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Learning From Our Mistakes: Improvements in Spelling Lead to Gains in Reading Speed



The present study tested the hypothesis that underlying orthographic representations vary in completeness within the individual, which is manifested in both spelling accuracy and reading speed. Undergraduate students were trained to improve their spelling of difficult words. Word reading speed was then measured for these same words, allowing for a direct evaluation of whether improvements in spelling would bring about faster reading speeds. Results were clear: Spelling accuracy and reading speed were strongly related across and within participants. Most important, words that improved in spelling accuracy were read more rapidly at posttest than words that did not show improvement in spelling. These results provide direct evidence showing that the quality of orthographic representations, as indexed by spelling accuracy, directly relates to reading speed. This is consistent with the lexical quality hypothesis and highlights the relevance of spelling in literacy acquisition.
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Scientific Studies of Reading
ISSN: 1088-8438 (Print) 1532-799X (Online) Journal homepage:
Learning From Our Mistakes: Improvements in
Spelling Lead to Gains in Reading Speed
Gene Ouellette, Sandra Martin-Chang & Maya Rossi
To cite this article: Gene Ouellette, Sandra Martin-Chang & Maya Rossi (2017) Learning From
Our Mistakes: Improvements in Spelling Lead to Gains in Reading Speed, Scientific Studies of
Reading, 21:4, 350-357, DOI: 10.1080/10888438.2017.1306064
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Published online: 27 Apr 2017.
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Learning From Our Mistakes: Improvements in Spelling Lead to
Gains in Reading Speed
Gene Ouellette
, Sandra Martin-Chang
, and Maya Rossi
Mount Allison University;
Concordia University
The present study tested the hypothesis that underlying orthographic
representations vary in completeness within the individual, which is man-
ifested in both spelling accuracy and reading speed. Undergraduate stu-
dents were trained to improve their spelling of difficult words. Word
reading speed was then measured for these same words, allowing for a
direct evaluation of whether improvements in spelling would bring about
faster reading speeds. Results were clear: Spelling accuracy and reading
speed were strongly related across and within participants. Most important,
words that improved in spelling accuracy were read more rapidly at post-
test than words that did not show improvement in spelling. These results
provide direct evidence showing that the quality of orthographic represen-
tations, as indexed by spelling accuracy, directly relates to reading speed.
This is consistent with the lexical quality hypothesis and highlights the
relevance of spelling in literacy acquisition.
Sadly, proficient reading is not always associated with equally proficient spelling (Martin-Chang,
Ouellette, & Madden, 2014). This fits anecdotal experience; many strong readers struggle with
spelling, even into adulthood (Holmes & Castles, 2001; Moll & Landerl, 2009). The dissociation
between reading and spelling has been explained with reference to how words are stored in memory;
when orthographic representations are incomplete or unstable, their degree of specification may
suffice for reading (where the visual word is present) but not spelling (where the word must be
generated; Conrad, 2008). An intriguing extension of this argument is that even within good spellers,
some words will have orthographic representations that are fully and accurately stored in memory
(high quality), whereas other words will have representations that are incomplete or inaccurate
(poor quality; Perfetti, 2007). Viewed through the lens of lexical access, incomplete representations
should take longer to activate because of the mismatch between the internal representation and the
visual stimuli (Martin-Chang et al., 2014). In the present study we conducted a novel, stringent test
of this assertion by employing an experimental design in which we taught university students to spell
words they found difficult and subsequently measured their reading times for those same words.
Developmental theories (e.g., Ehri, 2005; Frith, 1985), cognitive explanations (e.g., Perfetti &
Hart, 2002), and connectionist models (e.g., Plaut, McClelland, Seidenberg, & Patterson, 1996) alike
have attributed the dissociation between reading and spelling to variations in stored orthographic
representations. For example, as illustrated by Conrad (2008) and Martin-Chang et al. (2014), the
word occasion may still be read when encountered in print, even if some information is missing from
the stored orthographic representation (e.g., oc?as?on). In contrast, this lack of orthographic
completeness will render accurate spelling difficult. Similarly, a word that is stored completely but
inaccurately (e.g., ocassion) would also prevent correct spelling but allow for a partial match to the
CONTACT Gene Ouellette Department of Psychology, Mount Allison University, 49A York Street,
Sackville, New Brunswick, E4L 1C7, Canada.
© 2017 Society for the Scientific Study of Reading
2017, VOL. 21, NO. 4, 350357
word when encountered in print. Thus, according to such theory, having complete representations is
not mandatory for reading, yet it should still prove advantageous. Indeed, Perfetti and colleagues
proposed that words with higher quality representations would both be less dependent upon top-
down cues (Perfetti, 2007; Perfetti, Liu, & Tan, 2005) and read faster than words with lower lexical
Holmes and Carruthers (1998) were among the first to examine whether words with higher
quality representations (as reflected by spelling accuracy) were activated more rapidly than words
with lower quality representations. They asked adult readers to complete two tasks (silent reading
and spelling to dictation) using the same words. After individualizing the data, Holmes and
Carruthers reported that participants read words equally quickly regardless of whether they could
spell those words accurately. In contrast, Burt and Tate (2002) employed a similar paradigm but used
a lexical decision task instead of a silent reading task. When their data were individualized,
participants could recognize words that they could spell accurately more quickly than words they
had difficulty spelling.
