Dr Kerry Hempenstall, Senior Industry Fellow, School of Education, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.

This article can be downloaded as a PDF file at https://tinyurl.com/y6vat4ut

 What has morphology to do with literacy?

“Why do morphemes matter? Since morphemes are the smallest units of meaning in words, and meaning (comprehension) is the goal of reading, morphemes are of prime importance. Most English words are polysyllabic and often contain prefixes and suffixes to extend and expand the meaning of the base element (often called the root in instructional settings). These morphemes provide students with numerous strategies for decoding (reading) and encoding (spelling) as well as enhancing vocabulary (Henry, 1988, 1993, 2010a). As children learn the common prefixes, suffixes, and Latin and Greek bases, they gain new understanding of these meaning-based building blocks in English words.” (p.23)

Henry, M. (2017). Morphemes matter: A framework for instruction. Perspectives on Language and Literacy, 43(2), 23-26.

A worthwhile overview:

 “Work in recent years demonstrates the critical contribution of morphological processing abilities to reading and reading acquisition (Treiman and Cassar, 1996; McBride-Chang et al., 2003; Deacon and Kirby, 2004; Kieffer and Lesaux, 2012). Morphological processing ability is the reader’s sensitivity to the smallest units of meaning in words, the ability to extract roots and affixes from whole-words and manipulate them to produce grammatically correct words. When these manipulations are performed intentionally, or through conscious reflection, they are referred to as ‘morphological awareness’ (Carlisle and Nomanbhoy, 1993; Kuo and Anderson, 2006; Bowers et al., 2010; Carlisle, 2010; Nagy et al., 2014). While there is a growing body of literature on the strong relationships between morphological skills and reading, it is not yet clear how morphological segmentation processes interact with phonological processing during reading and reading development (Carlisle and Nomanbhoy, 1993; Fowler and Liberman, 1995). The effect of morphological skills on reading changes with age and reading experience (Casalis and Louis-Alexandre, 2000; Carlisle and Stone, 2005; Marcolini et al., 2011). Moreover, the degree to which morphological segmentation processes facilitates visual word recognition during reading depends on the morphological properties of the language (Marslen-Wilson et al., 1994; Bertram et al., 1999; Rispens et al., 2008; Duncan et al., 2009; Tolchinsky et al., 2012), on morphological transparency of the orthography (the degree to which derived words preserve the form of the morphemic units; Clahsen et al., 1997; Carlisle and Stone, 2005), and on the phonological consistency of the orthography (Frost, 2012; Casalis et al., 2015). A language with a rich morphology may promote strong reliance on morphological processes already at early stages of reading acquisition. One common hypothesis is that morphological decomposition is especially helpful in deep orthographies, where there is no consistent mapping of graphemes to phonemes, because it compensates for the scarce phonological information (Bar-On and Ravid, 2011; Vaknin-Nusbaum and Miller, 2011). In contrast, in a shallow orthography, where readers can rely on the direct correspondence of letters to sounds, the reliance on morphemes to access meaning is expected to be low (Frost, 2006). …

As the smallest meaning-bearing linguistic unit, morphemes have the potential to serve as the elementary building blocks of word representations, supporting an economical, non-redundant body of lexical knowledge that facilitates the learning of novel forms and morphological variants of known words (e.g., Rastle and Davis, 2008; Merkx et al., 2011). However, while the role of phonological awareness in reading acquisition has been extensively studied for three decades and shown in a variety of orthographies (e.g., Vellutino and Scanlon, 1987; Ben-Dror et al., 1995; Ziegler et al., 2010; Melby-Lervag et al., 2012), the importance of morphological segmentation skills to reading development was the focus of researchers’ attention mainly in the last decade (Carlisle & Nomanbhoy, 1993; Carlisle, 2000; Deacon & Kirby, 2004). The notion is that children’s ability to recognize familiar morphemes embedded in morphologically derived and inflected words facilitates their ability to recognize written words. Although some of the earlier studies (Fowler and Liberman, 1995; Shankweiler et al., 1995) suggested that the role of morphological awareness in reading is attributed to its covariance with phonological awareness, more recent studies showed the unique contribution of morphological awareness to reading achievements in children (Casalis and Louis-Alexandre, 2000; Mahony et al., 2000; Nagy et al., 2003; Deacon and Kirby, 2004). … 

