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Issues and limitations of these topics

EFs and Strategies in Students with Individual Differences

EFs and Poor Comprehenders. Studies comparing poor comprehenders (i.e., students wiZth RCD) with students whose comprehension skills are on a par with their age or grade have shown that less skilled comprehenders struggle with strategic monitoring of reading comprehension, assessed with the inconsistency detection paradigm developed by Markman (1977, 1979). In particular, children with RCD have difficulty detecting inconsistencies in text across pairs of sentences (as required in the comprehension monitoring task), both when the inconsistent sentences are adjacent and when they are separated within the text - increasing the working memory demands of the task (e.g., Oakhill et al., 2005). Sentence comprehension is also more challenging for children who struggle with working memory, such that they have more difficulty understanding sentences with complex syntactic structure than children who don’t have challenges with working memory (Wingfield & Grossman, 2006). Further, neurocognitive evidence using fMRI revealed that comprehension of sentences with high working memory demands (i.e., containing additional phrases) was associated with greater inferior parietal cortex activation, evincing a large neural network supporting comprehension tasks that recruit various working memory and planning resources (Novais-Santos et al., 2007)

Sesma et al. (2009) and Follmer (2018) suggest that EF may contribute to reading comprehension because of its possible relations to higher order strategic processing in reading. Indeed, evidence shows that training reading-specific strategic processes improves reading comprehension for struggling comprehenders (e.g., Brown et al., 1996; Yuill & Joscelyne, 1988), which may do so by strengthening underlying EF skills. However, more work is needed in order to substantiate empirically this relation.

EFs and Strategies in ELs. Although there is some research showing the impact of strategy instruction on the reading comprehension of middle-school ELs (e.g., Taboada Barber et al., 2015, 2018; Vaughn et al., 2009), this work does not consider the possible relations between EFs and reading strategies, or EFs and reading comprehension. Precisely because the study of EFs is relatively new within the population of ELs, little is known about the potential interactions or relations between EF skills and achievement, or between EFs and cognitive processes such as comprehension strategies, in this population.

In some of our recent work we found that the two focal reading comprehension strategies of this chapter, inference making and comprehension monitoring, partially mediated the relation of a composite of the three core EF skills (i.e., working memory, inhibition, and cognitive flexibility) at the beginning of the school year with reading comprehension at the end of the year, while controlling for prior reading comprehension in both ELs and ESs in grades 1 through 4 (Taboada Barber et al., 2019). In agreement with others (e.g., Follmer, 2018; Gnaedinger et al., 2016; Sesma et al., 2009), we suggest that the self-regulation and higher order processing entailed in reading comprehension strategies likely necessitate EF skills, which may explain why infer-encing and comprehension monitoring act as an explanatory mechanism (mediator) between EF skills and reading comprehension. That is, we suggest that the self-regulatory and intentional nature of strategies, in tandem with the higher order thinking involved in deploying strategic processes, may require or depend on EF skills. For instance, consider inhibitory control (one of the core EFs measured in the aforementioned study) as a required EF for strategic processing during reading comprehension. The capacity for inhibitory control of attention enables a prepotent mental representation (e.g., extraneous thoughts or information acquired earlier) to be resisted (Postle, Brush, & Nick, 2004) in order to attend to other information based on our goals or intention (Diamond, 2013). An association between inhibition and comprehension monitoring can be hypothesized since asking readers to resolve inconsistencies as part of a comprehension monitoring task requires them to (a) attend to the contradictory information, (b) hold it in working memory (inhibitory control is associated with several working memory measures, Diamond, 2013), (c) discard or inhibit the previously acquired (contradictory) information in order to bring the relevant information to the forefront, and (d) establish coherence between the relevant information and the rest of passage. By the same token, inhibitory control can also be strongly related to inferencing as a higher order strategic process, as when one needs to ignore irrelevant inter-sentence information in order to connect two ideas or sentences that are not adjacent to make an inference.

Cognitive flexibility, another of the core EFs we measured in ELs and their ES peers, is also a predictor of concurrent and later reading comprehension performance (Taboada Barber et al., 2019). Indeed, the ability to shift between the twin demands of decoding processes and meaning construction, as required in reading-related cognitive flexibility tasks, is clearly required for reading comprehension (as when we need to switch actively between decoding processes to updating our ever-changing mental model of text meaning in order to read for understanding) but is also likely required for inference making. If we consider that inference making requires that one consider elements from the text as well as our own background knowledge, it is apparent that switching between and coordinating text elements with knowledge we supply is essential to successful inference making. For example, in the opening vignette to the chapter, Gabriela had to coordinate and flexibly switch between ideas in the text and background knowledge about melting ice (i.e., that it gets smaller) in order to correctly infer that the polar bears’ habitat was shrinking, causing them to need to travel further to find food. If a reader is unable to flexibly shift between ideas in the text and their own knowledge (while also successfully coordinating phonological, orthographic, and syntactic components of print), then inference making will fail.

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