The interaction of domain-general mechanisms and reading development: from word to text

The interaction of domain-general mechanisms and reading development: from word to text

First Author: Katherine Aboud -- Vanderbilt University
Keywords: Reading development, Reading disability, Executive Function
Abstract / Summary: 

Recent evidence increasingly points to domain-general processes, such as executive functions and memory, as critical to reading development. This symposium will present diverse evidence for the flexible, multi-dimensional nature of domain-general contributions to developmental reading skill, from single word reading to full texts. Specifically, the authors will discuss (1.) the dependence of reading acquisition on procedural/declarative memory, (2.) the predictive relationship of executive functions on reading fluency in complex texts, (3.) the recruitment of domain-general areas during sentence comprehension as a key predictor of intervention gains in struggling readers, and (4.) the recruitment of distinct domain-general brain networks for different text types. Each talk will speak to how non-language processes help scaffold reading ability, and will provide evidence that the presence/absence of this domain-general scaffolding is a key factor in reading outcomes across different reading processes.

Symposium Papers: 

Learning to read is tied to domain-general memory systems

First Author/Chair:F. Sayako Earle -- University of Delaware
Additional authors/chairs: 
Stephanie N. Del Tufo; Tanya M. Evans; Jarrad A.G. Lum; Laurie E. Cutting; Michael T. Ullman

Purpose: Declarative and procedural memory, two domain-general learning and memory systems, are thought to underlie the rapid mapping of arbitrary elements (declarative memory) and the automatization of skill through repetition and practice (procedural memory). While differences in reading skill are often attributed to linguistic knowledge, such as phonological processing ability and vocabulary size, learning to read involves the mapping of speech sounds to graphemes, and automatization of decoding that mapping. We therefore hypothesized that individual differences in reading during the early school years (when learning to read is taking place) would be associated with declarative and procedural memory ability.

Method: In order to test this relationship, task performances on recognition memory (declarative memory) and serial reaction time (procedural memory), along with their word-level reading performance, were obtained on a cohort of 140 children over their first four years in school. A linear mixed effects model was fitted over the reading scores, with the task indexes of declarative and procedural memory ability as predictors.

Results: Declarative memory was predictive of reading ability at the end of year 1, whereas procedural memory was predictive of reading ability at the end of year 2.

Conclusions: This finding is consistent with the idea that domain-general memory abilities are important in the early stages of learning to read. The contribution of domain-general memory to differences in reading ability has theoretical and clinical implications for typical and disordered acquisition of reading.

Executive functions are recruited for oral reading fluency in complex texts

First Author/Chair:Tin Q. Nguyen -- Vanderbilt University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Sage E. Pickren; Neena M. Saha; Laurie E. Cutting

Purpose: As poor readers struggle to coordinate various reading/language skills during oral reading fluency (ORF), miscues emerge as a result, especially when processing complex texts. Executive functions (EF) are hypothesized to play an interactive role during ORF. Following a miscue, readers often self-correct as a strategy to maintain ORF. Yet, whether the role of EF transfers to when readers self-correct their miscues while attending to text complexity remains elusive.

Method: We evaluated the relationship between readers’ probability of self-correcting miscues – or P(SC) – and their EF profile, using experimentally manipulated passages for text complexity (vocabulary, decoding, syntax, and cohesion). To evaluate the interplay between components of ORF, EF, and text complexity, we employed full cross-classified mixed-effects regression models.

Results: Our results revealed that more miscues across different passage conditions were explained by worse EF, beyond background reading/language skills. We also found that readers were more likely to self-correct their miscues in passages manipulated for word- (vocabulary and decoding) and sentence-level (syntax) complexity but not for the cohesion condition. Regardless, self-correcting a miscue was predicted by better EF.

Conclusions: While text complexity may tax readers’ EF and influence miscue production, EF is also likely recruited to self-correct such miscues. Overall, our results suggest that specific cognitive processes are associated with miscue production and may underlie the mechanism for self-correction especially when readers read difficult texts. Further understanding of the relationship between different components of ORF and cognitive processes may aid intervention strategies to improve reading proficiency and academic performance.

Differences in control engagement during sentence reading are related to intervention response in struggling readers

First Author/Chair:Tehila Nugiel -- University of Texas at Austin
Additional authors/chairs: 
Mary Abbe Roe; Jessica A. Church

Purpose. Successful reading comprehension requires cognitive skills. Recent research indicates that executive control brain regions show differential activation in word-level studies of struggling readers, but whether these differences extend to sentence reading is not well known. Further, the specificity of control differences in struggling readers is not clear; brain activity from a non-lexical but control-demanding task may provide critical information. We report on our recent investigations into control-related brain activity during a sentence comprehension task and a non-lexical control task in 3rd-5th grade struggling readers, focusing on differences related to subsequent learning gains.

Methods. Struggling readers completed neuroimaging and a battery of reading measures before and after reading remediation. Struggling readers were grouped based on their improvement across multiple reading measures; 28 non-struggling readers, 51 pre-intervention, and 24 post-intervention struggling readers were investigated across the two tasks.

Results. Before intervention, struggling readers who later improved showed greater negative activity in a default-mode network region relative to non-struggling readers. Struggling readers who did not go on to improve had less engagement in part of the fronto-parietal control network. The non-lexical control task did not show group differences in control engagement.

Conclusions. Differences in control engagement were specific to the sentence reading task in struggling readers, and these differences related to gains in reading over time. These results suggest that children with reading difficulties have a standard recruitment of executive control regions for non-lexical tasks, but not for sentence-level comprehension; these regions may serve as markers for future intervention response.

Fairy tales versus facts: Genre matters to the developing brain

First Author/Chair:Katherine Aboud -- Vanderbilt University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Stephen K. Bailey; Stephanie N. Del Tufo; Laura A. Barquero ; Laurie E. Cutting

Purpose: Neurobiological studies of reading comprehension have almost exclusively focused on narrative comprehension. However, successful engagement in modern society, particularly in educational settings, also requires comprehension with an aim to learn new information (i.e. “expository comprehension”). Despite its prevalence, no studies to date have neurobiologically characterized expository comprehension as compared to narrative. In this study, we examined (1.) whether different genres require recruitment of different brain regions, and (2.) if reading comprehension ability corresponds with genre distinctions in the brain.

Methods: Forty five children read expository and narrative texts in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. ANOVA analysis was used to identify mean activation and correlational differences in the brain for expository versus narrative texts.

Results: We found that, as compared to narrative, expository text relied less on areas supportive of social cognition (the default mode network; DMN), and instead uniquely recruited the frontoparietal control network (FPN), a top-down, goal-oriented brain network. Functional connectivity analysis revealed that, compared to narrative, the FPN correlated with the DMN, and this inter-network communication was higher with increased reading expertise.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that comprehension of different types of texts place diverse neural demands on domain-general areas in the developing brain. In particular, relative to narrative comprehension, expository comprehension shows (1.) a unique configuration of the DMN, potentially to support non-social comprehension processes, and (2.) increased utilization of top-down regions to help support goal-directed comprehension processes in the DMN. This study is the first to find that comprehension of different text types in young readers is distinguished by critical trade-offs between domain-general processing areas.


First Author/Chair:DISCUSSANT Laurie Cutting -- Vanderbilt University