Studies in English speaking children show that morphological awareness of inflections and simple derivations might emerge early whereas an understanding of more complex derivational relations may come into place later. For example, while kindergarten and first grade children display some competence with simple derivations that do not involve phonological changes in the morphemes (Clark and Cohen, 1984), older children adeptly tackle more complex derivational relations (such as between electric and electricity), by about the fourth grade (Carlisle, 1988; Tyler and Nagy, 1989). As in spoken language, children’s ability to extract morphemes from written words increases simultaneously with the improvement in reading accuracy, fluency and comprehension during elementary school years (Kieffer and Lesaux, 2012; Nagy et al., 2014; Sparks and Deacon, 2015). Children’s performance on morphological awareness tasks (e.g., judgment of decomposability and defining the correct usage of complex words) increases from first to third grade (Carlisle and Fleming, 2003). …

 Share (1995) suggests that recognition of morphemic regularities is an indication of a child’s consolidation and fluency of print-sound correspondences. Many studies suggest that in addition to the improvement of morphological awareness and segmentation skills, there is also an increase in the contribution of these abilities to reading in later stages of reading acquisition, mainly due to the increase in the proportion of complex words in the lexicon (Adams, 1990; Anglin, 1993; Mahony et al., 2000; Singson et al., 2000; Kuo and Anderson, 2006; Rispens et al., 2008). A study of French speaking children (Casalis and Louis-Alexandre, 2000) showed that morphological awareness had a significant contribution to the variance in words decoding skills, in second grade but not in first grade. However, readers’ reliance on morphological segmentation does not depend only on their morphological knowledge, but also on the complete set of reading skills available to them while trying to identify written words. Hence, morphological segmentation can serve as a compensatory reading strategy for children and adults with low reading skills, who do not fully master wholeword processing, with a decrease in reliance on morphology in more skilled readers. For example, Italian speaking children and adult with dyslexia benefit from the morphological structure of derived words in an oral reading task more than skilled adult readers (Burani et al., 2008; Marcolini et al., 2011). Similarly, a study in French showed that the morphemic status of words had a facilitative effect on spelling only in poor readers but not in skilled readers (Quemart and Casalis, 2017). Other studies, in English and French (Nunes et al., 2003; Carlisle and Stone, 2005; Quemart et al., 2011), show the contribution of morphological knowledge to reading acquisition already at the beginning of elementary school and suggest that some morphological regularities may have very early effects on reading, and some may even have greater effects in early compared to later stages of reading development.

In addition to the individual’s reading skills, the reliance on morphemic units during reading also depends on the morphological structures of the language (Marslen-Wilson et al., 1994; Bertram et al., 1999), as well as the transparency of orthography to phonology correspondence (Clahsen et al., 1997; Carlisle and Stone, 2005; Frost, 2012; Casalis et al., 2015). A study that tested the effect of morphological cues on spelling in school-age children (1–6 grade) found a greater reliance on morphological cues in Hebrew compared to Dutch speaking children (Gillis and Ravid, 2006), presumably due to the rich Semitic morphology of the Hebrew language. It has been suggested that morphological decomposition may compensate for incomplete phonological information in opaque orthographies in which the phonological code cannot be easily accessed through mapping of smaller units (Ziegler et al., 1997; Frost, 2006; Bar-On and Ravid, 2011; Vaknin-Nusbaum and Miller, 2011). However, a study that compared French and English speaking children showed stronger morphological effects in French, which has a more transparent orthography (Casalis et al., 2015). The authors suggest that the rich morphological productivity in French has outweighed the effect of the opaque English orthography. The unique properties of the Hebrew orthography provide an opportunity to test the complex interactions between morphological complexity and orthographic transparency in a within language and within subject design.” (p.2, 3)  

Haddad, L., Weiss, Y., Katzir, T., & Bitan, T. (2018). Orthographic transparency enhances morphological segmentation in children reading Hebrew words. Frontiers of Psychology, 8, 2369.

