and differentiating between poor and good readers has been shown not only in English, but also in languages characterized by a transparent orthography (for example, German, Dutch, or Greek). In languages other than English, it has been found that poor readers are more likely to have deficits in RAN than in phonological processing, and even in English, some poor readers with a speed deficit have no significant impairment in accurate reading of real or nonwords. It is widely accepted that the most severe kind of reading deficiency results from deficits in both speed and accuracy, as compared to individual readers who have only a speed deficit. In support of the unique contribution of RAN in predicting reading, Wolf and Bowers in their 1999 review paper suggested the double-deficit hypothesis (Wolf and Bowers, 1999). According to this hypothesis, four groups of children can be identified: a group with normal reading, a group with deficits only in rapid naming speed, a group with deficits only in phonological awareness, and a double-deficit group with difficulties in both RAN and phonological awareness. Children in the double-deficit group tend to have the most severe difficulties in learning to read. Several studies have found that children in the double-deficit group had the lowest scores on word identification, word attack, and reading comprehension measures, and also that children experiencing both phonological awareness and RAN deficits benefited the least from remediation.

    Although RAN has been found to consistently account for variance in reading ability, the nature of the link between RAN and reading remains the focus of the ongoing debate. Various researchers have developed competing models to explain why RAN is related to reading. Some classify RAN as a type of phonological ability, maintaining that RAN tasks assess the rate of access to and retrieval of phonologically based information stored in long-term memory. Other researchers think that RAN should be considered a separate cognitive processing skill related to reading, asserting that RAN emphasizes skills like processing speed and the integration of visual processes with cognitive and linguistic processes.

    Pause Time and Articulation Time

    There is now ample evidence to show that successive processing difficulty is generally associated with reading difficulties in specifically reading-disabled children, but not in poor readers without such a disability. As we have seen, successive processing is important in reading, including in naming time.

    Rapid automatic naming actually consists of several different tasks, and recent research shows that dyslexics perform differently from other poor readers. In a typical rapid naming time task, 40 or 50 randomly sequenced colors, pictures, numbers, or letters appear on a page in rows of 8 or 10 items. Time for rapid naming in these tasks can be divided into the time taken for the articulation of a letter (that is, searching for the name, assembling pronunciation, and actual articulation of the word) and the pause between articulating one item and the next. There may also be a significant pause between one set of items and the next. Recent research has shown that the major difference between dyslexic and nondyslexic readers exists in the pauses, rather than in the articulation time.

    How can we explain pauses in terms of cognitive processes? The first component of the pause is disengagement of attention—the child has to give up what he has just said and get ready to say the name of the next color or letter. The remainder of the gap time could be broadly named encoding, which ends after finding a name for the next color, assembling the pronunciation for the color name, and forming a motor program for articulation. Each of these three different processes could contribute to the gap time. It is suggested that while repeating the stimuli over and over again (as in the typical naming time test of some 40 or 50 items), some amount of reactive inhibition may build up due to the continuous demand on fast reading. Reactive inhibition is expected to arise during massed practice (Eysenck, 1967). When this happens, involuntary rest pauses, a temporary condition of pauses, must occur for the dissipation of reactive inhibition. Therefore, perhaps towards the middle of the naming time task, reactive inhibition would be sufficiently strong to increase the gap time. Then, the child automatically takes an involuntary rest pause, becomes refreshed when the reactive inhibition has been dissipated, and comes back rejuvenated to resume at a faster naming speed.

    An experiment by Georgiou and Parrila (2004) on kindergarten children reached a very interesting conclusion. The time to articulate the name of a color remained constant as children were observed from kindergarten through Grade 1, while the pause time was reduced. Notice that in the Figure E1, the two major components, articulation (the wavy and tall marks of speech) and pause time, are shown. In this case, a child is naming colors—red, yellow, green, blue. The pauses between the color naming and the articulation of the color name itself are distinctly visible in the diagram.

