Catherine Penney

B.Sc.(Hons.) McGill, M.A., Ph.D. Toronto


Office: SN3073
Phone: (709) 864-7687
Affiliations: Cognition, Developmental


I received a first-class honours degree from McGill University, and an MA and PhD from the University of Toronto under the supervision of Endel Tulving and Ben Murdock respectively.

Student Supervision

I have successfully supervised a number of honours and graduate students and am interested in recruiting both honours and graduate students interested in doing research on human memory, problem solving, and especially reading.

Research Interests

My early research focused on modality and suffix effects in short-term memory (see Penney, 1989) and I believe there is a link between echoic memory (as studied in modality and suffix effects experiments) and both language development and dyslexia.

I have long been interested in problem solving, including mathematical cognition, and have published an article on incubation effects in solving anagram problems (see Penney, Godsell, Scott, & Balsom, 2004).

My current research interests are on how children and adults learn to read, and the cognitive and linguistic deficits that make literacy acquisition difficult (see Penney, Drover, Dyck & Squires, 2006; Penney & Godsell, 1999; Penney, Hann & Power, 2001). I am interested in studying dyslexia and how possible deficits in echoic memory, word retrieval, phoneme perception, and phonological awareness might contribute to failure in literacy acquisition. My current research is focused on tracing the developmental sequence of various phonological skills and the development of the alphabetic principle in young children and older dyslexics.

In terms of applied research, I have developed a technique for teaching decoding skills and spelling to people of all ages who cannot read or who have low literacy levels (Penney, Drover, & Dyck, in press). I am interested in investigating how and why this method works, and in doing intervention studies to determine the effectiveness of the method in improving decoding (Penney, 2002) and spelling skills, reading speed, reading comprehension, and writing skills.

Selected Publications

Penney, C. G. (1989). Modality effects and the structure of short-term verbal memory. Memory and Cognition, 17, 398 – 422.

Penney, C. G. (2002). Teaching decoding skills to poor readers in high school. Journal of Literacy Research, 34, 99 – 118.

Penney, C. G., Drover, J. R., Dyck, C. (in press). Phonological processing deficits and the acquisition of the alphabetic principle in a severely delayed reader: A case studyl Dyslexia.

Penney, C. G., Drover, J. R., Dyck, C., & Squires, A. (2006). Phoneme awareness is not a prerequisite for learning to read. Written Language and Literacy, 9, 115 – 133.

Penney, C. G., & Godsell, A. (1999) Unusual modality effects in less skilled readers. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 25, 284 – 289.

Penney, C. G.,Godsell, A., Scott, A., & Balsom, R. (2004). Problem variables that promote incubation effects. Journal of Creative Behaviour, 38, 35 – 55.

Penney, C. G., Hann, P, & Power, B. (1999). A possible contribution of word-retrieval difficulties to reading and spelling impairments. Learning and Individual Differences, 11, 377 – 400.