“How do children learn to read a word like pack? Decades of research tell us that key to this process is children’s ability to sound out, or phonologically decode, the word using their knowledge about the mappings between letters and sounds (National Reading Panel, 2000). However, what happens when children then see complex words such as un-pack, pack-ing, and back-pack? These words all are linked to pack by their meaning, and indeed all contain the word pack within them, but phonological decoding alone does not capture any of this information. To become proficient readers, children need to learn much more than just how to sound words out; they must also acquire and draw on a wealth of knowledge about the basic meaning units represented within words, or their morphology. Indeed, more than 80% of words in the English language are morphologically complex (Baayen, Piepenbrock, & van Rijn, 1993); that is, they comprise multiple morphemes such as a stem (pack) plus an affix (un + pack or pack + ing) or two concatenated stems (back + pack). Affixes like un can be added to hundreds of words (e.g., un-zip, un-fold, un-wrap), and they can be used to make up new words on the spot (e.g., un-work, un-sleep). Once children have acquired knowledge about morphological regularities, they no longer need to rely on mapping new written words onto their meanings on an item-by-item basis because they can begin to derive word meaning on the basis of the meaning of the word’s constituent morphemes. The systematicity of morphological relationships between words, thus, has strong potential to be drawn on to support children’s reading development (Castles, Rastle, & Nation, 2018; Rastle, 2018), and the question of how and when morphology should be taught at schools has been hotly debated during recent years (Bowers & Bowers, 2018; Rastle & Taylor, 2018; Taylor, Davis, & Rastle, 2017).”

Beyersmann, E., Grainger, J., & Castles, A. (2019). Embedded stems as a bootstrapping mechanism for morphological parsing during reading development. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 182, 196-210.

So, it sounds an important and under-appreciated instructional emphasis. Should teachers be introducing it early or later in the primary years?



Introducing morphology early has a number of studies in support, though fewer studies are recommending it than are supporting a later introduction. Some suggest an early start, but restricting the content to uncomplicated morphological patterns at that beginning stage. More complex morphography can then be introduced gradually over the primary years and even secondary years as multi-syllabic words become increasingly frequent and challenging.

“To conclude, children benefit from direct teaching about morphemes from first grade on. Instruction should follow a progression that moves from common base words and inflectional suffixes in first grade to more complex forms as they gain reading skill. The order of instruction, and the order in which students learn about meaningful word parts, should be influenced by the frequency with which words occur in text, the complexity of the derivational relationships that characterize the words, and whether spelling itself is a clue to a word’s structure, meaning, and origin. Attention to word origin and morphology should be a regular focus of reading, spelling, and vocabulary instruction.” (p.3)

Moats, L. (2011). Morphology instruction for reading, spelling and vocabulary. Focus (Spring/Summer), 1, 29-30.

“Based on the findings showing a consistent predictive link of earlier spelling skills to later morphological awareness from the end of Grade 1 to the end of Grade 2 for English-speaking children, it may be suggested that children should be taught to pay attention to morphemes in English when attempting to spell words. Based on the findings that morphological awareness predicted both reading and spelling at the word level from Time 3 to Time 4, oral activities that aim to enhance children’s monitoring and manipulating of words’ morphemes might be beneficial already during the first years of literacy instruction (see Apel & Werfel, 2014; Berninger, Garcia, & Abbott, 2009; Bowers & Bowers, 2017; Kirby & Bowers, 2017; Nunes & Bryant, 2006) in parallel with an enhancement of phonological skills, as phonological awareness was a consistent predictor across time for both literacy skills. In the case of Greek, oral tasks and activities that foster children’s ability to find semantic and morphological relations between words and aim to increase their awareness of morphemes, might be beneficial to happen as early as possible in parallel with phonological skills training for enhancing children’s spelling skills (see Manolitsis, 2017; Tsesmeli, 2017). This suggestion is based on our finding showing a consistent contribution of morphological awareness to spelling achievement across the first three grades, but more data is needed from experiments manipulating instruction in order to validate the present correlational evidence. According to the direct link from morphological awareness to reading comprehension found in both languages, children would benefit from teaching activities that aim to untangle words’ structures into their constituent morphemes and to connect these activities with the task of extracting the meaning of what they read.” (p. 34-35)

Manolitsis, G., Georgiou, G.K., Inoue, T., & Parrila, R. (2019). Are morphological awareness and literacy skills reciprocally related? Evidence from a cross linguistic study. Journal of Educational Psychology

“We also examined who benefits most from instruction. Results suggest statistically significant larger effects for preschool and early elementary students through second grade followed by middle school and upper elementary students. Similar to Bowers et al. (2010), results suggest that early morphological instruction may be particularly helpful perhaps because of the synergistic relationship between phonology and morphology and the larger repertoire of root and affix meanings available for use. If a reciprocal relationship exists between morphological knowledge and literacy (i.e., better morphological knowledge supports better reading, which then supports improved morphological knowledge; see Levin, Ravid, & Rapaport, 1999), it makes sense to jump-start this knowledge from an early age. Also moderate effects were shown for upper elementary and middle school students, possibly because this is where text includes a higher percentage of morphologically complex words and where a student’s morphological knowledge is developed enough to take advantage of morphological relationships. Although greatest effects were noted for ELLs, poor readers and spellers, and children with learning disabilities, these differences were not statistically meaningful. … This analysis suggests that various types of morphological instruction support literacy achievement, including instruction that builds morphological knowledge by identifying, segmenting, and building with morphemes; teaching students affix and root meanings; teaching morphological patterns that support spelling; and teaching students to analyze compound words (see Goodwin, Lipsky, & Ahn, 2012, for more details).” (p.279-280)

Goodwin, A.P., & Ahn, S. (2013). A meta-analysis of morphological interventions in English: Effects on literacy outcomes for school-age children. Scientific Studies of Reading, 17(4), 257-285.