    The children were tested three times, each time about 6 months apart—first in kindergarten, again in the fall term of Grade 1, and, finally, in the spring term of Grade 1. As the children got older, it was noticed that the articulation time hardly changes. The pause time, however, was the longest in kindergarten, decreased substantially (by about 35 percent) 6 months later, and reduced further, though not so spectacularly, by the third test. The child is, perhaps, now able to encode faster, to disengage attention more efficiently, and to prepare for articulation by assembling a pronunciation that has become easier as he has grown older.

    Figure E1 Articulation and Pause Time

    This research emphasizes the fact that speed is not a blanket term because even within the same task, the speed of articulation is unrelated to the pause time.

    There are three important parts of reading (see Figure E2):

    Figure E2 Three Parts of Reading
    • Phonology, that is, the sounds of letters, syllables, and words, when the sounds and syllables are blended. While reading a word, especially long and unfamiliar words, the sounds and syllables have to be segmented or broken apart.
    • Orthography, or the writing system that a language uses, which may give rise to confusion in reading words such as dead and bead, tough and though.
    • Semantics, or meaning of the words. The purpose of reading is not only to get sound from spelling, but also to get meaning from print.

    Figure E2 is a simple model of the relationship among the three components given by Seidenberg (2005).

    • The figure supports the observation that dyslexia is often associated with impairments in how the reader represents phonological information. If the representation is not accurate or weakened (degrading these representations), it is assumed to cause the reader to learn more slowly and to generalize reading poorly to similar words.
    • The figure suggests that dyslexia can also have other causes. Many dyslexics show a general developmental delay in reading rather than a specific phonological deficit. What causes the delay?
    • The figure suggests that this delay may arise from constitutional factors (for example, a learning deficit) or experiential ones (for example, lack of reading experience). Some of these children may be “instructional dyslexics” who were taught using methods that did not include phonics.
    • There are two main brain circuits involved in reading—a phonologically dominant one that develops earlier, and an orthography-semantics pathway that develops with additional experience as the child learns to read (Pugh et al., 2000).
    • Where in the brain? Pugh and others demonstrated that on reading tasks that required phonological processing, such as determining if two made-up words rhyme (for example, kime and nime), normal readers showed a strong connection between two specific locations—the angular gyrus and other areas at the back of the left hemisphere. In contrast, dyslexics did not.
    • However, normal readers and dyslexics showed similar connectivity between these areas on reading tasks that did not demand phonological processing.
    • Such research implies that intact supporting neural connections can be utilized by dyslexics, if active phonological exercises (such as determining whether words rhyme, or identifying the first and last sounds in a word) are not demanded of them.
    • Appropriate remediation or intervention programs (such as PREP, described earlier in the book) that do not teach phonics and do not require oral reading, but still enhance successive processing, can be effective in helping dyslexics become better readers.
    • Successive processing contributes to understanding printed words and comprehending syntax.
    • Can the PASS theory allow us to understand the difference between reading disabilities associated with a slow rate of word reading and those characterized by a high rate of phonological errors?
    • Poor readers who are slow but not inaccurate should do poorly on the CAS successive processing test that demands articulation. This test requires rapid repetition of two or three simple words many times over. (for example, “Say the words gauch lype as fast as you can until I ask you to stop.”)
    • Slow, but accurate, readers should not perform poorly on other successive processing tests (for example, serial recall of words and sentences) that do not demand fast articulation. In contrast, those who are both slow and inaccurate readers should do poorly on all successive processing tests. This prediction is yet to be investigated.

    Note of Acknowledgment: This chapter was written with invaluable inputs from George Georgiou. George is an Assistant Professor in Educational Psychology at the University of Alberta.


