The role of visual discrimination in the learning -to -read process

Stacey E Woodrome, Purdue University


This study theorizes that learning to identify letters first begins with learning to discriminate between similar two-dimensional figures. Difficulty differentiating among letters likely leads to a decreased proficiency in letter identification, which has been shown to be predictive of future reading abilities. This study examined the relationship between a specific visual perceptual skill, visual discrimination (VD), and learning-to-read. The project was comprised of two components. The first studied the relationship between VD and lowercase letter identification abilities. The potential associations among these factors and phonemic awareness, estimated verbal and nonverbal abilities, and lexical access were also considered. The sample consisted of 73 children whose average age was 61.7 months (SD = 2.6). Approximately equal numbers of boys and girls comprised the sample and nearly 80% were African American. Results indicated a significant association between VD and lowercase letter identification abilities (r = 0.38, p < .01). This association was not moderated by estimated nonverbal abilities. Exploratory analyses revealed that higher VD abilities were associated with better phonemic awareness skills at the trend level (r = .53, p < .10). The second component was an experimental study of the benefit of visual discrimination training of letter-like forms to letter learning for children with below average lowercase letter identification abilities. The sample consisted of 28 children, which was a subsample of the original 73 children. Children were randomly assigned to one of three groups: combined VD/letter-name training, letter-name training, or social-contact control. Results showed a significant improvement in lowercase letter identification following letter-name training only (t = -2.9, p < .05). Post-hoc analyses suggested that, across the three groups, children who improved were older and had stronger VD abilities. The implications for these findings to the learning-to-read process as well as their relevance to interventions for children showing early signs of being at risk for reading delays are discussed.




Fastenau, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Cognitive therapy|Literacy|Reading instruction|Developmental psychology

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