“Similar claims that grapheme-phoneme correspondences should be taught prior to any mor-phological instruction is widespread (e.g., Adams, 1994; Ehri & McCormick, 1998; Henry, 1989). One common justification of delaying morphological instruction is the claim that children are not developmentally prepared for it (Frith, 1985; Ehri, 1997; Nunes, Bryant, & Bindman, 1997). And more pragmatically, it is noted that teaching children about the mor-phological structure of words at the start of instruction reduces the time that children can be taught systematic phonics given limited class-time (e.g., Taylor., Davis, & Rastle, 2017). … One alternative approach consistent with these observations is called Structured Word Inquiry or SWI (Bowers & Kirby, 2010). As detailed elsewhere (Bowers & Bowers, 2017), SWI is inspired by linguistic fact that English spellings are morpho-phonemic rather than alphabetic. On SWI, children from the start should be explicitly taught all the sub-lexical regularities that occur in English spellings, namely, grapheme-phoneme correspondences as well as sub-lexical spelling-meaning correspondences (coded through morphology and etymology).” (p. 7, 35)

Bowers, J.S. (2018). Reconsidering the evidence that systematic phonics is more effective than alternative methods of reading instruction. PsyArXiv. Retrieved from https://psyarxiv.com/xz4yn/


“In contrast with the vast amount of empirical research on phonics, the research on SWI [Structured Word Inquiry] is only beginning. Nevertheless, we would argue that the theoretical motivation for SWI is extremely strong (see Table 1). Furthermore, the empirical evidence is highly promising. Morphological instruction is a central feature of SWI, and the evidence from the three meta-analyses of morphological instruction (P. N. Bowers et al., 2010; Goodwin and Ahn, 2010, 2013) show that morphological instruction benefits all students, but it is particularly beneficial for less able and younger students. In addition, the three existing SWI studies report improvements in decoding (Devonshire et al., 2013), spelling (Devonshire & Fluck, 2010), and vocabulary knowledge (P. N. Bowers & Kirby, 2010), with morphological instruction directed at children as young as 5 years of age (Devonshire et al., 2013).” (p.139)

Bowers, J.S., & Bowers, P.N. (2017). Beyond phonics: The case for teaching children the logic of the English spelling system. Educational Psychologist, 52(2), 124-141.

“ … comparisons between spelling and meaning scores showed that training effects for meaning were significantly stronger than relevant effects for spelling, and this was the case for both first and second graders. This finding is particularly important, indicating that morphological awareness training on very young readers even from their first years of schooling can lead to significant increments not only to literacy skills, such as spelling (Nunes and Bryant, 2006; Tsesmeli and Seymour, 2009; Tsesmeli, 2010), but also to vocabulary improvement, forming the basis for later improvements on reading comprehension and academic success (Ramirez et al., 2014).” (p. 13)

Tsesmeli, S.N. (2017). Spelling and meaning of compounds in the early school years. Frontiers of Psychology, 8, 2071, 1-17.

Introduce later?

“In her [Adams] view, morphology contributes to understanding of spelling–meaning connections only after children acquire basic reading skills and reach the point where they encounter morphologically complex words in their reading. Lessons on morphological awareness might be most appropriate for “later grades of schooling when the students’ knowledge of frequent spelling patterns has been thoroughly established and automated” (p. 156). It is also in the late elementary years that most of the unfamiliar words students encounter in written texts are morphologically complex (Nagy & Anderson, 1984); at that time, morphological analysis should be useful in making sense of unfamiliar words during reading. As has been pointed out by others (e.g., Tyler & Nagy, 1990), even in fourth and sixth grades, students are likely to carry out rather superficial analyses of the structure of derived words in the act of reading, relying primarily on identification of the base word and ignoring syntactic and semantic features associated with the combination of base word and affixes. …  Berninger et al. (2008) found that older students with reading disabilities (i.e., seventh through ninth graders) responded to morphological awareness and orthographic instruction more positively than the younger students (i.e., fourth through sixth graders). All of these researchers might agree with Adams (1990) that students are poised to benefit from instruction in the morphological structure of words after they have learned basic aspects of English spelling.”.” (p. 467, 476)

Carlisle, J.F. (2010). Effects of instruction in morphological awareness on literacy achievement: An integrative review. Reading Research Quarterly, 45(4), 464–487.

