By Holly A. Shapiro, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
The more I read, the more research I find to add to the piles of studies supporting the need to rethink orthography as related to phonology yet inseparable from and governed by morphology and etymology. Here are a couple of single studies to mention that are of interest to me:
• In their study, Devonshire, Morris, and Fluck (2013) teaching 5 to 7-year-old students, compared a traditional phonics condition (the U.K. National curriculum) with an intervention that integrated etymology, morphology, orthography, and phonology. Their novel intervention focused on “making children aware of the way the English writing system works, in terms of all levels of representation.” I was particularly excited to see they instructed the children in “form rules.” The children were shown, for example, that certain letter combinations are not permitted in English, along with a bit of alphabet history so they could understand why. The investigators found the more integrative intervention to improve reading skills over and above the phonics condition and concluded that “early teaching of English literacy should include instruction in morphology.”
• In another study, Halaas Lyster, Levag, and Holme (2016) looked at the long term effects of morphological awareness training in preschoolers. One group of children received morphological awareness training, while a second group received phonological awareness training. A control group followed the ordinary preschool curriculum. Children were tested on reading ability at the end of first grade and five years later in sixth grade. It’s important to note that all of the children were taught with phonics, a program with “a strong focus on the alphabetic principle and grapheme-phoneme correspondences.” The investigators found a positive effect of morpheme training in preschool on reading comprehension in sixth grade. The students who had the morphological awareness training, as sixth graders, “brought with them additional knowledge about word meaning and form that they might have applied when learning to read, especially when reading more demanding texts.”
The evidence base is compelling indeed.