    The experts in the field of learning disability differ so much in their definitions of learning disability that it is impossible to cover it in one book. Learning disability covers such a broad range that it is almost a noninformative label for a parent or teacher of learning-disabled children, who is faced with their learning problems day in and day out. To make matters worse, some of the experts divide learning disability into disability that is seen in academic learning and disability that is seen in nonacademic learning. For example, where there are difficulties in reading, spelling, arithmetic, as well as in writing and composition, the label used is academic. These are separated from nonacademic disabilities that are apparently shown in visual-motor problems (such as in tying shoelaces, catching a ball, or phonological processing, as discussed in this chapter), memory problems, and even what are referred to as perceptual problems. The difficulty with these kinds of divisions, academic and nonacademic and further divisions within each—especially the nonacademic divisions comprising of visual-motor, perceptual, language, memory, and so on—is that the academic and nonacademic problems overlap to a very great extent. I have discussed this in Chapter 1 and, in fact, argued for a rational, yet commonsense, view of reading disability. Visual, spatial, perceptual, language, phonological, and memory processes—all these do affect reading, spelling, writing, and composition as well.

    There is another difficulty with the use of the term learning disability along with reading disability. This concerns the label learning disability itself. In Britain, for example, mental retardation is now labelled as severe learning disability. In response to this, I have used the term dyslexia throughout the book.

    One other important topic, popular in debates and arguments about dyslexia, has been omitted from this book. Strange as it may appear, there have been intermittent controversies with regard to the very existence of dyslexia. Some experts, again, advocate the view that it is curable, and thus it should not be recognized as a deficit. All through this book, however, we have presented this complex syndrome from various angles, especially from the point of view that it is a specific reading disability and a cognitive difficulty, that is, at least, associated with specific reading disability.

    It is hoped that the line of association is a causal one; in other words, it is argued that the cognitive deficits in some way have contributed to the existence of specific reading disability. The best reference to familiarize the reader with some of the recent views regarding dyslexia is to be found in papers by Torgesen (1982; 1988).

    In these chapters, I have directly discussed phonological coding and its importance in learning to read. Along with this very important factor that contributes to reading disability, I have argued that there are cognitive processes that must be considered as well, when we go beyond phonological coding. These cognitive processes are discussed in detail in Chapter 4. In chapters 2 and 3, I try to demonstrate that dyslexia is a complex cognitive process, but it is also a complex neuropsychological process. The importance of neuropsychology in understanding dyslexia, and in designing remedial programs is discussed throughout the book. It is true that the brain functions, especially the organization in the cortex, might break down in specific ways in specific kinds of difficulty in dyslexia. The other important aspect in these chapters relates to the beginning of a discussion on comprehension, which is continued in Chapter 5. This chapter, along with chapters 1 and 2, provides the groundwork for understanding dyslexia. Much further insight can be gained by reading the book by Harley (1995).

    Whenever we describe something developing in stages, we are open to questions. Development is never linear and it seldom occurs in well-marked stages. So, what is the value of suggesting that reading occurs in stages? It is a convenient way of observing development, and it may be useful for locating the problems and doing what is necessary, if we are guided by a theory of stages of reading. Teachers and parents thus obtain a frame of reference for identifying children's reading difficulty by observing stages. Frith (1986, 1992) provides a reasoned discussion on stages.

    Neuropsychology refers us back to the structure and functions of the brain, as these are constantly evolving with the cultural experiences of the individual. The new tools are the brain imaging techniques—CT scan, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Positron Emission Tomography, and others. Posner and Raichle's book (1994) is a modern reference for connecting the brain to cognitive functions. It must be remembered, though, that the brain is a very complex organ and the experiences of the individual continuously shape and determine brain functions. Children differ from each other in the life experiences that affect their academic and nonacademic behaviors, along with their brain functions. So, let us not separate the mind from the physical structure!

    There are millions of children in the world who cannot read, not because they are dyslexic but because they are unschooled. Most of them grow up to be illiterate adults, and only a small percentage of the adults have the opportunity to enrol in reading classes for adult literacy. Do these children and adults who cannot read, lose a portion of their intelligence? They may think and reason differently from educated individuals, and lack of reading books and printed material may starve them of book-knowledge, but this should not turn them into unintelligent individuals. Here, we must distinguish the effect of schooling from the consequences of illiteracy. Schools provide a unique context for the development of mental functions of children. However much we may find faults with our schools, the culture of schooling promotes certain mental attitudes: the “schooled” mind regards a problem or its solution as one instance of a type of general problem or solution. Schooling also teaches us to “decontextualize” experiences, that is, to take the experience out of the immediate context. For example, Luria (1979) asked the illiterate peasants of Uzbekistan a reasoning question—Camels live where it is hot and dry, as in a desert. Berlin is a large city where it is very cold and wet. Would camels live there? The illiterate peasants could not accept the logical form of the statements, but had to refer to their experience. “I haven't seen Berlin but you say it is a large city; there may be camels, why not?”

