This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 07 table of contents.

The Resource Allocation Problem

A student with poor phonological encoding (word attack) skills must devote conscious attention to the process of decoding letters into sounds. This takes a toll on comprehension. Mental resources consumed by consciously "sounding out" words are not available for representing the meaning of the text.

What happens to "mental resources" consumed by "sounding out" text?

Try to "sound out" the following passage (from Bragstad & Stumpf, 1982).


(Legislative Issues)

At a recent gathering at the Capitol here in Madison, a number of ledgusllaitelve yshooz were dhyscust. All dealt with tuhrizuhm in Wisconsin. Klyph Kharlsuhn who onze a small phische-pharm nier Wabeno, lead the phyte for tacks braxe for state bisnusmuhn whooze prauphutz halve bin slciascht beakuz ov the enuhrjee chrysusse. Other similarly kuhnsyrnde sytazunze joined hymn in demanding immediate rheleaph for psuch pursonze.

If you read that passage, you know what it feels like to be a student with poor word-attack skills. It is a struggle just to figure out what words you are reading. Now you get a comprehension test.

Comprehension Test

1. The preceding selection dealt primarily with:

a) the ecological ramifications of certain legislative decisions.

b) the economic plight of a particular group of business people.

c) the judicial directions being taken by the State Bar Association.

d) the philosophical issues inherent in several new state laws.

e) tourism at fish farms

Why do poor word attack skills harm comprehension?

Which is the correct answer? You would have no trouble finding the correct answer if you had not been putting all your mental effort into sounding out the words. When a person has to put conscious attention into word attack, this may leave few remaining mental resources to think about the meaning of the text. That is why basic word attack skills are so important. If word attack is not automatic, comprehension suffers.

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