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Spelling & Reading Development. Dr. Nikki Pitchford C82DEV. Learning objectives. Describe stages of spelling development. Describe stages of reading development. Describe relationship between reading and spelling development.

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spelling reading development

Spelling & Reading Development

Dr. Nikki Pitchford


learning objectives
Learning objectives
  • Describe stages of spelling development.
  • Describe stages of reading development.
  • Describe relationship between reading and spelling development.
  • Discuss evidence supporting stage theories of literacy development.
  • Discuss criticisms of stage theories of literacy development.
  • Describe non-stage theories of reading acquisition.
  • Discuss evidence supporting non-stage theories of reading acquisition.
models of spelling development
Models of spelling development
  • Over the past 20 years several models of spelling development have been proposed that share common features:
    • based on analysis of spelling errors made to novel words.
    • Stage theories. Different cognitive processes develop at distinct points in development. Characteristic progression.
    • Phonological awareness (PA) is crucial in early stages of spelling development. Orthographic spellings mark the final stage.
stages of spelling development
Stages of spelling development
  • Based on the early observations of Read (1971, 1975, 1986).
  • First spelling attempts based on phonetic categories from speech production and perception that differ from those used by (skilled) adult spellers.
  • Five distinct stages of spelling:
      • Precommunicative
      • Semiphonetic
      • Phonetic
      • Transitional
      • Correct.
stages of spelling development5
Stages of spelling development
  • Precommunicative Stage.
    • Random selection of letter strings.
    • Complete lack of letter-sound or letter name knowledge. E.G.

BTRSS for “monster” or 1MMPMPMPH for “chirp”.

  • Semiphonetic Stage.
    • Partial mapping of phonetic content.
    • First understanding of letter-sound correspondence concept.
    • Evidence of a letter-name strategy. E.G.

R for “are”, U for “you”, or LEFT for “elephant”.

stages of spelling development6
Stages of spelling development
  • Phonetic Stage.
    • Phonological segmentation of speech sounds in spoken words.
    • Surface sound features are represented.
    • Complete lack of knowledge of orthographic conventions. E.G.

IFU LEV AT THRD STRET IWEL KOM TO YOR HAWS THE ED “If you live at Third Street I will come to your house. The End.”

stages of spelling development7
Stages of spelling development
  • Transitional Stage.
    • Compliance with basic conventions of English orthography, such as appearance of vowels in every syllable. E.G.

EGUL for “eagle” rather than EGL as in phonetic stage.

    • Evidence of a developing orthographic strategy. Shift from phonological to morphological and orthographic spellings. E.G.

EIGHTEE for “eighty” instead of ATE as in phonetic stage.

stages of spelling development8
Stages of spelling development
  • Correct Spelling Stage.
    • Developed a knowledge of environmental factors, such as position in the word, stress, morphemic boundaries etc.
    • Extended knowledge of word structure, such as prefixes, suffixes, compound words etc.
    • Increased accuracy with using silent consonant and in doubling consonants.
    • Complete visual orthographic descriptions of words.
models of reading development
Models of reading development
  • Cognitive developmental stage models of reading were developed in parallel to stage models of spelling development.
  • Based on similar principles.
  • However, spelling and reading skills were believed to develop independently (domain-specific) of one another until Ehri (1984) showed that certain processes that are necessary for spelling development influenced the acquisition of reading skills.
  • Lead to the development of integrative models of literacy development in which reading and spelling abilities are thought to develop from one another (cross-domain influences).
stages of reading development
Stages of reading development
  • Based on analysis of children’s first attempts at reading aloud words

(Biemiller, 1970; Torrey, 1979; Weber, 1970).

