Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 10: 519–540, 1998.
1998 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Developmental associations between verbal and visual short-term
memory and the acquisition of decoding skill
ANN MEYLER & ZVIA BREZNITZ
Laboratory for Neurocognitive Research, School of Education, University of Haifa, Israel
Abstract. This study longitudinally investigated the relationships between verbal and visual
short-term memory (STM) and the acquisition of decoding from the pre-reading through the
early acquisition stages in 63 Hebrew-speaking children. Test waves occurred in kindergarten,
ﬁrst grade and second grade. IQ, visual and verbal STM and decoding ability were assessed.
The data indicated that while both verbal and visual STM in kindergarten were signiﬁcantly
correlated to later decoding skill, pre-reading visual STM was a stronger predictor. The results
further showed that pre-reading performance on the WISC-R Block Design test predicted later
decoding ability, while performance on the WISC-R Vocabulary test did not. Lastly, decoding
skill in grade 1 was found to predict only visual in grade 2. These results indicate that visual
parameters may make a crucial contribution to the acquisition of decoding skills. The size
of pre-reading visual STM capacity appears to play a role in this process. The relationship
between visual STM and decoding may be bidirectional, as learning to decode appears to
develop visual STM. It is suggested that either language-related or task-related factors may
account for these counter-to-mainstream results.
Key words: Children, Decoding, Development, Reading acquisition, Verbal short-term
memory, Visual short-term memory
Understanding the factors in learning to read is of both theoretical and prac-
tical importance. A variety of linguistic skills inﬂuence the acquisition of
reading (Perfetti 1985; Siegal & Ryan 1988; Stanovich 1985). One skill
strongly associated to reading ability is short-term memory (STM). Evidence
for delayed STM development in poor readers has been obtained on a variety
of measures (Baddeley 1986; Brady 1986; Jorm 1983; Siegal & Ryan 1989;
Wagner & Torgesen 1987).Thispattern is particularly apparent at the younger
age-levels (Gathercole, Emslie & Baddeley 1990; Olson, Davidson, Kliegal
& Foltz 1985).
Contemporary approaches typically view STM as a subcomponent of a
more extensive working memory (WM) system (Baddeley 1986, 1990). WM
is deﬁned as a multicomponent system representing the immediate memory
processes involved in the simultaneous storage and processing of information
in real-time (Vallar & Shallice 1990). Although the terms STM and WM are