Moll and Landerl (2009) recently studied children with discrepant reading and spelling abilities.
They reported that good readers/poor spellers read words they could spell faster than poor readers/
good spellers. Perhaps even more surprising, they also found that the words that good readers/poor
spellers could not spell accurately were read as quickly as words that good readers/good spellers could
spell accurately. Although these data imply that it is reading ability rather than spelling ability that is
driving reading speed, there were no direct comparisons between how quickly the same children
could read words they could or could not spell.
Martin-Chang et al. (2014) addressed this question by directly measuring the reading speed of
correctly and incorrectly spelled words within the same participants. They noted that words spelled
accurately over multiple trials were read faster than words that were spelled incorrectly over the
same number of attempts. In short, each participant read the words he or she could spell faster than
those he or she could not. These results, together with those of Burt and Tate (2002), provide
correlational support for two hypotheses: first, that orthographic representations vary in terms of
accuracy within each individual person, and second, that higher quality representations allow for
more rapid recognition/retrieval of words (Perfetti, 2007; Share, 2008). However, the data just
reported are limited by their correlational nature. Here, we directly test the hypothesis that
improvements in orthographic quality cause reductions in reading times by employing a tightly
controlled experimental design.
In the present study we trained undergraduate students to accurately spell words that were
initially difficult for them and then assessed the impact of improved spelling accuracy on the reading
speed for these same words. Difficult words were determined for each participant based on their
performance on an initial spelling assessment. These words were then assigned to one of two
conditions: a training condition designed to improve spelling accuracy, and a control condition
designed to equate the number of auditory and visual word exposures over training. The control
condition was included to alleviate concerns over priming/practice effects given that the words in the
training condition were heard and read multiple times. This design allowed us to directly compare
reading access speed for words that participants learned how to spell relative to words that they were
still unable to spell after training.
Fifty-six students (41 female), with a mean chronological age of 18.68 years (SD =1
.13 years)
participated in the first session; of these, 45 (34 female) completed the second session. The mean
age of this group was 18.64 years (SD = 1.21 years). All students were native English speakers
(five reported being bilingual with multilanguage exposure from birth), recruited from a
Canadian undergraduate university. They received course credit in an introductory psychology
course for participating.
Screening measures
The Test of Word Reading Efficiency (TOWRE; Wagner, Torgesen, & Rashotte, 1999)determined
participantsgeneral word reading and phonemic decoding ability. The TOWRE has excellent
reported reliability, above .90. Participants were asked to read as many words as possible out loud
(from a list of 104 real words) in 45 s. Subsequently, they were asked to read as many nonwords as
possible (from a list of 63 nonwords) in 45 s.
The Spelling subtest of the WoodcockJohnson Test of AchievementThird Edition (WJ-III;
Woodcock, McGrew, & Mathers, 2001) determined participantsgeneral spelling abilities. The WJ-
III has high split-half reliability (Mdn r = .90; Schrank, McGrew, & Woodcock, 2001). Participants
were asked to write the words dictated by the researcher in an untimed test. Participants continued
until they had made six errors, or until the task was completed. The test contains 59 items.
Experimental stimuli
Four additional items were added to 20 words taken from Martin-Chang et al. (2014). The resulting
24 words (presented in the appendix) were chosen to control for frequency, length, and number of
syllables. The items varied with regards to how difficult they were to spell.
Session 1
Participants completed six tasks in total, three of which contained the target words. Reading speed of
the target words was first measured at the beginning of the session, followed by a visual maze task
(filler) and two standardized screening measures (TOWRE, WJ-III). The spelling task and the
definitions task both included the target words and occurred at the end of the session.
Reading response time was measured with SuperLab Pro 5.0 (Cedrus Corporation, 2014). The
words were presented individually, in random order, on a standard 24-in. computer screen. A
brief fixation point preceded each word. The readers voice triggered a voice key that prompted
the word to disappear from view. The experimenter manually scored accuracy of the reading
attempt on the keyboard, which triggered the presentation of the next fixation point. Each word
was read three times (once during each randomized 24-item list). The recorded reading speed
was averaged across all accurate readings of the word. Following the recommendations of Ratcliff
(1993), the response times were not transformed. Data were trimmed by setting the maximum
valid speed at 2,500 ms and discarding data from any trial in which the reading was not accurate
or in which the voice key was incorrectly triggered. In all, these procedures involved less than 2%
of the computed data points.