“Our results also show that morphological awareness has only an indirect influence on word reading skills through phoneme awareness and listening comprehension. The lack of a direct contribution from morphological awareness to word reading is consistent with results from typically developing French first graders (Casalis and Louis-Alexandre, 2000) and from English speaking first-graders from low SES families (Apel et al., 2013b). One can hypothesize that this result arose because children were in the very early stages of reading acquisition. Although one cannot exclude the possibility that the particular morphological tasks used may be partly responsible for this result (Apel et al., 2013b), it is important to note that we chose two morphological awareness tasks that had previously been shown by Carlisle and Nomanbhoy (1993) to explain variance in first grade word reading.” (p. 12)

Colé, P., Cavalli, E., Duncan, L.G., Theurel, A., Gentaz, E., Sprenger-Charolles, L., & El-Ahmadi, A. (2018). What is the influence of morphological knowledge in the early stages of reading acquisition among low SES children? A graphical modelling approach. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, YY-ZZ.

“In line with the large body of research demonstrating the importance of phonological skills for literacy development (e.g., Caravolas et al., 2001), the findings from the present study emphasize the importance of teaching with an initial focus on mappings between phonemes and graphemes rather than wider language skills such as morphology. (p. 374)

Larkin, R. F., & Snowling, M. J. (2008). Morphological spelling development. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 24, 363–376.

“Morphology is a major organising principle of English and other alphabetic languages, but has been largely neglected in theories of reading acquisition. In this article, I develop the view that learning to appreciate morphological relationships may be a vital part of acquiring a direct mapping between printed words and their meanings, represented in the ventral brain pathway of the reading network. I show that morphology provides an important degree of regularity across this mapping in English, and suggest that this regularity is directly associated with irregularity in the mapping between spelling and sound. I further show that while children in primary school display explicit knowledge of morphological relationships, there is scant evidence they show the rapid morphological analysis of printed words that skilled readers exhibit. These findings suggest that the acquisition of long-term morphological knowledge may be associated with the ongoing development of reading expertise. Implications for reading instruction are discussed.” (p.1)

“ … work is really only just beginning to uncover how morphological knowledge in young children becomes represented in such a way that can be accessed rapidly in word recognition. I have argued that the acquisition of this form of knowledge is associated with the ongoing development of reading expertise and becomes represented in the ventral reading pathway. Much further research is needed to understand how reading experience is translated into long term stored knowledge, and the way in which particular forms of instruction might impact on this process.” (p.9)

Rastle, K. (2018). The place of morphology in learning to read in English. Cortex, xxx, 1-10.

“We have already presented evidence that there is limited morphological information present in the text experiences of young children just starting to read.  This is an important point because research shows that print exposure is an important aspect of orthographic learning (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1991, 1993). Instruction on its own does not yield long-term knowledge. Instead, this is likely to arise over time through repeated experiences with a particular structure (e.g. suffix -er occurring repeatedly in the context of agentive nouns such as teacher, builder, banker; see e.g. Nation, 2017; Tamminen, Davis & Rastle, 2015). Further, some theories of reading acquisition suggest that prior knowledge of stems may be a critical factor in the acquisition of morphological (affix) representations (Davis, 1999).  Based on this evidence, we would argue that devoting time in the initial periods of reading instruction to interactions between phonology, morphology, and etymology may be ineffective, since it will be unsupported by the text experiences of the child.  It is also likely to decrease the time available for instruction relevant to spelling-sound knowledge (Taylor et al., 2017).  Such instruction is critical for learning the single-morpheme stems at the foundation of morphological families (e.g. the ‘act’ in action, activate, react). We believe that a focus on these morphological regularities is likely to be more appropriate in the later years of primary schooling (Rastle, 2018).  During this period, children experience diverse texts that reflect their taught knowledge of spelling-meaning regularities, thus allowing them to engage in the self-teaching thought to be vital to building reading fluency (Share, 1995). This recommendation is consistent with research on the trajectory of children’s understanding and use of morphology in reading acquisition (e.g. Beyersmann et al., 2012; Dawson et al., 2017), and our understanding of the development of the ventral reading pathway in the brain that underpins knowledge of orthographic forms and their links to meaning (Ben-Shachar et al., 2011; see Rastle, 2018 for discussion). (p.1503).