    Learning to read, certainly teaches children to pay attention to words and break the words down to phonemes and syllables. It also opens the world of print and writing to them. But lack of reading ability does not decrease their intelligence, unless we are testing for knowledge from books and the print media.

    IQ may be irrelevant for determining who is reading-disabled, and it does not help us in remediation of reading disability. In fact, in remediating reading disability, the low-IQ children run the risk of being shortchanged. The teacher may either feel that children with low IQ cannot benefit from remediation or that resources can be better utilized for intelligent children who may be reading-disabled. However, some cognitive processes, especially when children are beginning to read, must play an important role as discussed in the chapter.

    The relevance of intelligence, as measured by IQ tests and the PASS cognitive processes, is clearly realized in children's ability for comprehension. It is not so surprising, as we read in the previous chapter, that IQ tests would predict a child's comprehension ability because the IQ test performance depends on school learning to a certain extent, and school learning depends on comprehension of the material in books.

    We must separate word-decoding ability from comprehension, as even some children with mental retardation can learn to read well, but are limited in comprehension. Cognitive processes such as successive processing are obviously relevant for comprehension because if I forget the first part of a sentence while reading a long sentence, I cannot really understand it. So, in understanding syntax that leads to understanding a sentence, successive processing, that is, remembering the sequence of words, becomes absolutely necessary. Some children may have difficulties in reading comprehension, in which case we recommend listening comprehension for them; somebody must read to them as though they were blind and then check their comprehension, training in both decoding and comprehension is then recommended (see Chapters 7, 8, 9).

    Spelling and writing are really two separate skills; we can say that a child writes well, but makes many spelling errors. Most children, who speak their native language, already know its grammar by the time they enter school. Therefore some authorities in linguistics, such as Chomsky, believe that grammar is either innate or is the blueprint of the child's mind waiting to unfold. Grammar is universal in all languages; only their vocabulary is different. Whatever it may be, the children must learn to make their grammatical knowledge explicit as they learn to write. This can be a problem for many children—simply to place a period at the end of a sentence, for example, or a question mark at the end of a question, must be deliberately taught to children. The other problem in writing is that written sentences and paragraphs do not have voices that emphasize a certain point or intonations that express emotions; the written form is all we have. There is no environment or context we can depend upon as when we listen to a speaker. Writing must be explicit. See Olsen (1994) for further discussion.

    However, do we not imagine a context or an environment in which the writing must be placed, so that we can understand it deeply? A successful reader not only reads the text, the written sentences or paragraphs, but also understands the subtext to get both the sense and meaning. Examples are given in this chapter, in Chapter 5, and in Chapter 16.

    The Next Steps

    On Writing

    I asked my two granddaughters, “What is good writing?” Their answers were quite in line with what we generally know from research literature. A summary follows.

    Silpi on Good Writing

    (Silpi is 12 years and 2 months old. She is in Grade 7.)

    “Must be creative. Must be thought out and logical. It must have a plan. Must use good vocabulary, grammar, etc.”

    Somya on Writing

    (Somya is 7 years and 2 months old. She is in Grade 2.)

    It must make sense. It shouldn't be boring. Must be interesting. While writing about something you must finish saying everything that you wish to say. Do not slip back to another idea. When other ideas that do not belong to the story come to your mind, keep them out. Write them as another story after you finish this one. You should use some big words such as whispered, gigantic, and fantastic. But do not use big words if you do not know their meaning.

    Somya on the Difference Between Story and Essay

    What is the difference between a story and an essay?

    An essay?

    Yes, like you write about something.

