, Volume 59, Issue 2, pp 99-113
Date: 28 May 2009

How word decoding skill impacts text memory: The centrality deficit and how domain knowledge can compensate

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We examined text memory in children with word reading deficits to determine how these difficulties impact representations of text meaning. We show that even though children with poor word decoding recall more central than peripheral information, they show a significantly bigger deficit relative to controls on central than on peripheral information. We call this the centrality deficit and argue that it is the consequence of insufficient cognitive resources for connecting ideas together due to these children’s resources being diverted from comprehension to word decoding. We investigated a possible compensatory mechanism for making these connections. Because a text representation is a synthesis of text information and a reader’s prior knowledge, we hypothesized that having knowledge of the passage topic might reduce or eliminate the centrality deficit. Our results support this knowledge compensation hypothesis: The centrality deficit was evident when poor readers did not have prior knowledge, but was eliminated when they did. This presents an exciting avenue to pursue for possible remediation of reading comprehension in children with word identification difficulties.

This research was supported by a grant from NIH HD27802 to the Colorado Learning Disabilities Research Center, for which J. Keenan is a co-PI. These data were presented at The Memory and Text Comprehension Meeting, Montpellier, France, 2006, and at the 2006 and 2007 meetings of Society for the Scientific Study of Reading. We thank Rebecca Betjemann, Sarah Priebe, and Laura Roth for discussions of the data, all the participants and their families, and all the testers and scorers.