The role of preschool language and social cognition in unexpected poor comprehension: a retrospective analysis.

The role of preschool language and social cognition in unexpected poor comprehension: a retrospective analysis.

First Author: Lynette Atkinson -- Hamilton Health Services
Additional authors/chairs: 
Daisy Powell; Lance Slade; Joseph P. Levy
Keywords: Reading comprehension, Early childhood age 3-8, Comprehension difficulty, Social cognition, cognitive processes
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose: Research on pre-school precursors of reading comprehension difficulties is limited, with most work focusing on cognitive factors from mid-childhood. This longitudinal study investigates the potential causes of reading comprehension difficulty in early readers through examining, retrospectively, whether pre-school cognitive and social cognitive factors (theory of mind: ToM) distinguishes poor from average and good comprehenders two years later.

Method: Participants were 80 children in Year 1 (mean age 6;03) of UK primary schools, who had been assessed over 2 years earlier when in pre-school (mean age 3;10). At Year 1, regression analysis of children's reading comprehension and word reading ability was used to construct three subgroups of reading comprehension by regressing comprehension scores on word reading: unexpected poor (UPC; N=6), unexpected good (UGC; N=5) and expected average (EAC; N=6) (Li & Kirby, 2014). The three groups’ retrospective performance on early, pre-school measures of ToM, letter knowledge, phonological awareness (PA), vocabulary and working memory (WM) were contrasted.

Results: At Year 1, groups differed on reading comprehension but not word reading ability. Retrospectively, there were no between group differences on PA and WM.
However the UPG group showed a specific difficulty, relative to both UGC and EAC groups, in both ToM and vocabulary, and were also weaker than the UGC group on letter knowledge.

Conclusions: Findings suggest children with reading comprehension difficulty showed relatively poorer vocabulary, consistent with previous research with older children, but also suggest a potential role for theory of mind.