Examining the relationship between oral narrative ability and reading comprehension in children with mixed reading disability
Thesis DisciplineSpeech and Language Therapy
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Oral narrative ability has received increasing attention over the past three decades, and the importance of children's oral narrative skills to academic achievement has been well established. Children with reading disabilities are known to demonstrate difficulties in the ability to produce and comprehend oral narratives (Roth & Spekman, 1986; Snyder & Downey, 1991). However, the nature of the relationship between oral narrative ability and reading comprehension performance in children with reading disability is not clear. The experiments reported in this thesis aim to address this issue. The following questions are asked: 1) Do deficits in oral narrative ability contribute to reading comprehension difficulties? and 2) What is the likely direction of the relationship between aspects of oral narrative ability and reading comprehension performance in children with reading disabilities? Fourteen children (aged between 6;4 and 7;8 at the initial assessment) with mixed reading disability (MRD: i.e., children who demonstrate both word recognition and listening comprehension deficits) participated in the study. Their oral narrative skills were compared to those of their chronological age-matched peers with typical development (TD) and their reading-age-matched peers with typical development (RMTD). The study consisted of three phases: 1) A longitudinal phase in which the children's oral narrative performance was assessed on three occasions over a two-year period; 2) An intervention phase (using a nonequivalent pretest-posttest control group design) in which 10 children participated in an oral narrative intervention program that focused on enhancing children's story structure knowledge; and 3) A follow-up assessment phase conducted eight months post-intervention. Oral narratives were elicited in a personal narrative context and in a story retelling context. Oral narrative production ability was analysed at macrostructure (story quality) and microstructure (morpho-syntax and vocabulary) levels. Oral narrative comprehension was assessed in a fictional story context through questions relating to story structure elements. Reading comprehension performance was assessed using a standardised test of reading ability. The results from the longitudinal study showed that the children with MRD demonstrated inferior oral narrative production and oral narrative comprehension performance compared to their peers with typical reading development at each assessment occasion. When comparing the poor readers' performance to the RMTD group at the third assessment trial, the results suggested that the children with MRD demonstrated a specific deficit in oral narrative comprehension. In contrast, a pattern of delay was observed on the microstructure measures of oral narrative performance. The results from the intervention indicated significant treatment effects with large effect sizes for oral narrative comprehension performance. Despite this improvement in oral narrative comprehension, there was little change in oral narrative production ability, and transfer to reading comprehension was not evident. Although the follow-up assessment indicated sustained improvement in oral narrative comprehension for the children with MRD, accelerated reading comprehension progress was not evident. The findings from the longitudinal case study highlighted the benefits of oral narrative intervention for a child considered at high risk of continuing academic difficulties. This thesis provides evidence of the persistent oral narrative difficulties in children with MRD. The findings also provide support for the importance of narrative structure knowledge to these poor readers' oral narrative comprehension performance. The results demonstrate that oral narrative comprehension ability explains only a small amount of the variance in reading comprehension performance. Rather, the persistent word recognition difficulties of the children with MRD exert the biggest influence on their reading comprehension performance. These results are discussed in terms of current models of reading and language development. Implications for clinical practice are also addressed.