Ascension Day was traditionally used by many landowners to impress boundaries on children before maps were common. They used such memory aids as dunkings in cold ponds and streams, tree climbing and hazardous rooftop scrambles. Another method of making the children remember the delimitations was to beat them with thin rods: hence the term ‘beating the bounds’.

Although today is Ascension Day apparently, I am not planning to use any of these methods as aides memoire with the children whose auditory sequential memory is so undeveloped that they cannot progress with reading and spelling! Instead we play memory games (oh what fun they have making me recall exact models of Playstations and X-boxes and Nintendos and the occasional pink scooter) and recite a poor but effective poem that begins, I listen and look with care and repeat to myself what’s there. More importantly we listen to and create rhymes and more often than not we start with the wonderful Michael Rosen’s clips. Listen and enjoy.

The relevance of auditory/verbal working memory to literacy skills is obvious — in the same way that it is necessary to hold spoken words in memory in conversation, the child must hold letters and syllables in memory when decoding words. This is very important in the development of phonic skills. The majority of dyslexic children have problems in this area of cognitive processing (Thomson, 1989). Awaida and Beech (1995) found that phonological memory at age 5 predicted nonword reading (i.e. phonics skills) at 6 years.

The child must also hold words in memory until the end of the phrase or sentence when reading continuous text for meaning. Poor working memory will thus affect reading comprehension.

Of course, visual memory skills are involved in much of this cognitive activity, especially for beginning readers who have not progressed to phonics, and also for more competent readers whose capacity for rapid visual recognition of words steadily increases with age. Nevertheless, auditory/verbal working memory remains a significant factor in reading development and in writing as well. Children with difficulties in auditory/verbal working memory also tend have trouble  monitoring their written output, and are inclined to miss letters, syllables and/or words out when they are writing.

Phonological processing ability is not sufficient for becoming a fluent reader, but it is a necessity. Overcoming it doesn’t have to entail a diet of dull rote learning.

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