Morphological processing and literacy development: Current issues and research

Morphological processing and literacy development: Current issues and research

First Author: Rachel Berthiaume -- Département de didactique, Université de Montréal
Additional authors/chairs: 
Daniel Daigle; Alain Desrochers
Abstract / Summary: 

Considering the breadth of scientific literature that has been published in the field of morphological processing and literacy development, the purpose of this symposium is to synthesize findings from studies conducted on vocabulary, spelling, word recognition and reading comprehension from a morphological viewpoint. The variety of theoretical perspectives being reviewed will lead to a better understanding of why and how morphology plays a crucial role in the development of literacy across a wide range of contexts. To reach this objective, the following interrelated issues will be discussed: a) the theoretical considerations that have guided morphological processing research, b) the use of morphology within different populations of learners, c) factors that facilitate or hinder the development of morphological knowledge, and d) the impact of morphological instruction on the development of literacy. A discussant will conclude the symposium by highlighting some of the notable facts and information presented through the different papers.

Symposium Papers: 

Morphological processing tasks and measurement issues

First Author/Chair:Rachel Berthiaume -- Département de didactique, Université de Montréal
Additional authors/chairs: 
Amélie Bourcier; Daniel Daigle

Purpose:
The purpose of this paper is to propose a typology of morphological tasks in order to contribute to a better understanding of the objectives and effects associated with each task and to guide the methodological choices made by researchers in the field of morphological processing.
Method:
We systematically reviewed 221 studies designed to investigate morphology in different populations and languages. Extracted information permitted us to compare and examine morphological tasks’ characteristics in order to distinguish the mental operations that defined them. Category criteria were then refined, split into subgroups and adjusted. We subsequently listed the different names used in the reviewed studies to group the tasks under eleven generic terms.
Results:
We first propose a general description of the body of work reviewed. Our analysis indicates that there has been an increase in the number of researchers interested in the field and therefore also in the number of languages studied, especially since the beginning of the 2010s. The most common grouping across studies involves a single comparison between a specific group of students and control groups. Primary Grade 3 and 4 students are the most studied. Furthermore, we propose a typology of morphological tasks according to the experimental conditions that characterize them, the main effects sought (e.g. frequency effect) and the type of material involved (oral, written, etc.).
Conclusions:
We highlight some methodological issues brought to our attention through our analysis and conclude that derivation and decomposition are the two mental operations at the heart of every morphological task.

The acquisition of derivational morphology in children

First Author/Chair:Lynne Duncan -- University of Dundee
Additional authors/chairs: 
Alain Desrochers; S. Hélène Deacon; Anila Fejzo

Purpose:
The purpose of this paper is to review research findings that pertain to the development of knowledge of derivational morphology in childhood and its relation to literacy development.
Method:
We selectively reviewed two decades of research on morphological awareness and revisited specific findings by considering the impact of linguistic and cognitive factors on task performance. We examined the early manifestations of morphological knowledge through spontaneous word production and experimental tasks. Our approach is based on the analysis of behavioral observation in spontaneous language production and decontextualized performance tasks. Special attention was paid to cross-linguistic comparisons between native speakers of English or French.
Results:
The factors that facilitate or hinder the development of morphological knowledge are highlighted and discussed. Detailed analyses reveal variable performance on different morphemes, shedding light on the heterogeneous nature of the development of morphological knowledge. Children also extract the root of derived words more easily than they produce derived words, and they manipulate the structure of real words more easily than that of pseudo-words. The development of these skills is found to be sensitive to several linguistic (e.g., the productivity and transparency of morphemes), cognitive (e.g., task requirements, type of manipulation, item lexicality), and social factors (e.g., exposure to morphologically complex words, school instruction).
Conclusions:
Ascertaining the causal role of morphological knowledge on literacy development is challenging. Its impact may not be detectable before it has reached a certain level and this level may depend on linguistic characteristics and task requirements.

The effects of morphological instruction on vocabulary learning, reading, and spelling

First Author/Chair:John R. Kirby -- Faculty of Education - Queen's University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Cara Metzler; Peter N. Bowers

Purpose:
Our goal in this paper is to draw implications for classroom practice from the scientific research on morphological instruction.
Method:
We reviewed the research literature on (a) the prediction of vocabulary, spelling, and reading from measures of morphological awareness, and (b) the effects of morphological instruction on vocabulary, spelling, and reading, making use of recent meta-analyses and subsequent studies.
Results:
Predictive studies show that measures of morphological awareness are associated with vocabulary, spelling, and reading, especially reading comprehension, and these effects survive the control of many measures. Instructional studies also show effects on vocabulary, spelling, and reading, but with weaker effects on reading comprehension. Morphological instruction is more effective with younger and less able learners, and appears to be more effective when combined with other aspects of literacy instruction. We will illustrate instructional methods from recent studies.
Conclusions:
Morphological knowledge is a key, binding component in literacy and language development. Morphological instruction may be of particular benefit to younger and less able children. Deeper and greater effects, especially on reading comprehension, may require longer and more integrated interventions. One serious barrier to the inclusion of morphological instruction in elementary schools is that teachers, and many teacher educators, are themselves unfamiliar with morphology.

Classroom practices in morphological instruction

First Author/Chair:Julie A. Wolter -- Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders-University of Montana
Additional authors/chairs: 
Daniel Daigle; Rachel Berthiaume; Noémia Ruberto

Purpose:
The integration of evidence-based practice in educational settings is well established and is necessary for providing high-quality classroom instruction that best reflects the interests, needs, and values of students of all backgrounds. It includes considerations from three angles: (a) the current state of empirical research, (b) the unique characteristics and needs of students, and (c) the theoretical underpinnings that drive how and why instruction is being implemented. The purpose of this paper is to reflect on these factors in the context of classroom instruction in morphology as a way to develop guiding principles for making pedagogical decisions.
Method:
We explored the research and theory supporting why morphology could and should be taught explicitly. Then, we took into account general principles for guiding the implementation of classroom practices and considered the goal of this teaching in relation to student needs and characteristics. In addition, we considered the important differences between the domains of inflectional morphology and derivational morphology and the implications that these differences may have for classroom implementation.
Results:
Specific principles that could guide the implementation of morphologically-based classroom activities to positively impact student learning will be defined. Using the morphological tasks typology presented in the first paper of this symposium, we will demonstrate how research-based morphological tasks can be used in the classroom to target components of reading and writing procedures.
Conclusions:
Through explicit teaching and in the context of pedagogical differentiation, morphological instruction can have positive effects on all students’ reading abilities, especially those with special needs.

Discussion

First Author/Chair:DISCUSSANT Kenn Apel

The papers in this symposium provide a rich and well-rounded compilation of the current state of knowledge about morphological processing, in both theoretical and practical ways. My discussion will focus on how they provide information for how to characterize differences in morphological processing skills and on the multiple important implications from the basic research on morphological processing that can inform instruction. Collectively, all contributing authors support the notion that morphological processing contributes to reading and spelling and thus, the inclusion of morphological processing in classrooms and special services is important. One key lesson learned across all papers is that there is much more research needed in the area of morphological processing.