Immediately after the filler task and the two standardized screening measures, the participants
completed a spelling-to-dictation test. The experimenter read the target words in a fixed random
order. The participant wrote them in a list format using pen and paper. Each word appeared only
once per list. After the full list of target words had been written down, the participant received a new
sheet of paper and the list of words was dictated again in a different random order. This was done
three times. The score per word was computed as the number of correct spellings out of three
Finally, to confirm that participants had working knowledge of the target words, they wrote a
brief definition to dictation (without including the target word). The definitions were scored on a
maximum of 3 points. A complete definition with examples was awarded 3 points. Two points were
awarded if a key part of the definition was provided. One point was awarded if the word was
appropriately used in context. Two assessors scored the definitions; in cases where there was a
discrepancy, consensus was reached via discussion.
Session 2
One week later, participants returned for the training and posttest component of the research design.
After the training practice (see next), the participants completed a visual filler-task (maze comple-
tion) and then repeated the timed reading task from Session 1; a second visual filler-task was then
completed, followed by the spelling dictation test of the target words.
This was a within-subjects design; each participant took part in both the spelling condition and
the control condition (devised to control for priming/practice effects). Half of each participants
misspelled words from Session 1 were randomly assigned to the spelling condition; the remaining
misspelled words were assigned to the control condition. To limit the variability in the number of
words practiced across participants, and to facilitate the opportunities for learning, a maximum of 10
words were assigned for each participant (i.e., five per condition). The order was counterbalanced so
that half of the participants received the spelling condition before the control condition.
During the spelling training, participants were shown the correct spelling of the target word on an
index card while hearing the experimenter read the word aloud. The card was removed from view,
and the participant was given another card and pencil and asked to spell the word. The original
index card was then shown again and the two spellings compared. This process was repeated two
more times (for a total of three spelling attempts with feedback regardless of spelling accuracy).
No spelling took place in the control condition; the experimenter read the words within an
elaborate definition. The target word was present four times within each definition. Each time the
word occurred, the researcher would show the index card of that word (for equal visual and auditory
exposure to words as in the spelling condition, to control for any priming effects of repeated stimuli).
Session 1
Descriptives and intercorrelations from the first session are presented in Table 1. Standardized tests
indicated that participants fell within the expected range of proficient reading and spelling, and the
scored definitions indicated working knowledge for the experimental word set (i.e., average score
above 1). The positive correlations between the standardized reading and spelling tests confirm the
predicted association between reading and spelling skills. Although the standardized spelling test was
not significantly correlated with our reading speed measure, the experimental spelling test
(which contained the same words as the reading speed task) was moderately correlated with the
reading task. This both supports the importance of considering word-specific measures and indicates
that higher spelling accuracy was associated with faster reading times within participants.
Table 1. Descriptives and correlation coefficients, Session 1.
Variable 1 2 3 4 5 6
1. TOWRE words
2. TOWRE nonwords .59**
3. WJ-III spelling .26* .50**
4. Definitions
.32** .38** .22
5. Reading time
.19 .38** .19 .33**
6. Spelling accuracy
.23* .44** .75** .26* .37**
M95.11 57.80 51.50 1.83 831.46 1.66
SD 7.74 5.64 3.54 .39 242.71 .45
Note. N = 56. TOWRE = Test of Word Reading Efficiency; WJ-III = WoodcockJohnson Test of AchievementThird Edition.
Mean definition score per word.
Reading time averaged across all words.
Number of correct spelling attempts out of 3, averaged
across all words.
*p< .05. **p< .01.
To follow up on the positive correlation between spelling accuracy and reading speed within
participants, we performed a within-item analysis to control for lexical properties of each word
(e.g., frequency of use, regularity). This entailed reorganizing the data so that separate reading
means were calculated for each word when it was spelled correctly (i.e., three of three) versus when
it was spelled incorrectly (i.e., none of three). In line with Martin-Chang et al. (2014), we found
that when a word was spelled consistently correctly, it was read on average, 20.2% faster compared
to when it was spelled consistently incorrectly. This represented a significant difference with a
moderate to large effect size, F(1, 23) = 7.90, p<.01,η
Session 2: Training data
To directly test the hypothesis that the quality oforthographic representations manifests in both
spelling accuracy and reading access speed, we turn to the results from the second session. In all,
18 of the words were included in the training set because they were consistently misspelled
(zero out of three accuracy) in Session 1 (see appendix). Of these 18 words, participants mis-
spelled, on average, approximately eight words each (M=8.07errors;range=412). The number
of words assigned to each condition, for each participant, was dependent upon the number of
spelling errors made by that participant in Session 1 (see the Methods section). Most participants
(n= 40) had four to five words assigned to each practice condition, only two participants had just
two words assigned to each condition, and 14 participants had three words assigned to each
condition. Overall, the spelling training was found to be very effective. When comparing the
number of correct spellings (out of three attempts) at posttest, spellings for words assigned to the
experimental condition were significantly higher (M= 2.19/3) than those assigned to the control
condition (M= 1.32/3), F(1, 44) = 25.03, p<.001,η
As evident in the means just reported, not all participants learned how to spell all of the words
they practiced. In addition, some incidental learning took place in the control condition; spelling
improvement was evident for 78% of the words assigned to the spelling training, whereas 33.6% of
the words in the control condition also improved. To test the hypothesis under study, it is necessary
to consider the effect on reading speed, not of assigned condition but of improved spelling
(regardless of assignment). Further, it is important to do so while also considering possible
participant and word-level effects. To accomplish this, linear mixed-effects modeling was employed.