    In a story? It must make sense. You must begin interestingly: Once upon a time there was a cat who met a wolf Then you go on writing, but you have to end it. When you have finished, you write The End.

    So how do you write an essay?

    Oh yes, we are studying about Japan. I can write about Japan. Their traditions and so on. When I have said what I know, I stop. I put a period. And that is the end.

    Somya on Handwriting

    What about handwriting, Somya? Now that computers are there to write, is good handwriting important?

    Yes. You don't have to write beautiful handwriting but it should be neat. If it is so messy, no one can read what you have written. I watched a TV program exactly on this. There was this 7-year-old girl who didn't want to do handwriting. She wanted to write on the computer. Her mother said No! You have to do handwriting for half an hour. Then you can write on the computer.

    Somya on Spelling

    What about spelling? Does your writing have to have correct spelling?

    No! If I am writing, and wish to write the word gigantic for example, I write it. My teacher then does not mind fixing up the spelling. Some children will stop and ask the teacher how to spell this or that word. They are wasting the teacher's time and they have stopped writing!

    Comments by J.P. Das

    The research literature seems to confirm the views of the two children on writing. Two essential components of writing are:

    • Self-Regulation

      (Planning, monitoring, evaluating, self-initiated thoughts, feelings, and actions.)

      • Goal setting and planning
      • Seeking information
      • Record keeping, organizing, transforming (visualizing), and so on.
      • Self-monitoring
      • Self-evaluating
      • Revising
      • Self-verbalizing
    • Transcription Skills
      • Spelling
      • Handwriting

    Note: Excerpted from Graham and Harris (2000).

    The Vygotsky Framework—Social and Contextual View

    Two major notions of Vygotsky (1978) are:

    Inner Speech

    Remember, one item is abbreviation of several connotations of words and sentences in external speech.

    Scaffolding—Zone of Proximal Development and Use of Prompts

    Remember, language comes to us populated—overpopulated—with the intention of others. Language we shape is the language that shapes us!

    Comments by J.P. Das

    Social environment and personal history together influence both the structure and the content of our writing; this follows from Vygotsky's notion. Children's written expressions develop within this context and, therefore, must vary with changes in the context. Formal instruction on writing, and the interactions with both peers and instructors, must also shape the written skills of a schoolchild. As always, writing is influenced by the perceived identity of the writer. However, writing skills go through peaks and valleys, but continue to grow throughout the child's developmental period and beyond.

    Writing Development: What influences can we detect?

    • Socio-historical context
    • Local—writing at home, school, and on the bathroom wall differ!
    • Classroom teaching
    • Social interactions and collaborations
    • Linked to social identity
    • Writing development is nonlinear

    Note: Excerpted from Schultz and Fecho (2000).

    Why remediation is not the same as instruction may not be immediately clear. Instruction for reading can be improved—divide instruction into several sessions of teaching; in each session, engage the students in activities that improve reading; as a teacher, participate in these activities as much as possible, and engage in direct teaching. Phonological skills can be taught in the reading instruction sessions. Improvement in reading should follow, but will not in case of children with dyslexia or specific reading disability. We need to examine the cognitive difficulties in these children, and we must do something about their learning the principles and general strategies they lack. While principles and general strategies are transferred to new situations, skills are not. Hence the emphasis on applying Vygotsky's notions of internalization and mediation (Das, 1995b).

    Children must arrive at the essential principles and strategies by a sort of “guided discovery”, having been exposed to the PREP training tasks, for example, and make these their own. Yes, we admit that instructing the whole class is cheaper than pulling out the learners with dyslexia and remediating individually or in small groups. But when our aim is to overcome specific reading deficits, the classroom instruction is not an option to consider. The concept of zone of proximal development discussed by Vygotsky (1978) provides a powerful rationale for expanding the learning potential of each child. For a discussion of the Vygotskian background, see several chapters in Lidz (1987).