  • Different stage theories of reading acquisition. E.G.
      • Marsh et al., (1981)
      • Seymour & MacGregor (1984)
      • Frith (1985)
      • Ehri (1993)
  • Common features. E.G.
      • Initial stage - ‘picture’ recognition
      • Middle stage - phonic decoding
      • Final Stage - orthographic word recognition
integrative theories of literacy development
Integrative Theories of Literacy Development
  • E.G. Frith (1985)
  • Spelling and reading development interact leading to increased proficiency in each ability.
  • Spelling and reading progress through three stages:
      • Logographic
      • Alphabetic
      • Orthographic
  • Suggests a reason for the transition from one stage to the next.
  • Normal spelling and reading development proceed out of step, but the acquisition of strategies used in one domain drives the development of that strategy in the other domain.
  • Cross-domain influences occur.
  • Can account for some developmental disorders of literacy by assuming arrest at particular stages of development.
frith s integrative theory
Frith’s Integrative Theory
  • Logographic stage
    • Literacy development begins with logographic reading.
    • Child acquires a small sight vocabulary of written words.
    • Word recognition visually based but becomes increasing less efficient with development. E.G.

'yellow' recognized by the “two sticks in the middle of the word”

'follow' read as “yellow” due to the double ’ll' shared by both words

    • Maps onto ‘look and say’ method of teaching reading. Seymour & Elder (1986) showed 5-year-olds could read aloud words they had been taught but had no procedures for reading unfamiliar words.
    • Acquisition of this strategy to reading results in its application to spelling.
frith s integrative theory13
Frith’s Integrative Theory
  • Alphabetic stage
    • Some phonological awareness is required.
    • Wish to write brings about change from logographic stage to alphabetic stage.
    • By practicing spelling child learns that spoken words can be broken down into speech sounds (phonemes) that map onto letters.
    • Apply letter-sound rules in spelling but rely on visual cues for reading. Bradley & Bryant (1979) showed that 7-year-olds can spell regular words (e.g., BUN) which they fail to read, but can read visually distinctive words (e.g, SCHOOL) which they fail to spell.
    • Breakthrough occurs when child realizes that the letters making up a written word correspond to the sounds in a spoken word.
    • Can attempt to read words they have not seen before.
    • Make regularization errors when reading novel words. E.G. reading PINT as /pnt/ to rhyme with MINT
frith s integrative theory14
Frith’s Integrative Theory
  • Orthographic stage
    • Through considerable practice at reading using an alphabetic strategy child learns to recognize words as orthographic units.
    • Word recognition occurs by accessing stored internal representations of abstract letter-by-letter strings.
    • Orthographic representations used in reading are precise enough to be transferred to spelling.
    • Orthographic reading drives the development of orthographic spelling skills.
    • Spelling shifts from phonetic, to transitional, to correct spellings.
frith s integrative theory15
Frith’s Integrative Theory


1A logographic1(symbolic)

1B logographic2logographic2

2A logographic3alphabetic1

2B alphabetic2alphabetic2

3A orthographic1alphabetic3

3B orthographic2orthographic2

Taken from Frith (1985)

supporting evidence
Supporting Evidence
  • Do developmental studies provide support for the following central tenets of Frith’s (1985) integrative theory of literacy acquisition?
    • An initial logographic stage of reading.
    • Logographic reading drives the development of logographic spelling.
    • PA is related more to early spelling than reading development.
    • Training in PA influences spelling development before reading.
    • Increased PA gained from spelling drives the development of an alphabetic reading strategy.
    • The acquisition of orthographic knowledge gained from reading becomes implemented in orthographic spelling.
supporting evidence claims 1 2 logographic stage
Supporting Evidence:Claims 1 & 2 (Logographic stage)
  • Berninger et al., (1990). Monitored 42 US first-graders on:

(i) visual language (recognition memory for words & letters)

(ii) oral language (vocabulary; phoneme segmentation & deletion)

(iii) reading (lexical decision & word naming*)

(iv) spelling (written reproduction after seeing a word)

  • Found visual language skills at the end of kindergarten predicted reading and spelling only at the start of the year.

Start of yearEnd of year

Reading* Spelling Reading* Spelling

Visual language 0.63 0.63 0.28 0.04

Oral language 0.77 0.74 0.74 0.57

  • Suggests early reading and spelling are logographic in nature then shift to alphabetic processing. No evidence to suggest logographic reading drives development of logographic spelling.
supporting evidence claim 3 pa influences development of alphabetic spelling
Supporting Evidence:Claim 3 (PA influences development of alphabetic spelling)
  • Wimmer et al. (1991). Tested 42 children within 1 month of starting school in Salzberg prior to formal literacy instruction on tasks of:
    • PA (vowel substitution)
    • Logographic reading (recognizing logos e.g. Coca Cola)
    • Alphabetic reading (upper case logos e.g., COCA COLA)
  • Found at the end of grade-one PA influenced spelling to a greater extent than reading.