Rastle, K., & Taylor, J.S.H. (2018). Print-sound regularities are more important than print-meaning regularities in the initial stages of learning to read: Response to Bowers & Bowers (2018). Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 71(7), 1501-1505.

“Our results also show that morphological awareness has only an indirect influence on word reading skills through phoneme awareness and listening comprehension. The lack of a direct contribution from morphological awareness to word reading is consistent with results from typically developing French first graders (Casalis and Louis-Alexandre, 2000) and from English speaking first-graders from low SES families (Apel et al., 2013b). One can hypothesize that this result arose because children were in the very early stages of reading acquisition. Although one cannot exclude the possibility that the particular morphological tasks used may be partly responsible for this result (Apel et al., 2013b), it is important to note that we chose two morphological awareness tasks that had previously been shown by Carlisle and Nomanbhoy (1993) to explain variance in first grade word reading.” (p. 12)

Colé, P., Cavalli, E., Duncan, L.G., Theurel, A., Gentaz, E., Sprenger-Charolles, L., & El-Ahmadi, A. (2018). What is the influence of morphological knowledge in the early stages of reading acquisition among low SES children? A graphical modelling approach. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, YY-ZZ.

“Phonological awareness and phonics develop before morphological awareness (Anglin, 1993), and research with children demonstrates that phonological awareness has a stronger relationship with these literacy skills for younger children. However, after the 3rd or 4th grade, MA becomes a more important and reliable predictor (Deacon & Kirby, 2004; Nagy et al., 2006). Therefore, developmentally, a student needs to have a good base in phonological awareness before adding the morphological complexity (Carlisle, 2012; Deacon & Kirby, 2004)” (p.54)

Bangs, K. E., Binder, K. S. (2016). Morphological awareness intervention: Improving spelling, vocabulary, and reading comprehension for adult learners. Journal of Research and Practice for Adult Literacy, Secondary, and Basic Education, 5(1), 49–56.

“More than half of the words in English are morphologically complex (Anglin, 1993; Goulden, Nation, & Read, 1990; Nagy & Anderson, 1984). Morphologically complex words are more common in written language (and especially academic language) than in spoken language (Chafe & Danielewicz, 1987), and the proportion of such words increases as frequency decreases (Nagy & Anderson, 1984). Thus, with each grade children encounter an increasing number of morphologically complex words. The majority of these have meanings that can be inferred from the meanings of their component parts (Nagy & Anderson, 1984), and so recognizing the morphological structure of words should aid children in interpreting and learning them. And in fact, children’s awareness of the morphological structure of words has been found to be correlated with their vocabulary knowledge (Carlisle & Fleming, 2003; Nagy, Berninger, Abbott, Vaughan, & Vermeulen, 2003; Singson et al., 2000) and reading comprehension (Brittain, 1970; Carlisle, 2000; Champion, 1997; Freyd & Baron, 1982; Tyler & Nagy, 1990). … To understand the contribution of morphological knowledge to reading, we also need to know to what extent this contribution is distinct from that of phonological abilities. Two contrasting pictures of the relationship of phonology, morphology, and reading comprehension have been suggested. In one of these, the contribution of morphological knowledge is seen as secondary to, and derivative of, phonological abilities (Fowler & Liberman, 1995; Shankweiler et al., 1995). In the other, morphology is seen as making an independent contribution to reading, the relative importance of which increases with age (Deacon & Kirby, 2004; Singson, Mahony, & Mann, 2000). In the present study we looked for evidence bearing on these two positions, with students older (fourth through ninth grades) than those participating in earlier studies. We also looked at a variety of literacy outcomes, because the appropriateness of each picture may depend on which aspect of reading is examined. … Using structural equation modeling the authors evaluated the contribution of morphological awareness, phonological memory, and phonological decoding to reading comprehension, reading vocabulary, spelling, and accuracy and rate of decoding morphologically complex words for 182 4th- and 5th-grade students, 218 6th- and 7th-grade students, and 207 8th- and 9th-grade students in a suburban school district. Morphological awareness made a significant unique contribution to reading comprehension, reading vocabulary, and spelling for all 3 groups, to all measures of decoding rate for the 8th/9th-grade students, and to some measures of decoding accuracy for the 4th/5th-grade and 8th/9th-grade students. Morphological awareness also made a significant contribution to reading comprehension above and beyond that of reading vocabulary for all 3 groups.” (p.134)

