In Loving Memory of Samuel Bomgard
Effective dyslexia remediation specifically designed for older struggling readers (age 7+).

Which Cognitive Processes Relate to Reading?

by Silvia Mazabel Ortega MA


Adequate reading of words and texts is central for school-based learning and for occupational success. This article defines the cognitive processes that have been related to reading development in English (1, 2). Having them as components of general reading instruction as well as of remediation programs for reading disorders has proven effective.

Phonological Processing

Phonological processing skills are based on the sounds of language and are the basis of decoding and word recognition. Two main skills are included in phonological processing: a) phonics or the ability to associate sounds with letters, and b) phonological awareness (PA) or the ability to manipulate sounds in speech. "The ability to notice, think about and work with the individual sounds in spoken words" (3, p. 377) is called phonemic awareness and is included within PA. These skills allow the learner to translate letters (graphemes) into sounds (phonemes) while learning to read and decoding unfamiliar words. When a word is read various times it becomes a sight-word (i.e., recognized instantly and without analysis, for example the) which allows the reader to read faster.

Syntactic Awareness

Syntactic awareness refers to the ability to understand the grammar of the language within sentences. It is important because it helps predict the words that will come next in the sequence.

Working Memory

Working memory is defined as the ability to retain information (a word) for a short period of time while processing incoming information (How is it written or pronounced?) and retrieving information from memory (What does it mean? How does it relate to other words in the text?).

Morphological Awareness

Morphological awareness refers to sensitivity to morphemes in words (minimal units of meaning within a word-prefixes, suffixes and word roots-, for example dys in dyslexia) and the ability to manipulate them. It makes word pronunciation predictable, provides consistency of spelling patterns, helps preserve the meaning relationship between words, eases the load on working memory, and offers a meaning-related strategy to understand texts.

Semantic Processing

Semantic processing is related with vocabulary knowledge, understanding what a word means, and how to use words and meanings in context. Orthographic processing refers to the knowledge of the writing conventions and spelling (What spelling patterns are legal in English?). For example, in English there aren't words ending with "v."


Learners who struggle at reading have important difficulties with phonological processing, working memory, syntactic and morphological awareness, but semantic and orthographic processing are not often affected in this population (2, 6). If a student is not able to decode a word, or to use the morphological structure of a word, she will not develop an accurate sight word vocabulary and her reading fluency (ability to read connected text fast, smoothly, automatically and with good intonation) will be affected. This will overload her working memory capacity and as a result will not be able to gain meaning from a text. Research shows that children with reading disorders benefit from programs (like Dynaread) that include these cognitive skills as components of their remediation.


1. Roman, A. A., Kirby, J. R., Parrila, R. K., Wade-Woolley, L., and Deacon, S. H. "Toward a comprehensive view of the skills involved in word reading in grades 4, 6, and 8" Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 102 (2009): 96-113. Print.

2. Siegel, L. S. "Basic cognitive processes and reading disabilities" Handbook of Learning Disabilities. Eds. H. L. Swanson, K. R. Harris and S. Graham. NY: Guilford Press, 2003. 158-181. Print.

3. Lerner, J., and Kline, F. "Learning disabilities and related disorders: Characteristics and teaching strategies 10th Edition". Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print

4. Deacon, S. H., Wade-Woolley, L., and Kirby, J. "Crossover: The Role of Morphological Awareness in French Immersion Children's Reading" Developmental Psychology. 43.3 (2007): 732—746. Print.

5. Siegel. L. S. "Morphological awareness skills of English language learners and children with dyslexia" Topics in language disorders.28.1 (2008): 15-27. Print.

6. Siegel, L. S., and Ryan, E. B. "Development of sensitivity, phonological and short-term memory skills in normally achieving and learning disabled children" Developmental Psychology. 24 (1988): 28-37.

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Dynaread has been developed in the trenches of actual remediation, with our feet firmly planted on the ground. Scientific research is essential (and we consistently use it), but we also understand the realities at home and in school. Not all homes have two parents, not all Dad's or Mom's are always home, there is oftentimes no money, schools lack staff or funding. We listen, we observe, we discuss, and we build the best solutions we can for older (ages 7+) struggling readers.

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