Reading Spelling

PA Words & Nonwords Alphabetic (nonwords)

Time 1 0.300.31

Time 2 0.53 0.66

  • Also, logographic reading had less effect on later reading ability (r = 0.08) than early alphabetic reading (r = 0.19) suggesting a shift from logographic to alphabetic reading over grade-one.
supporting evidence claims 4 5 pa drives alphabetic spelling then reading
Supporting Evidence:Claims 4 & 5 (PA drives alphabetic spelling then reading)
  • Lundberg et al. (1988). Trained over 200 Danish preschool children in PA prior to receiving any formal reading instruction. Assessed effects of PA training on later reading and spelling abilities at the end of first and second grades.
  • Found PA training influenced spelling but not reading in Grade 1. However, PA training had a later influence on reading in Grade 2.

PA training Reading Spelling

Grade 1 marginal effectvery large effect

(p < .10) (p < .001)

Grade 2 large effect very large effect

(p < .01) (p < .001)

  • Suggests training in PA influenced an alphabetic strategy in spelling that later influenced development of an alphabetic reading strategy.
supporting evidence claim 6 orthographic reading drives orthographic spelling
Supporting Evidence:Claim 6 (Orthographic reading drives orthographic spelling)
  • In a series of studies, Stanovich & Cunningham have demonstrated that continued exposure to letter sequences of words in reading leads to the development of orthographic spelling. E.G.
    • Stanovich & Cunningham (1992). Showed adult spelling was directly related to print exposure (even when controlled for non-verbal IQ).
    • Cunningham & Stanovich (1990). When IQ, memory, and PA was partialled out, print exposure accounted for significant variance in orthographic knowledge in third and forth grade children.
    • Cunningham & Stanovich (1993). Significant variance in spelling of irregular words (such as TALK, ROUGH etc.) by first-graders was accounted for by print exposure after PA had been partialled out.
  • Suggests orthographic knowledge builds up from print exposure from the start of literacy acquisition and not only at the final stage.
criticisms of stage theories
Criticisms of Stage Theories
  • To what extent are stages of literacy development universal in the way that Piaget thought stages of cognitive development to be?
  • Reading is not innate but an artificial skill that is culturally transmitted from one generation to the next.
  • Stage theories assume that all children are alike and receive similar literacy instruction.
  • Yet this is not so. Individual differences exist that question the notion of stages in reading development.
alternatives to stage theories
Alternatives to Stage Theories
  • E.g., dual-route theories (e.g., Coltheart, 1978).
  • Reading acquisition is thought to involve establishing the system of semi-independent cognitive sub-systems used in skilled reading.
  • Based on the principle of modularity (Fodor, 1983).
  • Two different routes involved with skilled reading:
        • Lexical (or whole word) route
        • Sublexical (or phonological) route
  • Developing readers must acquire both the lexical and sublexical routes to become skilled readers.
  • No particular order of development.
  • Routes may develop at different, or given certain prerequisites, concurrent rates.

Lexical route

(reading regular words and irregular words)

Word meaning

Word pronunciation

printed word


spoken word








Two routes to skilled reading


Sublexical route

(reading regular words and nonwords)









print segments to sound



Blend sounds

spoken word

word meaning




Two routes to skilled reading

evidence against stage theories
Evidence against stage theories
  • Considerable variation across individuals.
  • E.G. 1. Stuart & Coltheart (1988). Observed beginner readers in their first term of schools in London.
  • Found some children could read nonwords as well as words. The lexical and sublexical routes were developing in tandem. These children knew how letters correspond to sounds and had good PA.
  • Others had little letter-sound knowledge and relied heavily on recognizing words via sight, meaning and sound. The lexical route had started to develop in the absence of the sublexical route. With nonwords they often responded with a visually similar word from their reading vocabulary. E.G. reading ‘hig’ as “pig” and ‘wot’ as “with”
  • E.G. 2. Baron (1979) showed that children vary greatly in their reliance on either the lexical or sublexical skills when attempting to decode words.
  • Frith, U. (1985). Beneath the surface of developmental dyslexia. In K.E.