For the linear mixed-effects model, words were first coded separately for each participant as to
whether they improved in spelling; this was dummy coded for each word with 0 indicating no
improvement and 1 indicating improvement in spelling between Time 1 and Time 2. In the analysis,
we entered this improvement variable as a fixed-effect predictor and reading speed change across
sessions as the dependent variable (to account for any time and general practice effects). We then
added word and participant as random effects with random intercepts and slopes. The intercept of
the completed model corresponds to the mean reading speed change of the no-improvement
condition, which was 147.83 ms (SE = 20.73), indicating faster reading across time, not associated
with spelling improvement. There was a significant further improvement in reading speed, repre-
sented by the estimated fixed effect of 55.93 ms (SE = 17.42) for the improved-spelling condition,
F(1, 647) = 10.31, p= .001. Participant was not statistically significant as a source of variance for the
intercept (p= .19) or slope (p= .35). Word was also not a significant source of variance (p= .25).
This model confirms faster reading speed consequential from improved spelling, further to any
general practice effects that may emerge over time, and regardless of any impact of participant or
word variance.
Note that there were too few instances of inconsistent spelling (10.2%) to permit a separate analysis of this category of
performance (see also Martin-Chang et al., 2014).
Here, we provide direct experimental evidence showing that the quality of orthographic representa-
tions, as indexed by spelling accuracy, directly relates to reading speed. Important to note, this
relation holds across and within participants. Initial reading and spelling assessments revealed
moderate correlations between both general reading and spelling skill, as well as word-specific
reading speed and spelling accuracy. Further, a within-word analysis indicated that when a given
word was spelled accurately, it tended to be read more rapidly. Even more convincing, words that
were spelled accurately after training were read more rapidly at posttest than words that showed no
such improvement, even when participant and word effects were included in the analysis. The
training data reported here provide the most direct support to date for the contention that improved
spelling brings about increased reading speed.
Together these results extend prior investigations (Burt & Tate, 2002; Martin-Chang et al., 2014;
Moll & Landerl, 2009) while supporting the contention by Perfetti and colleagues (Perfetti, 2007;
Perfetti & Hart, 2002) that underlying orthographic representations vary in completeness across and
within individuals and that this variation is manifested in both spelling accuracy and reading speed.
The training results showed that improvements in spelling brought about immediate improvements
in reading speed; impressively, this robust finding was in addition to any general improvement in
reading speed that occurred due to repeated oral and visual exposure to the words. Further, neither
participant nor lexical characteristics at the word level appear to account for the present findings, as
confirmed in the mixed-effects modeling.
In considering the training data, it is unclear why the spelling of only some of the words
improved over time. Certain items seemed easier to learn. For example, paraffin,despite
being very low frequency, has only one consonant doubling (20 instances of improved spelling,
seven of no improvement), compared to a higher frequency word like hemorrhagethat has
one doubling, one vowel team, more letters, and a problematic h(eight instances of
improved spelling; 14 of no improvement). Future research should tackle this question by
focussing on lexical characteristics that underlie word complexity, as well as depth of semantic
knowledge held by participants. In a similar vein, more diverse populations learning to spell
larger word sets would also contribute to the understanding of how orthographic representa-
tions, spelling accuracy, and reading intersect.
In closing, recent research has proposed mechanisms that may help explain the gradual learning
of orthographic representations in literacy acquisition. For example, Ouellette and Sénéchal (2017)
described a developmental pathway to literacy in which the analytical process of generating spellings
contributes directly to word reading; Sénéchal, Gingras, and Heureux (2016) presented a fuzzy-
representation modelthat explicitly describes incremental, partial learning of orthographic repre-
sentations as manifested in spelling. Together with the present study, and in accord with a recent
meta-analysis (Graham & Hebert, 2011), these efforts highlight the connections between ortho-
graphic representations, spelling accuracy, and reading and point to spelling instruction as a
potential valuable means of improving underlying representations, and subsequent word reading.
The authors would like to extend gratitude to Dr. Lisa Dawn Hamilton for her assistance with the mixed-effects
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Table A1. Words used in experimental reading and spelling tasks.
