Learning to read and write polysyllabic words: the effects of morphology and context on the acquisition of whole-word representations in fourth and fifth grade
Al Ghanem, Reem
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Accurate and rapid word recognition requires highly-specified phonological, orthographic, and semantic word-specific representations. It has been established that children acquire these representations through phonological decoding in a process known as orthographic learning. Studies examining orthographic learning and its predictors have thus far focused on monosyllabic words. It is unclear whether the findings of these studies—especially, those related to the role phonological decoding, orthographic knowledge, and contextual semantic information play in orthographic learning—can be generalized to polysyllabic words. A large number of the polysyllabic words children encounter in content-area texts is morphologically complex. Yet, examining the role of morphology in the orthographic learning of polysyllabic words is still in its infancy. The purpose of this study was to examine the role of morphology and context (two sources of semantic information) in the acquisition of whole-word representations of polysyllabic words in children with and without reading difficulty. A total of 73 fourth and fifth grade children participated in this study. The children read 12 disyllabic pseudowords presented in isolation or in context. An orthographic choice task and a spelling task measured children’s orthographic learning three days later. A battery of standardized and researcher designed tests measured children’s phonological decoding skill, orthographic knowledge, and morphological knowledge. Data were analyzed using mixed-design analysis of variance and multiple linear regression. The results of this study showed that morphology facilitated the orthographic learning of polysyllabic words in the spelling task but not in the orthographic choice task. The results also showed that context interfered with the orthographic learning of polysyllabic words, irrespective of their morphological structure. Context interference appeared to vary by children’s reading skill—that is, context appeared to interfere with the orthographic learning of polysyllabic words in struggling readers and children with reading difficulty but not in typically achieving children. The results also showed that, controlling for phonological decoding and orthographic knowledge, morphological knowledge contributed to the orthographic learning of polysyllabic words, irrespective of children’s reading skill. Implications for polysyllabic word reading instruction are discussed.