31 SES 02 A, Reading, Spelling and Vocabulary in Language Education
Being able to write is critical for full participation in society in contemporary times, (Brandt, 2015), and spelling is a key transcription skill for efficient writing (Daffern, Mackenzie & Hemmings, 2017a). While a writer who is an effective speller can focus fully on crafting a written text, a writer who is a poor speller may instead be distracted by the task of spelling individual words. A poor speller may also limit their word selection to words that are easy to spell, which in turn may impact the specificity of their intended message. If spelling poses ongoing challenges, a young writer may develop a negative mindset about him/herself as a writer and avoid writing, leading to ‘arrested writing development’ (Graham & Santangelo, 2014, p. 1704). Thus, individuals with unresolved spelling difficulties may be restricted in their capacity and motivation to communicate, and this may exclude them from full societal participation.
Learning to spell using Standard English language is a complex and gradual process of learning to coordinate multiple linguistic strategies with increasing efficiency and automaticity (Treiman, 2017). While Triple Word Form Theory (TWFT) contends that students are capable of concurrently drawing on multiple linguistic skills, including phonological, orthographic, and morphological skills, from the early years of learning to write (Berninger, Abbott, Nagy, & Carlisle, 2010; Richards et al., 2006), this requires teachers with sophisticated pedagogical content knowledge (Daffern, 2016). Nonetheless, many teachers do not seem to be adequately prepared to teach English spelling (Dockrell, Marshall, & Wyse, 2016; Fielding-Barnsley & Purdie, 2005; Fresch, 2007; Herrington & Macken-Horarik, 2015; Johnston, 2001; McNeill & Kirk, 2014; Stark, Snow, Eadie, & Goldfield, 2016).
Further research is needed to understand the kinds of difficulties that can be experienced by students learning to spell in English and the challenges that can be experienced by their teachers. As TWFT has been validated in a series of brain imaging studies (see for example, Berninger et al., 2010) and behavioural studies (Garcia, Abbott, & Berninger, 2010; Nagy, Berninger, & Abbott, 2006), it offers a well-grounded framework from which to examine learning and instruction in spelling.
The case study described in this paper reveals challenges of both the learning and teaching of spelling, from the perspectives of eight struggling Australian spellers (aged between 8 and 12 years) and their teachers. Data analysis was informed by two research questions: i) what challenges do low-achieving spellers experience? and ii) how do teachers influence student learning in spelling?
The case study reported in this paper forms part of a larger Australian mixed-methods study examining spelling acquisition, as represented by a stratified random sample of Australian students aged 8 to 12 years (n=1,198). Informed by TWFT (Daffern, Mackenzie & Hemmings, 2015; Garcia, Abbott, & Berninger, 2010; Richards et al., 2006), the present case study utilizes spelling error analysis of dictated words, and narrative and expository writing, as well as semi-structured interview data from a randomly selected sub-sample of low-achieving spellers (n=8) and their teachers (n=8). Data include children’s performance results in spelling, as measured by the Components of Spelling Test (CoST) (Daffern et al., 2015, 2017b), a standardized dictation spelling test comprising 70 words. Internal reliability results for the CoST have been demonstrated in an earlier study with Chronbach alpha’s ranging from .78 to .94 (Daffern et al., 2015). In addition, frequencies of written word types and spelling error types produced in narrative and persuasive written compositions were ascertained. The Australian National Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) Writing Test marking guide was used to analyse and classify word difficulty (Australian Curriculum, Assessment, & Reporting Authority (ACARA), 2012). These data were triangulated with transcribed semi-structured interviews conducted with the students and their teachers to understand the spelling strategies used and articulated by the students as well as to identify the pedagogies employed by the teachers. The data were inductively analysed using Sproule’s (2006) methodological framework, as well as techniques outlined by Willis (2006) and Elo and Kyngäs (2008).
