Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Morphological Awareness and Word-Level Reading in Early and Middle Elementary School Years

Robertson, E.K. & Deacon, S.H. (2019). Morphological awareness and word-level reading in early and middle elementary school years. Applied Psycholinguistics, 40, 1051-1071.

Much of previous research on reading development has examined the contributions of phonological awareness, but the role of morphological awareness is not as well documented. Morphological awareness is defined as one’s ability to identify and manipulate units of meaning in language, called morphemes. The small body of previous literature examining morphological awareness and reading in elementary school years has yielded mixed findings, with some evidence that its role in reading increases over time, some evidence that its role is relatively stable, and some evidence that its role declines. The present study took a cross-sectional approach to examine how the relationship between morphological awareness, word reading, and pseudoword reading may change in early and middle elementary school years.

Participants in the present study were 375 children in Grades 1 to 4, grouped into two groups for analysis purposes: one group of students in Grades 1 and 2, and a second group of students in Grades 3 and 4. Participants all completed a real word reading task, a pseudoword reading task, and a morphological awareness task which assessed production of the past-tense inflectional morpheme -ed. In this task, participants listened to a sentence and then were asked to finish a second sentence, for example: “We play games. Yesterday, we did the same thing; we ____ (played) games.” To ensure the morphological awareness task was sufficiently difficult for the older participants, it also included pseudoword items, such as “Jill can blick. Yesterday, she did the same thing; she ____ (blicked).” Participants also completed measures of phonological awareness, phonological short-term memory, sentence-level oral language skills, and nonverbal cognition, to be used as control measures in the analyses.

The authors used hierarchical regression analyses to examine the unique contributions of morphological awareness to real word reading and to pseudoword reading. With respect to real word reading, morphological awareness accounted for 1.1% of additional unique variance beyond the control measures in the Grades 1 and 2 group, however, it did not significantly account for additional variance in the Grades 3 and 4 group. With respect to pseudoword reading, morphological awareness explained an additional 1% beyond what was accounted for by the control variables, and no interaction was found with grade group.

These findings suggest that the role of morphological awareness in real word reading declines from early elementary school years to middle elementary school years, whereas its role in pseudoword reading remains stable over these grades. The authors suggest that the reduced contributions of morphological awareness in middle elementary school years maybe be related to the increased role of sentence-level language skills when reading, as children shift from learning to read to reading to learn and are exposed to texts that are more rich in morphosyntactic complexity and vocabulary. These findings suggest that morphology may be an important component of early reading instruction in the classroom and reading intervention, although further research on instruction and intervention approaches is needed to better understand how this might benefit reading outcomes.

Blogger: Alex Cross is an M.Cl.Sc. and Ph.D. Candidate in Speech-Language Pathology, supervised by Dr. Lisa Archibald and Dr. Marc Joanisse.

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