New approaches to understanding how (and when) morphological skills influence literacy

New approaches to understanding how (and when) morphological skills influence literacy

First Author: Helen Breadmore -- Coventry University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Kyle Levesque
Keywords: Morphology, Morphological Awareness, Morphological processing, Reading, Spelling
Abstract / Summary: 

Morphological skills are well-established predictors of literacy attainment. Even so, the mechanisms behind how and when these skills influence literacy are not fully understood. Morphological skills include understanding the meaningful relationships between words as well as morphological decomposition. The goal of this symposium is to clarify the multifaceted contributions of morphology to literacy. We use diverse, innovative methods to consider how and when morphological skills influence literacy. We consider differences in measurement of morphological awareness, and its relationship with reading comprehension (Currie) and word reading (Levesque). We consider how children use morphological decomposition in word recognition (Dawson) and spelling (Breadmore). Finally, we present evidence that training on morphological form improves spelling ability to a greater extent than meaning (Gonnerman). These studies highlight the need to consider the role of morphological skills related to both meaning and form. This understanding is key to informing targeted interventions to improve literacy.

Symposium Papers: 

Morphological awareness in children with poor comprehension skills: effects of age, task and morphology type.

First Author/Chair:Nicola Currie -- Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK
Additional authors/chairs: 
Emma James; Xiuli Tong; Kate Cain

Purpose: Children with poor comprehension skills have accurate word reading but difficulties understanding what they read. Morphological awareness is one area of weakness, however, the specific nature of this weakness is unclear due to differences between studies in the age of participants, tasks used, and the type of morphological awareness assessed. We address these issues and further characterise the nature of poor comprehenders’ difficulties with morphology.

Method: Good and poor comprehenders aged 6-8 years, 9-11 years and 12-13 years completed six assessments of morphological awareness, including tests of compounds, inflectional and derivational morphology. Each type of morphological awareness was assessed with both a judgment and an analogy task. For the inflections and derivations both real and non-words were included and regular/irregular inflectional items and transparent/opaque derivational items. ANOVA compared performance between good and poor comprehenders at each age comparing task type, morphology type, and specific item types within the inflectional and derivational tasks.

Results: Poor comprehenders performed worse than the good comprehenders, in general. However, both task and aspect of morphology made a difference. Their difficulties were more pronounced on tasks that involved analogy and on measures of derivational morphology. We will present comparisons in performance on words vs nonwords, regular vs irregular inflectional items, and transparent vs opaque derivational items to understand better the nature of poor comprehenders’ difficulties.

Conclusions: By comparing performance of good and poor comprehenders across a wide age range with a comprehensive set of measures, our findings can inform both curriculum development and targeted interventions.

Clarifying links to literacy: Does morphological awareness predict gains in children’s word reading skills?

First Author/Chair:Kyle Levesque -- Dalhousie University, Hallifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Additional authors/chairs: 
Michael J. Kieffer; S. Hélène Deacon

Purpose. It has been argued that morphological awareness (the awareness and ability to manipulate the meaningful units in spoken language; Carlisle, 1995) supports children’s ability to read words (Carlisle, 2003; Perfetti et al., 2005). Our research seeks to clarify the relation between morphological awareness and word reading. The prominent phase theory of reading development, which does not distinguish morphemes from other familiar patterns (rimes, syllables), would suggest that morphological awareness might facilitate word reading skills broadly. However, we predicted that morphological awareness would specifically influence the reading of morphologically complex words—a skill labelled morphological decoding.

Method. 197 children were followed from Grade 3 to 4. They completed several reading measures capturing different dimensions of word reading: morphological decoding, orthographic decoding, word reading efficiency. A longitudinal autoregressive panel design in structural equation modeling was used to test whether morphological awareness predicts gains in word reading skills.

Results. Confirmatory factor analysis revealed a 2-factor model of word reading, with morphological decoding being distinct from a more general word reading factor (efficiency and orthographic decoding measure). Our longitudinal results showed that morphological awareness predicted gains in morphological decoding beyond controls (phonological awareness and vocabulary). However, this was not the case for more general word reading.

Conclusion. These results suggest that morphological awareness does not support gains for all facets of word reading. Instead, it appears that morphological awareness has a targeted influence on children’s morphological decoding. This work helps clarify the specific links between morphological awareness and literacy development.