Performance across the CoST subscales ranged between the 5th and 13th percentile, and errors were prevalent across all subscales. The CoST results also revealed a general increase in subscale raw scores at each year level, demonstrating that fewer errors were generally made by the older students than the younger students. All students produced errors across the three subscales, even though fewer phonological errors were made overall. This pattern suggests that phonological processes were generally easier than orthographic and morphological processes in spelling dictated words. Phonological errors were mostly notable in phonologically regular medial parts of polysyllabic words. The most prominent orthographic errors were evident in base words containing vowel digraphs and split vowel digraphs, while morphological errors were mostly reflected in homophones, and words featuring assimilated prefixes, Greek and Latin roots, and derivational suffixes. In composing written texts, these students relied on ‘simple’ and ‘common’ words. While individual variability was observed in terms of the number and type of spelling errors produced among the participating students, all students produced a combination of phonological, orthographic and morphological errors. Overall, orthographic errors (n= 243) were most prevalent, followed by morphological errors (n=161), and then phonological errors (n=98). These results are consistent with the students’ CoST results, suggesting that orthographic and morphological strategies were generally weaker compared to phonological strategies. Interview data revealed that the students lacked confidence in spelling and general writing, used ‘sounding out’ as their dominant strategy, and displayed limited metalanguage. The respective classroom teachers revealed a lack of confidence in their ability to teach spelling, along with limitations in pedagogical content knowledge and instructional approaches. Interactions between teachers’ content knowledge, pedagogy, and student learning and self-efficacy in spelling were exposed. The results highlight the need for improved understandings of ways to support students who find learning to spell challenging.
Australian Curriculum, Assessment, & Reporting Authority (ACARA). (2012). 2012 National assessment program numeracy and literacy: Persuasive writing marking guide. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu.au/verve/_resources/2012_Marking_Guide.pdf Brandt, D. (2015). The rise of writing: Redefining mass literacy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Daffern, T. (2016). What happens when a teacher uses metalanguage to teach spelling? The Reading Teacher, 70(4), 423-434. doi:10.1002/trtr.1528 Daffern, T., Mackenzie, N. M., & Hemmings, B. (2015). The development of a spelling assessment tool informed by Triple Word Form Theory. Australian Journal of Language & Literacy, 38(2), 72-82. Daffern, T., Mackenzie, N. M., & Hemmings, B. (2017). Predictors of writing success: How important are spelling, grammar and punctuation? Australian Journal of Education, 61(1), 75-87. doi:10.1177/0004944116685319 Daffern, T., Mackenzie, N. M., & Hemmings, B. (2017b). Testing spelling: How does a dictation method measure up to a proofreading and editing format? Australian Journal of Language & Literacy, 40(1), 28-45. Dockrell, J., Marshall, C., & Wyse, D. (2016). Teachers' reported practices for teaching writing in England. Reading and Writing, 29(3), 409-434. doi:10.1007/s11145-015-9605-9 Elo, S., & Kyngäs, H. (2008). The qualitative content analysis process. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 62(1), 107-115. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.2007.04569.x Fielding-Barnsley, R., & Purdie, N. (2005). Teachers' attitude to and knowledge of metalinguistics in the process of learning to read. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 33(1), 65-76. doi:10.1080/1359866052000341133 Fresch, M. (2007). Teachers' concerns about spelling instruction: A national survey. Reading Psychology, 28(4), 301-330. doi:10.1080/02702710701545510 Graham, S., & Santangelo, T. (2014). Does spelling instruction make students better spellers, readers, and writers? A meta-analytic review. Reading and Writing, 27(9), 1703-1743. doi:10.1007/s11145-014-9517-0 Herrington, M. C., & Macken-Horarik, M. (2015). Linguistically informed teaching of spelling: Toward a relational approach. Australian Journal of Language & Literacy, 38(2), 61-71. Johnston, F. (2001). Exploring classroom teachers' spelling practices and beliefs. Reading Research and Instruction, 40(2), 143-156. McNeill, B., & Kirk, C. (2014). Theoretical beliefs and instructional practices used for teaching spelling in elementary classrooms. Reading and Writing, 27(3), 535-554. doi:10.1007/s11145-013-9457-0 Sproule, W. (2006). Content analysis. In M. Walter (Ed.), Social research methods: An Australian perspective (pp. 113-134). South Melbourne: Oxford University Press. Stark, H. L., Snow, P. C., Eadie, P. A., & Goldfield, S. R. (2016). Language and reading instruction in early years' classrooms: The knowledge and self-rated ability of Australian teachers. Annals of Dyslexia, 66, 28-54. doi:10.1007/s11881-015-0112-0 Treiman, R. (2017). Learning to spell words: Findings, theories, and issues. Scientific Studies of Reading, 21(4), 1-12. doi:10.1080/10888438.2017.1296449 Willis, K. (2006). Analysing qualitative data. In M. Walter (Ed.), Social research methods: An Australian perspective (pp. 257-280). South Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
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