No. of Letters No. of Phonemes No. of Syllables Frequency per Million
11 8 4 2.14
11 9 4 0.51
11 8 4 0.18
11 6 3 0.61
convergent 10 9 3 0.04
9 6 3 1.22
9 7 3 2.06
dividend 8 8 3 0.37
filtration 10 9 3 0.45
11 8 3 0.59
gradient 8 8 3 0.18
10 6 3 1.71
8 7 3 0.73
10 9 4 0.78
lollipop 8 7 3 1.78
8 5 2 2.10
8 7 3 0.43
8 7 3 0.43
10 8 3 0.35
9 7 3 1.53
salutation 10 10 4 0.12
10 6 3 0.57
8 7 3 0.08
8 6 3 0.96
Brysbarert and New (2009).
Words assigned in training study.
... One reason is that correct spelling relies on the production of an orthographic pattern and therefore requires a precise representation of a word in memory. This is optional for reading to the same extent, as partial cues in words can facilitate recognition (e.g., Conrad, 2008;Frith, 1980;Moll and Landerl, 2009;Ouellette et al., 2017). Another reason spelling is more difficult to learn than reading is that the links between graphemes and phonemes are generally more regular for reading than for spelling in alphabetic writing systems (e.g., Galuschka et al., 2020). ...
... A reasonable explanation is that the correspondences between graphemes and phonemes are generally more predictable for reading than spelling across alphabetic writing systems (e.g., Bosman and Van Orden, 1997;Galuschka et al., 2020). Moreover, as reading is less dependent on a precise orthographic image of a word than spelling (e.g., Ouellette et al., 2017), this might result in earlier consolidation and stabilization of reading skills. Although the predictability of reading was relatively high, it was only moderate between kindergarten and Grade 1. ...
Full-text available
We investigated the stability and developmental interplay of word reading and spelling in samples of Swedish (N = 191) and U.S. children (N = 489) followed across four time points: end of kindergarten, grades 1, 2, and 4. Cross-lagged path models revealed that reading and spelling showed moderate to strong autoregressive effects, with reading being more predictable over time than spelling. Regarding the developmental interplay, we found a bidirectional relationship between reading and spelling from kindergarten to Grade 1. However, starting in Grade 1, reading predicted subsequent spelling beyond the autoregressor but not the other way around. In all analyses, the findings were similar across the two orthographies. The theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed.
... Spelling words have been shown to be highly effective for improving literacy acquisition for young learners (e.g., Conrad et al., 2019;Ouellette & Sénéchal, 2008;Ouellette et al., 2017;Treiman, 1998;Uhry & Shepherd, 1993;Weiser, 2013) and struggling readers (e.g., Henbest & Apel, 2017). Including spelling instruction in early literacy instruction can be done using a variety of exercises, such as writing words after hearing them spoken aloud (dictation to spelling task) or under drawings or pictures (picture to spelling task). ...
Learning to spell is a difficult but essential task for children learning to read. Several spelling tasks involving different cognitive demands are used in classroom. To provide better guidance for teaching practices, a critical question is whether spelling performance of beginner readers is task dependent. The present study focuses on the performance of French first graders on two spelling tasks: picture to spelling and dictation to spelling. We hypothesize that spelling will be easier from a phonological entry (dictation) than from a semantic entry (picture). Sixty-three students spelled words in both tasks. Bayesian analyses showed moderate to strong evidence for the null hypothesis, suggesting that the dictation to spelling task is equivalent for first graders as the picture to spelling task. Exploratory analyses also suggest that first graders mobilize both the non-lexical and lexical routes for the two tasks. These results provide clues for spelling instruction in the first grades.
... Spelling is the process or activity of writing or naming letters/graphemes of a word. Research shows that spelling practice, when implemented through a series of structured steps (e.g., hear-it, say-it, write-it, read-it, use-it), facilitates reading improvement more than reading practice alone (Graham & Hebert, 2011;Graham & Santangelo, 2014;Ouellette, 2010;Ouellette et al., 2017). Furthermore, "the best differentiator between good and poor readers is repeatedly found to be their knowledge of spelling patterns and their proficiency with spellingsound translations" (Adams, 1990, p. 290). ...