Patterson, J. C. Marshall, & M. Coltheart (Eds.), Surface dyslexia , London:


  • Ellis, A. W. (1993). Reading, Writing and Dyslexia: A Cognitive

Analysis (2nd Ed). Hove: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Chapter 7.

  • Funnell, E. & Stuart, M. (1995). Learning to Read: Psychology in the Classroom.

Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. Chapter 2.

  • Snowling, M. (2000). Dyslexia. (2nd Ed.) Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

Chapter 4.

  • Baron, J. (1979). Orthographic and word-specific mechanisms in children's reading of

words. Child Development, 50, 60-72.

  • Berninger, V. W., Abbott, R. D. & Shurtleff, H. A. (1990). Developmental changes in

interrelationships of visible language codes, oral language codes, and reading or spelling.

Learning and Individual Differences, 21, 45-66.

  • Biemiller, A. (1970). The development of the use of graphic contextual information as

children learn to read. Reading Research Quarterly, 6, 75-96.

  • Bradley, L. & Bryant, P. (1979). Independence of reading and spelling in backward and

normal readers. Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, 21, 504-514.

  • Coltheart, M. (1978). Lexical access in simple reading tasks. In G. Underwood (Eds.),

Strategies of information processing, London: Academic Press.

  • Cunningham, A. E. & Stanovich, K. E. (1990). Tracking the unique effects of print

exposure in children: associations with vocabulary, general knowledge and spelling.

Journal of Educational Psychology, 83, 264-274.

  • Cunningham, A. E. & Stanovich, K. E. (1993). Children’s literacy environments and early

word recognition subskills. Reading and Writing, 5, 193-204.

  • Ehri, L. C. (1984). How orthography alters spoken language competencies in children

learning to read and spell. In J. Downing & R. Valtin (Eds), Language Awareness and

Learning to Read. New York: Springer Verlag.

  • Ehri, L. C. (1993). Reconceptualising the development of sight-word reading and its

relationship to decoding. In P.B. Gough, L.C. Ehri, & R. Treiman (Eds.), Reading

acquisition, Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.

  • Fodor, J. A. (1983). The modularity of mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Frith, U. (1985). Beneath the surface of developmental dyslexia. In K.E. Patterson, J. C.

Marshall, & M. Coltheart (Eds.), Surface dyslexia , London: Erlbaum.

  • Lundberg, I., Frost, J. & Petersen, O-P. (1988). Effects of an extensive program for

stimulating phonological awareness in preschool children. Reading Research Quarterly,

23, 263-284.

  • Marsh, G., Friedman, M. P., Welch, V., & Desberg, P. (1981). A cognitive-developmental

theory of reading acquisition. In T. G. Waler & G. E. MacKinnon (Eds.), Reading research:

Advances in theory and practice, London: Academic Press.

  • Read, C. (1971). Preschool children’s knowledge of English phonology. Harvard

Educational Review, 14, 1-34.

  • Read, C. (1975). Children’s Categorizations of Speech Sounds in English. Urbana, Ill.:

National Council of Teachers of English.

  • Read, C. (1986). Children’s Creative Spelling. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Stanovich, K. E. & Cunningham, A. E. (1992). Studying the consequences of literacy within

a literate society: the cognitive correlates of print exposure. Memory & Cognition, 20,


  • Stuart, M., & Coltheart, M. (1988). Does reading develop in a sequence of stages?

Cognition, 30, 139-181.

  • Torrey, J. W. (1979). Reading that comes naturally: the early reader. In T. G. Waller &

G. E. MacKinnon (Eds), Language Awareness and Learning to Read. New York: Springer-


  • Weber, R. M. (1970). A linguistic analysis of first-grade reading errors. Reading

Research Quarterly, 5, 427-451.

  • Wimmer, H., Landerl, K., Linortner, R. & Hummer, P. (1991). The relationship of phonemic

awareness to reading acquisition: more consequence than precondition, but still

important. Cognition, 40, 219-249.