Phonological Skills and Their Role in Learning to Read: A Meta-Analytic Review

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Abstract

The authors report a systematic meta-analytic review of the relationships among 3 of the most widely studied measures of children's phonological skills (phonemic awareness, rime awareness, and verbal short-term memory) and children's word reading skills. The review included both extreme group studies and correlational studies with unselected samples (235 studies were included, and 995 effect sizes were calculated). Results from extreme group comparisons indicated that children with dyslexia show a large deficit on phonemic awareness in relation to typically developing children of the same age (pooled effect size estimate: −1.37) and children matched on reading level (pooled effect size estimate: −0.57). There were significantly smaller group deficits on both rime awareness and verbal short-term memory (pooled effect size estimates: rime skills in relation to age-matched controls, −0.93, and reading-level controls, −0.37; verbal short-term memory skills in relation to age-matched controls, −0.71, and reading-level controls, −0.09). Analyses of studies of unselected samples showed that phonemic awareness was the strongest correlate of individual differences in word reading ability and that this effect remained reliable after controlling for variations in both verbal short-term memory and rime awareness. These findings support the pivotal role of phonemic awareness as a predictor of individual differences in reading development. We discuss whether such a relationship is a causal one and the implications of research in this area for current approaches to the teaching of reading and interventions for children with reading difficulties.

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