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Purpose: Dyslexia is increasingly being defined, assessed, diagnosed, and treated in the educational system. The purpose of this clinical focus article is to elucidate ways in which speech-language pathologists (SLPs) can rethink how to implement literacy interventions to incorporate best practices from multisensory structured language (MSL) approaches and how they can be influential participants in the conversations of how to define and implement services for students who have written language disorders, including dyslexia, in the school setting. Method: This clinical focus article provides an operational definition of dyslexia, discusses the various roles and responsibilities of SLPs with respect to dyslexia, and describes the well-established evidence-based practices of MSL approaches as a means of rethinking literacy intervention. Results: Using a case study scenario based on an individual diagnosed with dyslexia, this clinical focus article presents similarities and differences between traditional speech-language pathology intervention approaches and MSL approaches to literacy intervention. Conclusions: MSL strategies may be considered in literacy intervention as a means to optimize the academic gains of children with dyslexia in a school setting. Furthermore, SLPs should be considered integral participants in discussions of policies and practices related to the diagnosis and treatment of literacy disorders, including dyslexia. Supplemental material:
... Spelling is an important skill for children to acquire. Being a good speller is one component of being a good writer, and precise knowledge of words' spellings also supports reading (e.g., Ouellette et al., 2017). Indeed, the precision of orthographic representations is a central component of the lexical quality hypothesis, which claims that variations in the quality of word knowledge have consequences for reading skill, including comprehension (Perfetti, 2007). ...
Purpose: Using data from 1,868 children from the US, Australia, and Sweden who took a 10-word spelling test in kindergarten and a standardized spelling test in Grades 1, 2, and (except for the Australian children) Grade 4, we examined two questions. First, does the quality of a child's errors on the kindergarten test help predict later spelling performance even after controlling for the number of correct responses on the kindergarten test? Second, does spelling develop at a faster pace in Swedish than in English? Method: We measured kindergarten error quality based on the number of letter additions, deletions, and substitutions by which each error differed from the correct spelling. Using mixed-model analyses, we examined the relationship of this and other variables to later spelling performance. Results: Kindergarten error quality contributed significantly to the prediction of later spelling performance even after consideration of the number of correct spellings in kindergarten and other relevant variables. The Swedish children showed more rapid growth in spelling than the U.S. and Australian children, a difference that may reflect the greater transparency of sound-to-spelling links in Swedish. Conclusion: Information from a spelling test that is typically discarded-information about the nature of the errors-has value. Spelling is an important skill for children to acquire. Being a good speller is one component of being a good writer, and precise knowledge of words' spellings also supports reading (e.g., Ouellette et al., 2017). Indeed, the precision of orthographic representations is a central component of the lexical quality hypothesis, which claims that variations in the quality of word knowledge have consequences for reading skill, including comprehension (Perfetti, 2007). Spelling ability is an important topic of study, according to this hypothesis, because it provides an index of the precision of orthographic representations. Spelling ability is typically measured in terms of correctness. To document the dominance of this scoring method, we reviewed empirical studies published in 2021 in English-language peer-reviewed journals with the keyword "spelling." Of the 53 tasks reported in these articles in which participants spelled words of a natural language, performance was scored only in terms of whole-word correctness in 45, or 85%. (These figures omit one spelling task for which the scoring method was unclear.) Some studies use alternative methods, such as allotting 2 points for the correct spelling of a word,
Background Spelling is a prevalent strategy to teach children to read. However, research on the mechanism underlying the contribution of spelling to reading comprehension in Chinese children is limited. Methods The primary aim of this study was to investigate the concurrent and longitudinal associations between spelling and reading comprehension and further test the mediating role of word reading fluency with 127 Chinese children ( M age = 76.01 months). Children were required to perform the tasks of nonverbal intelligence, expressive vocabulary, morphological awareness, phonological awareness, orthographic awareness, spelling, word reading fluency and reading comprehension at Grade 1. Then, reading comprehension was measured again 1 year later at Grade 2. The concurrent and longitudinal mediation models were fitted to the data by structural equation modelling. Results The results showed that spelling was related to reading comprehension concurrently, and it predicted reading comprehension 1 year later while controlling for nonverbal intelligence, age, expressive vocabulary, metalinguistic awareness and the autoregressive effect of reading comprehension. Moreover, word reading fluency played mediating roles in the influence of spelling on reading comprehension in the concurrent and longitudinal models. Conclusions These findings provided evidence that spelling is an important factor of reading comprehension and shed light on the nature of this association, highlighting the role of word reading fluency in linking spelling and Chinese children's reading comprehension.
Handwriting is a perceptual-motor skill, acquired through repetitive practice. Handwriting production is most often characterized by performance speed (also termed ‘production fluency’, often assessed using text-copying tasks and legibility. Studies have found that handwriting legibility develops quickly during first grade (ages 6–7 years), reaching a plateau by second grade. In some cultures, depending on practice level, by third grade, handwriting becomes automatic, organized, and available as a tool to facilitate the development of ideas. However, handwriting is not a straightforward motor skill and has been linked with reading development. Measures of motor proficiency that correlate with handwriting production in school-aged children show an indirect effect on handwriting via reading-related skills, such as orthography, underscoring reading as a mediator of the association between motor proficiency and handwriting production. Many processes are common to reading and writing. In particular, both are related to the acquisition of a common writing system, comprised of symbols, and share common motor procedures, such as those related to directionality. In this chapter, we focus on the practice required for the acquisition of a written symbol, that is, a letter, and to the association between the ability to acquire single letter writing, handwriting, and reading.