    English as a Second Language (ESL)

    Learning to read in English can be a challenge, because unlike the writing system of many other Indo-European languages, such as Oriya and Hindi, the sounds associated with particular letters in English are not entirely predictable. A recent report (Mishra and Stainthorp, 2007) focused on Oriya-speaking children educated in English-medium schools, who have been exposed to their mother tongue and speak it fluently. Their exposure to reading and writing in English began by kindergarten. Most of them were also introduced to reading and writing in Oriya during Grade 2 or 3, and possibly Hindi at the same time as well. The influence that such a multilingual literacy might have on English reading and comprehension was examined in a longitudinal study beginning at kindergarten. In fact, the objective of that project was to determine cross-linguistic development in reading. As the authors observed, learning to read English, consistently requires more fine-grained phonological analysis at the level of phonemes, than does learning to read Oriya. On the other hand, learning to speak, read, and write Oriya, equips children with the skills to analyze words at the level of syllables and words. Transfer across language, for ESL readers, does take place. Specifically, this is seen in phonological processing, verbal working memory, and syntactic skills. In addition, similar metacognitive strategies, such as planning and comprehension monitoring, and cognitive strategies, such as making inferences, are thought to be used by both monolingual and ESL readers during reading comprehension.

    PREP improves information processing strategies, especially simultaneous and successive processing, as applied to the curriculum through PREP's bridging program.

    Naming colors, letters, and digits, as fast as possible, is not a sign of speed of response, which in turn has been held as a biological measure of IQ. Let us understand “speed”. Contrary to the claim that speed of processing is a basic component of intelligence, several studies have raised doubts about such a connection (Das, 2004). The vast literature on speed is mainly divided into two points of view. According to one, speed represents cognitive strategies that are specific to specific tasks, and for the other, speed is a general ability, a generic explanation for intelligence. What we suggest is that speed is not a good measure of IQ, unless we understand the cognitive processing that is measured by speed. This specific view of speed has two advantages. It defines processing, such as in PASS theory, in terms of certain kinds of tasks, and goes a step further. It is informative, with regard to the specific cognitive processes involved in performing those tasks. Such a domain-specific view of speed helps in understanding naming speed, a correlate of reading.

    Figure N1 is one of the typical “speed of naming” tasks. This one is for naming letters as fast as possible. Obviously, the task is given to those children who can read letters of the alphabet quite well. The speed of reading from the first to the last letter is recorded. Research shows that compared to better readers, poor readers take a longer time to name the letters. Normally, we do not read a sentence or a word letter by letter. So why should a poor reader's rate of reading be slow? Because, the test is a test of the cognitive processes that determine reading speed, that is, those that contribute to the difference between individual readers. The text of the chapter contains a reasonable account of naming speed and its cognitive process companions.

    Figure N1 Rapid Letter Naming


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    About the Author

    J.P. Das is Emeritus Professor of Educational Psychology and Emeritus Director of the J.P. Das Developmental Disabilities Centre at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada where currently he is a research professor. He obtained an honors degree in Philosophy and a Master of Arts in Experimental Psychology in India as well as a PhD in Psychology from the University of London Institute of Psychiatry, working with Hans Eysenck. His research on understanding cognitive psychology has resulted in several scholarly books, including: Verbal Conditioning and Behaviour (1969); Simultaneous and Successive Processes (with J.R. Kirby and R.F. Jarman, 1979); Assessment of Cognitive Processes: The PASS Theory of Intelligence (with J.A. Naglieri and J.R. Kirby, 1994); Cognitive Planning (with B.C. Kar and R.K. Parrila, 1996); and The Working Mind (1998). The Chinese translation of Assessment of Cognitive Processes was published in 1999, and the Chinese version of this book was published in 2007. He has published some 250 research papers and book chapters, many of which have focused on efforts to redefine intelligence. He has held visiting appointments at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University (as a Kennedy Foundation Professor); the University of California, Los Angeles; Monash University in Melbourne, Australia; and Moscow State University. Dr Das and his co-author, Dr Jack Naglieri, have produced the Das-Naglieri Cognitive Assessment System (CAS), published in 1997 (now translated and normed in Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, and Spanish). In 1999 Dr Das was inducted as a Fellow of the Royal Society, Canada, for his original contribution to the field of intelligence.

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