The Connection Among Morphological, Phonological, Orthographic, and Processing Skills, and Reading
Clark, Teixeira L.
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Research on morphological awareness has shown that it contributes to literacy outcomes. However, because of the way morphological awareness is traditionally measured, there is speculation that tasks may reflect cognitive flexibility, working memory, or some other type of executive processing, versus awareness of morphology. Further complicating the measurement of morphological awareness is the fact that items with different types of phonological changes are included in morphological tasks, often without differentiating between them. This paper reports on two studies investigating these issues. Study 1 had three main aims: The first was to develop a measure that was parallel in task demands to the morphological production task but involved no morphology, to attempt to separate morphological demands from other task demands. The second was to examine the developmental nature of both morphological skill and parallel task-processing demands. The third aim of Study 1 was to examine the contribution of morphological skill over and above task demands to literacy skills. With a sample of 274 students in grades 5 and 8, results show that grade 8 students performed better on both the morphological production task and parallel processing task, the orthographic production task. Results also show that one type of traditional morphological awareness task is tapping more than vocabulary and processing skills as the morphological production task made unique contributions to both word reading and comprehension. Additionally, results showed that the orthographic production task made unique contributions to both outcomes. The main goal of Study 2 was to further examine the nature of the relationship of the morphological and orthographic production tasks with reading comprehension with a sample of 304 fourth- and fifth-grade students. It was hypothesized that both tasks would be correlated with orthographic skill, phonological word skill, vocabulary, and working memory, with the morphological task having a unique effect on reading comprehension. Study 2 furthers the research and results from Study 1 in two ways. First, it investigates what the orthographic production task, from Study 1, is measuring by including assessments that measure orthographic skill, phonological word skill, and a working memory task in addition to vocabulary in a structural equation model predicting reading comprehension. Second, Study 2 again investigates the contribution of morphological awareness to reading comprehension using a larger battery of literacy measures and a more complex statistical model. Interestingly, the unique contribution of the orthographic production task to reading comprehension remained significant even after taking the other variables into account. Further research into this measure is needed to help explain what the unique contribution means theoretically. Results show that the unique contribution of morphological awareness failed to reach significance after accounting for orthographic skill, phonological word skill, vocabulary, and working memory. However, morphological skill was highly correlated with comprehension and all predictors showing a strong total effect on reading comprehension.
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