As already mentioned, the English writing system, though primarily alphabetic in nature, is not exclusively alphabetic. Rather, conventions of the writing system represent linguistic information at a number of levels, including morphology and syntax. Hence it is quite reasonable to hypothesize that morphological awareness would make an independent contribution to reading ability. However, an alternative hypothesis—that effects of morphological awareness can be traced back solely to phonological abilities—is also plausible. Fowler and Liberman (1995) and Shankweiler et al. (1995) have argued in favor of the alternative hypothesis. Two types of evidence are offered. The first is that in hierarchical regression analyses, when a measure of morphological awareness is entered after measures of phonological awareness, the measure of morphological awareness accounts for relatively little unique variance—about 4% (Carlisle & Nomanbhoy, 1993; Singson et al., 2000) or 5% (Shankweiler et al., 1995). According to Shankweiler et al., the amount of unique variance accounted for by morphological awareness is about half that accounted for by phonological awareness (.051 and .109, respectively, when each was entered last). (p.137)

Nagy, W., Berninger, V.W., & Abbott, R.D. (2006). Contributions of morphology beyond phonology to literacy outcomes of upper elementary and middle-school students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(1), 134-147.

“Morphological awareness involves the ability to be conscious of, talk about, and manipulate the morphological units of a language (Carlisle, 1995). It involves the ability to identify root words and their inflected or derived forms. Awareness of morphological structure plays an important role in decoding (Carlisle). Morphological awareness is crucial for recognizing unfamiliar words that cannot be decoded phonetically, allowing readers to access meaning based on their knowledge of root words, inflections, and derived forms. For example, knowledge of the derivation "-ette" allows a reader to deduce the meaning of words containing that form, such as dinette and kitchenette. Although some authors suggest that students are more likely to use morphological awareness to decode words after second grade (Fowler & Lieberman, 1998), there is some evidence that children as young as 6 and 7 may tap into their emerging knowledge of morphemes for written language (Treiman & Cassar, 1997). By the fourth grade, most children have basic knowledge of derived forms (Windsor & Hwang, 1997). By the fifth grade, a substantial portion of a child's orthographic representations consists of forms that are derivations of root words (Anglin, 1993). Thus, morphological awareness appears to be a crucial reading tool as students encounter increasingly complex texts beyond the primary grades (Shankweiler, Lundquist, Dreyer, & Dickinson, 1998).

Apel, K., & Swank, L.K. (1999). Second chances: Improving decoding skills in the older student. Language, Speech & Hearing Services in Schools, 30, 231-243.

Is morphology knowledge helpful for reading comprehension?

“Why is it that there are so few significant effects of morphological awareness on performance on measures of reading comprehension?” (p.481) 

Carlisle, J.F. (2010). Effects of instruction in morphological awareness on literacy achievement: An integrative review. Reading Research Quarterly, 45, 464–487.

“When children start to learn to read English, they benefit from learning grapheme–phoneme correspondences. As they become more skilled, they use larger graphophonic units and morphemes in word recognition and spelling. We hypothesized that these 2 types of units in decoding make independent contributions to children’s reading comprehension and fluency and that the use of morphological units is the stronger predictor of both measures. In a longitudinal study with a large sample in the United Kingdom, we tested through multiple regressions the contributions that these different units make to the prediction of reading competence (reading comprehension and fluency). The predictors were measured when the children were aged 8–9 years. Reading comprehension and rate were measured concurrently, and reading list fluency was measured at 12 and 13 years. After controlling for age and verbal IQ, the children’s use of larger graphophonic units and their use of morphemes in reading and spelling made independent contributions to predicting their reading comprehension and reading fluency. The use of morphemes was the stronger predictor in all analyses. Thus, teaching that promotes the development of these different ways of reading and spelling words should be included in policy and practice.” (p.959)

Nunes, T., Bryant, P., & Barros, R. (2012). The development of word recognition and its significance for comprehension and fluency. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104(4), 959-973.

“The work of many researchers and educators illustrates the need to introduce morphology, which was once thought to be useful only in the upper elementary and secondary grades, in the early grades. Ebbers (2008) found that even second graders encounter inflections, compounds, and derivations in both narrative and informative text. Apel and Henbest (2016) gained support in their study of first through third graders “… for how students might use morphological problem solving to read unknown multimorphemic words successfully” (p. 148). Bowers and Kirby (2010) and Bowers and Cooke (2012) emphasized the importance of including morphology in literacy instruction, especially for less able and younger students. Devonshire, Morris, and Fluck (2013) concluded that using explicit instruction of morphology and etymology (i.e., the historical origins of words) should be taught in addition to traditional phonics beginning as early as kindergarten and first grade.” (p.23)

Henry, M.A. (2017). Morphemes matter: A framework for instruction. Perspectives on Language and Literacy, 43(2), 23-26.

