Extending a model of Reading to Mathematics: Distinguishing cognitive predictors among Grade 1-2 and 4-5 children.

Extending a model of Reading to Mathematics: Distinguishing cognitive predictors among Grade 1-2 and 4-5 children.

First Author: Jessica S. Chan -- Communication Sciences and Disorders, University of South Carolina
Additional authors/chairs: 
Derek H. Berg, Faculty of Education, Queen's University; Lesly Wade-Woolley, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, University of South Carolina
Keywords: Word reading, Numeracy, cognitive processes, Phonological processing, Executive Functions
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose: The study investigated the applicability of a cognitive model of reading proficiency to mathematics in a sample of children in Grades 1–2 and Grades 4–5. Limited studies have explored cross-domain similarities and differences in the cognitive processes that account for word reading and mathematics across two developmental groups. The nature of the associations were explored to test whether a domain-specific (e.g., reading-only) or domain-general account (e.g., reading and math) best characterizes the reading-mathematics relationship.

Method: Grades 1–2 (N=89) and Grades 4–5 (N=72) children were administered 3 tasks of word reading, 3 tasks of mathematics, and cognitive tasks of phonological processing, RAN, STM, executive functioning (inhibition and shifting attention) and working memory (verbal and visual-spatial). Stepwise regression analyses were used to identify predictors of reading and math while controlling for age.

Results: For Grade 1–2 children, 55% of word reading was accounted by age (22%), phonological processing (28%), and STM (5%); whereas, 58% of math proficiency was explained by age (28%), RAN (14%), shifting attention (13%), and phonological processing (3%). For Grade 4–5 children, 59% of word reading was accounted for by inhibition (42%), phonological processing (15%), and RAN (2%); compared to 72% of the math proficiency explained by age (19%), inhibition (35%), visual-spatial WM (8%), verbal WM (6%), and STM (4%).

Conclusion: Our analyses revealed different contributions of cognitive processes in reading and math ability across two levels of learners. Phonological processing was implicated in both reading and math outcomes in Grade 1-2, whereas, executive functioning emerged as the strongest predictors of reading and math in later grades. These findings support a domain-general cognitive system perspective and have implications for practice when identifying and supporting learners with reading, math, or comorbid difficulties.