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Reading Difficulties

Types/sources of reading difficulty
The types / sources of reading difficulty can be explained in terms of our model:

Highlighted areas in the model below are linked to corresponding assessment tools

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Levels of text
Knowledge of text features, the "whats", conventions of writing
Reading strategies, 'how to'

Word level

Word bank has less accurate phonological forms and less complex spelling patterns

  • difficulty representing letter clusters, rime families, word structures
  • takes longer to retrieve names and sounds of letters, clusters, words; slower naming speed (RAN) due to a difficulty activating a sound code for the written word (slower naming speed + average phonological awareness ---> impaired orthographic skill of immature phonological awareness deficit - 'double-deficit hypothesis of reading disability.
  • do not develop the capacity to learn an orthographic code; ability to manipulate identified sounds rather than letter-sound links that causes problems.

Sentence level


More tests

Short-term Visual Sequential Memory
(Teacher Record Sheet)

for Objects and Letters
(Stimulus pages)


  • restricted, immature grammar, lower syntactic awareness, predicts later reading disabilities
  • limited sentence propositions (how meanings are linked), punctuation, written sentence structure
  • restricted verbal short-term working memory predicts reading; difficulty retaining verbal but not nonverbal information briefly, take longer to retrieve verbal information from long-term, name information memory more slowly, use memory strategies inefficiently, less likely to use rehearsal, elaboration, chunking.
  • Reading improves auditory (but not visual) short-term memory.

They are less likely to use:

  • a range of strategies such as visualising and paraphrasing, re-read, ask questions about the ideas, retelling
  • text structure knowledge to generate expectations prior to reading and to organise text information while reading,
  • generate questions to assist them to comprehend and remember the text read,
  • elaborate and infer while reading or to summarise as readily.

Word versions: retelling and comprehension

Conceptual and topic levels


More tests

Verbal Analogies


They differ in how they organize and use prior knowledge, more likely to have knowledge organised in episodes with contextual links rather than in networks similar to text links, paragraph propositions etc.

They are less likely to:

  • use prior content or text structure when reading
  • organise text data in working memory or
  • infer or elaborate the information, summarise, or to anticipate ideas and words.
    They comprehend when cued to use advance organisers that stimulate their existing knowledge.

Self-management and control strategies
Students with reading disabilities are 'non strategic or passive' readers; they are less likely to direct and regulate the use of reading strategies, to:

  • decide when and why to use each,
  • evaluate its effectiveness in terms of some goal or purpose
  • monitor our reading, initiate corrective action, decide when to re-read, self-correct, how they use what they know at each level, monitor how their reading is progressing, take further strategic action if necessary.
  • review and self-question to see whether reading goals achieved, review or consolidate what they have read
  • organise the information gained from reading to fit our purposes for reading
  • believe they can learn to read (self efficacy)
Existing knowledge

Oral language knowledge Disabled readers may have difficulty

  • at word level, learning how words are said ("crinimal" for 'criminal' ), less aware of sounds in words, remembering names of items, particularly RAN, poorer concept of word --> building a word bank, smaller expressive vocabularies, difficulty learning word meanings and a less developed network of word meanings (they use context but not as efficiently to induce the meanings of unfamiliar words).
  • at sentence level, reading underachievers have difficulty understanding complex grammatical forms in oral comprehension
  • at conceptual level, how ideas are linked into themes
  • at topic or theme level, how a theme is communicated in a narrative, description
  • at the pragmatic or dispositional level, how the social context affects how ideas are communicated, the attitudes and values of the writer towards the ideas in the text.

Experiential Knowledge;

  • experiences, visual imagery knowledge
  • action, motor knowledge
  • knowledge of symbols
Sensory input to the knowledge base and motor aspects of expressive language
Auditory input; auditory perceptual processes for perceiving speech patterns Visual input Motion input Articulatory processes; producing speech patterns



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