The influence of grapheme type on spelling performance over the primary grades: Evidence from French.

The influence of grapheme type on spelling performance over the primary grades: Evidence from French.

First Author: Alain Desrochers -- Groupe de recherche sur l'apprentissage de la lecture
Additional authors/chairs: 
Lise DesGagné; Markéta Caravolas
Keywords: Spelling, Alphabetic writing, Grapheme-phoneme correspondences, Morphological processing, Primary education
Abstract / Summary: 

Objective: Several variables are involved in French word spelling such as phoneme-grapheme consistency, contextual dependence, and morphological traces. We investigated the impact of these variables on word spelling accuracy over the primary grades and provided an empirical basis for instructional decisions. Method: The method involved a cross-sectional design and 719 French-speaking children from grade 1 through 6. At school year end these children were given printed sentences with 78 words missing. The sentences were read to them and they were asked to write down the missing words in the blank spaces. These words were selected on the basis of several criteria (e.g. grapheme type). Results : The results indicate that the spelling accuracy a) of context-free graphemes (e.g. b, d, f) was nearly perfect from the end of grade 1, while it improved linearly throughout the primary grades for all other grapheme types; b) of context-dependent but consistent graphemes (m before b or p, “ambulance”) was at floor level at the beginning of grade 1 but were transcribed nearly perfectly by the end of the primary grades; c) of context-dependent but inconsistent graphemes (e.g. c and g, “cargo”) was near 50% at the end of grade 1 and barely exceeded 80% at the end of grade 6; d) of final mute and morphology-based letters was at floor level at the end of grade 1 and barely exceeded 75% at the end of grade 6; e) of final mute and non morphology-based letters was at floor level at the end of grade 1 and  barely exceeded 60% at the end of grade 6; f) of context-free graphemes was moderately correlated with that of the other graphemes types, while the latter were highly correlated with one another. Conclusion: These results confirm that grapheme type is a critical variable in French spelling and that context-dependent and morphology-based graphemes can hardly be expected to be mastered without explicit instruction and extended practice.