It is widely recognized that individuals with dyslexia have difficulties with word reading and spelling, and individuals with reading comprehension difficulties have low vocabulary knowledge. However, little is known about the extent to which spelling and vocabulary are informative of reading difficulties. In the present study, we investigated whether information on students' spelling and vocabulary in kindergarten increases the precision of identifying students with reading difficulties, using longitudinal data from kindergarten to Grade 2. The sample was composed of 247 kindergartners (55% boys; 56% White children, 35% African American children, and 5% mixed‐race children; 72% from low SES) who were followed to Grade 2. Spelling improved the accuracy of identifying students who experienced word reading difficulties in kindergarten and Grade 1. In contrast, vocabulary did not improve the accuracy of identifying students with reading difficulties over and above word reading and spelling. These results indicate the importance and utility of including spelling, in addition to word reading, as an integral part of accurately identifying children with reading difficulties as early as kindergarten. In addition, although vocabulary did not contribute additional predictive power, it is likely to exert its influence at a later phase of reading development. It is widely recognized that individuals with dyslexia have difficulties with word reading and spelling, and individuals with reading comprehension difficulties have low vocabulary knowledge. However, little is known about the extent to which spelling and vocabulary are informative of reading difficulties.
Much previous research on spelling and reading development has focused on single-syllable words. Here we examined disyllables, asking how learners of English mark the distinction between short and long first-syllable vowels by use of vowel digraphs and double-consonant digraphs. In a behavioral study, we asked participants in Grade 2 (n = 32, mean age ∼8 years), Grade 4 (n = 33, mean age ∼10 years), Grade 6 (n = 32, mean age ∼12 years), and university (n = 32; mean age ∼20 years) to spell nonwords with short and long first-syllable vowels. We found an increase across grade levels in use of vowel digraphs to represent long vowels, and we also found increasing use of double-consonant digraphs after short vowels. Participants generally avoided using both a vowel digraph and a following consonant digraph. In a vocabulary analysis, we examined use of vowel and double-consonant digraphs in the words to which readers of different grade levels are exposed. Children used vowel digraphs less often than anticipated on the basis of the vocabulary statistics, but university students used them at similar rates. For double-consonant digraphs after short vowels, rates of digraph use were lower in the behavioral data than in the vocabulary data even for university students. These results point to the difficulty of spelling a phoneme with multiple letters when those letters simultaneously spell another sound in a word. We discuss the results in terms of the roles of statistical learning and explicit instruction in the development of spelling.
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This research examined the relations among Cantonese phonological awareness, invented spelling in Pinyin (in Mandarin), and invented English spelling in 29 first language (L1) and 34 s language (L2) Cantonese-speaking second and third graders in Hong Kong. The purpose of this study was to understand how phonological awareness skills across languages are associated in multilinguals. We compared the phonological skills in the two groups (i.e., L1 and L2 Chinese speaking children) for the three official languages (i.e., Cantonese, Mandarin, and English) spoken in Hong Kong. The two groups did not differ on Cantonese phonological awareness, Mandarin Pinyin invented spelling, or English invented spelling, but the L1 group performed significantly better than the L2 group on Mandarin Pinyin tone skills, with non-verbal intelligence and grade level statistically controlled. In both groups, all three of the phonological sensitivity measures were significantly correlated with one another. With group, grade, and nonverbal IQ statistically controlled, only Mandarin Pinyin invented spelling but not Cantonese phonological awareness uniquely explained English invented spelling performance. In contrast, Pinyin invented spelling was uniquely explained by both English invented spelling and Cantonese phonological awareness skills. Results highlight some phonological transfer effects across languages.
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Reading is critical to students' success in and out of school. One potential means for improving students' reading is writing. In this meta-analysis of true and quasiexperiments, Graham and Herbert present evidence that writing about material read improves students' comprehension of it; that teaching students how to write improves their reading comprehension, reading fluency, and word reading; and that increasing how much students write enhances their reading comprehension. These findings provide empirical support for long-standing beliefs about the power of writing to facilitate reading.
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High quality lexical representations in memory, characterized by accuracy and stability, are said to underpin fluent reading. Here, the relationship between orthographic quality and reading speed was examined by asking undergraduates (N = 74) to repeatedly read and spell words. Spelling performance over five trials indicated orthographic quality. Single word reading speed was measured using E-Prime technology. A within-participant repeated measures analysis revealed that words which participants spelled consistently accurately, were read faster than words which were misspelled. This pattern also held in a within-word analysis; the same words were read faster by individuals who always spelled them correctly, compared to those who did not. Further, it was found that when words were spelled using the same incorrect letter patterns across trials (i.e., in the same erroneous way), they were read faster than when they had an incorrect but less stable representation (i.e., inconsistent spelling across trials). Hence, the difference in reading speed appears to be a function of both the accuracy and stability of the orthographic representations stored in memory, rather than due to characteristics of individual participants or words. These results lend support for a central role of lexical quality in both spelling and reading, and are discussed with reference to the lexical quality hypothesis.