Mechanisms of morphological decomposition: A developmental perspective

First Author/Chair:Nicola Dawson -- Royal Holloway, University of London, London, UK
Additional authors/chairs: 
Kathleen Rastle; Jessie Ricketts

Purpose: Previous findings indicate that morphologically complex words are processed on the basis of their constituent morphemes during visual word recognition, but there is debate over whether decomposition occurs through a process of sublexical (i.e. form-based) or lexical (i.e. meaning-based) analysis. While adults appear to automatically decompose complex words on the basis of form in the early stages of visual word recognition, some evidence suggests that this morpho-orthographic decomposition mechanism is not yet established in developing readers. These findings indicate some developmental changes in the visual word recognition system in relation to morphology which warrant further exploration. The present study is the first to track these changes by incorporating data from children, adolescents and adults. We predict that in children and early adolescents, decomposition processes will involve lexical analysis, but that evidence of automatic form-based decomposition will emerge by late adolescence.

Method: Children (N = 50), younger adolescents (N = 50), mid-adolescents (N = 50), older adolescents (N = 50) and adults (N = 50) completed a masked prime lexical decision task using three sets of prime-target pairs: suffixed (sharing a semantic relationship, e.g., toaster – TOAST), pseudo-suffixed (sharing an apparent morphological relationship in the absence of a semantic relationship, e.g., corner – CORN), and nonsuffixed (sharing an orthographic relationship, e.g., freeze – FREE). The dependent variables were accuracy and reaction times.

Results: Data will be analyzed using mixed effects models.

Conclusions: Findings will be interpreted in relation to competing theories of morphological decomposition and models of word recognition.

When and how children use morphemes in spelling and copying

First Author/Chair:Helen Breadmore -- Coventry University, Coventry, UK
Additional authors/chairs: 
S. Hélène Deacon

Purpose: We consider the extent to which morphological structure influences children’s preparation and/or production of writing under different conditions. Previous evidence of use of morphemes during writing has focused on spelling accuracy, with a small set of research moving into latencies. Here, we examine accuracy and handwriting latencies in spelling and copying. We also consider whether auditory priming influences these effects.

Method: 58 children aged 6-12 wrote derived (e.g., ARTist) and control words (e.g., ARTicle) that began with the same letters. Half of the children spelled to dictation and half copied the words. Writing latencies on correct spellings include measures before writing commences and during writing. For half of the items, the overlapping part of the word was primed (e.g., ART).

Results: Accuracy and handwriting latencies (on correct responses) were analysed using linear mixed effects models. In the copy task, accuracy was at ceiling across all conditions, demonstrating the need to move to latencies. In spelling-to-dictation, accuracy was higher for derived (ARTist) than control (ARTicle) words. Priming increased accuracy for derived words, but decreased accuracy on controls. Analyses of writing latencies on correct responses in both the copy and spelling task will also be presented.

Conclusions: Preliminary results suggest that the extent to which children use morphemes in spelling is influenced by task demands. Children are more likely to use morphemes when those morphemes are active (primed) and in tasks that require lexical access (spelling rather than copying).

Training in morphological structure versus word meaning: Effects on spelling in third and fifth grade children

First Author/Chair:Laura Gonnerman -- School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, McGill University, Montreal, Québec, Canada
Additional authors/chairs: 
Katherine Hill; Kendall Kolne; Robert Savage; S. Hélène Deacon

Purpose: A growing body of research suggests that teaching children about morphological structure can be helpful in learning to spell (see Bowers, Kirby, & Deacon, 2010). Because morphologically complex words are generally related in meaning to other words with the same stems, many intervention studies also teach children about word meanings. We were interested in finding out whether an intervention that focused solely on morphological form, without discussing word meaning, would be beneficial in spelling complex words.

Method: We conducted a 2-arm randomized control trial with 84 typical third and fifth grade French speaking children. Children participated in one of two interventions: 1) morphological training focused on the form of complex words, and 2) vocabulary training focused on the meanings of the same words. Importantly, the morphological training deliberately avoided discussion of the meanings of the words or morphemes, and conversely, the vocabulary training focused solely on word meaning, not mentioning word forms. A spelling assessment was administered prior to the intervention, immediately following the intervention, and again six months post intervention. The assessment measured both the effectiveness of training and the ability to generalize to novel complex words.

Results: Children in the morphology group improved significantly more on spelling than children in the vocabulary training, with the differential gains maintained at six months post intervention.

Conclusions: Results suggest that training on morphological structure leads to greater increases in spelling ability than instruction emphasizing word meanings does and these differential gains in performance persist for at least six months.