The impact of invented spellings on the discovery of the structure of the alphabetic code in preschool children - PDCT/PSI/56977/2004 (2006-2009)

Reaserch Team:

Margarida Alves Martins (Project Leader)
Ana Cristina Silva
Miguel Mata Pereira


Project's Summary:

Ferreiro and Teberosky, (1986) were among the first researchers to study children’s early ideas about written language. Their work suggests that children’s knowledge of written language evolves in a process that essentially takes place on three levels. To begin with, children’s invented spellings don’t take linguistic segments into account (pre-syllabic spellings). Subsequently children begin to establish correspondences between oral and written units. They start by making quantitative correspondences between the number of syllables and the number of letters – often without yet mobilising conventional letters – (syllabic spelling), then begin to establish qualitative correspondences with appropriate letters (syllabic spellings with phonetization). Finally they evolve to the point at which they understand the structure of alphabetic notation (alphabetic spelling). . According to Adams (1998) and Treiman (1998), these invented spelling activities simultaneously develops phonemic awareness and promotes understanding of the alphabetic principle, inasmuch as they involve metalinguistic reflection about speech as a function of the attempts to write words. Silva and Alves Martins (2002, 2003) have conducted various experimental studies in which they compared different programs intended to lead pre-school children to evolve in their invented spellings. After spelling some words children were confronted with spellings of another child whose spellings were from the next level (eg. syllabic children/ syllabic spellings with phonetization). They were asked to say which of the two versions was better and to try to justify why they had spelled the word in their way and why the other child had spelled it differently. This procedure lead to the evolution of their spellings and to progresses in their phonological awareness.

The effectiveness of these programs suggests that it would be pertinent to take a more in-depth look at these kind of studies by carrying out experimental intervention studies designed to improve the quality of children’s spelling.

Deepening this type of program implies on the one hand specifying factors that help make invented spelling progress to alphabetic levels, and on the other a more detailed analysis of the linguistic factors that affect the mobilisation of conventional letters and the establishment of correspondences between sounds and letters.

It is thus our intention to compare the impact of various intervention programs on the quality of the invented spellings of pre-school children who do not yet use conventional letters therein (syllabic children without phonetization), while making some changes to the programs we have tried in the past.

Project’s aims:

To compare the efficacy of two different programs in making invented spellings evolve. In one, syllabic children without phonetization will be confronted with more evolved spellings (syllabic spelling with phonetization); in the other they will be confronted with spellings that are clearly more evolved (alphabetic spellings). We also wish to determine what role knowledge of letters plays in the children’s progress.

To compare the effect of various intervention programs on the evolution of invented spellings, by manipulating various factors that can affect the mobilisation of letters (the articulatory properties of the corresponding phonemes, the position of the phonemes within the word, and contextual variables concerning the nature of the vowel next to the phonemes). We would also like to determine whether there are any generalisations in relation to grapho-phonetic correspondences that are not worked on in each program and how any such generalisations are processed.

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