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The lexical quality hypothesis (LQH) claims that variation in the quality of word representations has consequences for reading skill, including comprehension. High lexical quality includes well-specified and partly redundant representations of form (orthography and phonology) and flexible representations of meaning, allowing for rapid and reliable meaning retrieval. Low-quality representations lead to specific word-related problems in comprehension. Six lines of research on adult readers demonstrate some of the implications of the LQH. First, large-scale correlational results show the general interdependence of comprehension and lexical skill while identifying disassociations that allow focus on comprehension-specific skill. Second, word-level semantic processing studies show comprehension skill differences in the time course of form-meaning confusions. Studies of rare vocabulary learning using event-related potentials (ERPs) show that, third, skilled comprehenders learn new words more effectively and show stronger ERP indicators for memory of the word learning event and, fourth, suggest skill differences in the stability of orthographic representations. Fifth, ERP markers show comprehension skill differences in meaning processing of ordinary words. Finally, in text reading, ERP results demonstrate momentary difficulties for low-skill comprehenders in integrating a word with the prior text. The studies provide evidence that word-level knowledge has consequences for word meaning processes in comprehension.
In this study we evaluated whether the sophistication of children's invented spellings in kindergarten was predictive of subsequent reading and spelling in Grade 1, while also considering the influence of well-known precursors. Children in their first year of schooling (mean age = 66 months; = 171) were assessed on measures of oral vocabulary, alphabetic knowledge, phonological awareness, word reading and invented spelling; approximately 1 year later they were assessed on multiple measures of reading and spelling. Path modeling was pursued to evaluate a hypothesized unique, causal role of invented spelling in subsequent literacy outcomes. Results supported a model in which invented spelling contributed directly to concurrent reading along with alphabetic knowledge and phonological awareness. Longitudinally, invented spelling influenced subsequent reading, along with alphabetic knowledge while mediating the connection between phonological awareness and early reading. Invented spelling also influenced subsequent conventional spelling along with phonological awareness, while mediating the influence of alphabetic knowledge. Invented spelling thus adds explanatory variance to literacy outcomes not entirely captured by well-studied code and language-related skills. (PsycINFO Database Record
In this report, we propose a model of spelling acquisition inspired by statistical learning and a frame-like model of orthographic representations: the fuzzy representation model. To provide an initial test of the model’s predictions for inconsistent words, 107 French-speaking children in Grades 1 to 3 were asked to spell words ending with a silent letter. Half of the words ended with the frequent silent t and half with the less frequent silent d. As predicted, children accurately spelled more t- than d-words. Most errors were omissions and substitutions of the silent letter. Consistent with statistical learning, there was some evidence that children used the preceding orthographic context when making substitution errors. The proportion of omissions, however, was not consistent with the statistical properties of French. These findings are discussed in light of the fuzzy representation model, whereby inconsistencies in words are more likely to be underspecified, if represented at all.
University students made spelling recognition judgements on conventional spellings and misspellings of words. Regardless of how confident they were of their spelling, they could distinguish reliably between the conventional spelling and misspellings when they could spell the word, but they could not distinguish between the conventional spelling and their own misspelling when they could not spell the word. Students also read words that they could not spell as rapidly and as accurately as words that they could spell in a silent reading task. Finally, subjective confidence in spelling was associated with consistency of spelling across trials. Overall, there was no evidence for the claim of a separate reading representation containing orthographic information superior to that in a spelling representation. Instead, the results support the view that a common representation underlies both reading and spelling. Some representations may be incomplete, thus preventing precise spelling, but allowing identification by partial cues.
In two studies dissociations between reading and spelling skills were examined. Study 1 reports equally high prevalence rates for isolated deficits in reading (7%) or spelling (6%) in a representative sample (N = 2,029) of German-speaking elementary school children. In Study 2, children with isolated deficits were presented with the same words to read and spell. The double dissociation was replicated. Good readers/poor spellers named pseudohomophones as quickly as their corresponding words, and their phonological awareness skills were adequate, suggesting that their reading might be based on highly efficient decoding procedures. Poor readers/good spellers showed slow word naming and a clear slowing when reading pseudohomophones suggesting a reliance on intact orthographic representations in word reading. A deficit in rapid automatized naming in this group suggests problems in fast visual–verbal access. The profile of poor readers/poor spellers fits the double-deficit group in Wolf and Bowers's (1999)45. Wolf , M. and Bowers , P. G. 1999. The double-deficit hypothesis for the developmental dyslexias. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91: 415–438. [CrossRef], [Web of Science ®], [CSA]View all references dyslexia theory.