The role of the working memory central executive system in the development of reading

Atkinson, Susan J. (2006) The role of the working memory central executive system in the development of reading. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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There is a growing body of evidence linking poor working memory skills, particularly central executive functioning, with lower levels of cognitive attainment throughout the school years. Although the role of the phonological loop in reading development has been well established, there is less agreement as to the role of the central executive.
Research suggests that the central executive develops through the early school years as children learn to read, and that this is crucial to the development of fluent word reading.
It is also suggested that central executive skills may fail to develop effectively in dyslexic children. The longitudinal study reported here examines the development of working memory and central executive skills in relation to cognitive attainment in the early years of schooling. Children were screened in their Reception year at four/five years old using a dyslexia screening test and a phonological abilities test, and were allocated to one of three groups according to their risk of reading difficulties (At Risk, Middle, Not At Risk). The groups were matched for age. Assessment in school Years 1, 2 and 3 included measures of reading, spelling and mathematics, working memory and central executive functioning. Results indicate that those children showing the greatest number of indicators for dyslexia are falling behind in their cognitive attainment by the age of five to six, and that the At Risk group score significantly lower than the other groups on measures of central executive fbnctioning, especially inhibition. These differences remain significant when non-verbal intelligence, memory capacity and
processing speed are controlled for. Further results using standardized working memory tests and experimental data support these conclusions. Examination of teacher ADHD ratings suggests that working memory deficits are identified as attentional problems. The results are discussed in terms of their implications for theory and educational practice.

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