“Children in the primary elementary grades demonstrate greater awareness of inflectional forms than derivational forms; it is around third grade that children typically demonstrate greater awareness of derivational morphology (e.g., Kuo & Anderson, 2006). Not surprisingly, then, inflectional morphological awareness is mostly associated with literacy abilities in younger elementary school students rather than upper-grade elementary school students (e.g., Carlisle & Nomanbhoy, 1993). However, much more research, particularly longitudinal research, is needed to obtain a full understanding of morphological awareness development in children and students.” (p.12)

Apel, K. (2017). Morphological awareness development and assessment: What do we know? Perspectives on Language and Literacy, 43(2), 11-16.

“MA may be an especially important skill to improve reading success for students at risk for or diagnosed with specific learning disabilities such as dyslexia and oral and written language learning disability as this skill promotes written word decoding and identification as well as related vocabulary abilities. Indeed, two recent meta-analyses revealed this language skill to have significantly increased benefits for students with such deficits (Bowers, Kirby, & Deacon, 2010; Goodwin & Ahn, 2010).  … Across multiple studies, several common intervention practices appear to consistently result in effective MA intervention for students with LLD (Bowers et al., 2010; Goodwin & Ahn, 2012; Wolter & Green, 2013; Wolter & Dilworth, 2014). Students with LLD appear to benefit from MA interventions that a) integrate intervention in a reading and writing context, b) include explicit instruction, c) provide repeated opportunities to actively reflect on and think about the meaning of base words and affixes (i.e., “add-ons”), and d) incorporate and consider student motivation (Bowers et al., 2010; Goodwin & Ahn, 2010; Goodwin, Lipsky, & Ahn, 2012; Reed, 2008).” (p.17)

Wolter, J.A., & Collins, G. (2017). Morphological awareness intervention for students who struggle with language and literacy. Perspectives on Language and Literacy, 43(2), 17-22.

“Behavioral research shows that English learners have to dedicate at least two more years of training before they read at the same level as Italian children (Seymour, et al., 2003). Neuroimaging experiments show that, to do so, they expand their brain activation in the VWFA and the precentral cortex relative to Italian readers (Paulesu, et al., 2000). Thus, teachers should be aware of the spelling irregularities in the language that they are teaching. They should prepare a rational progression, starting with the more regular and more frequent grapheme-phoneme correspondence, and ending with the exceptions. They should also pay attention to the complexity of syllables and start with the simpler consonant-vowel structures before moving on to more complex multiconsonant clusters. Mute letters, irregular spellings, and spellings inherited from Greek and Roman etymologies (e.g. ‘ph’) should all be addressed across the years, with frequent repetition. A good reading course should not stop at the simplest grapheme-phoneme correspondences: morphology, the understanding of prefixes, suffixes, roots, and grammatical endings is equally important in the brain of expert readers (Devlin, Jamison, Matthews, & Gonnerman, 2004).” (p. 26-27)

Dehaene, S (2011). The massive impact of literacy on the brain and its consequences for education. Human neuroplasticity and education. Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 117, 19-32.

“Phonological decoding made a significant unique contribution to reading comprehension for the eighth/ninth-grade group, to spelling for the fourth/fifth- and eighth/ninth-grade groups, and to the decoding rate and accuracy measures for all three groups, with only three exceptions.”

Nagy, W., Berninger, V.W., & Abbott, R.D. (2006). Contributions of morphology beyond phonology to literacy outcomes of upper elementary and middle-school students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(1), 134-147.

“For every word a child learns, we estimate that there are an average of one to three additional related words that should also be understandable to the child, the exact number depending on how well the child is able to utilize context and morphology to induce meanings.” (Nagy & Anderson, 1984, p. 304) 

Nagy, W. E., & Anderson, R. C. (1984). How many words are there in printed school English? Reading Research Quarterly, 19(3), 304-330.

“A novel intervention was developed to teach reading and spelling literacy to 5 to 7 year-old students using explicit instruction of morphology, etymology, phonology, and form rules. We examined the effects of the intervention compared to a phonics-based condition using a cross-over design with a baseline measure. One hundred and twenty children attending an English state funded primary school were randomly allocated either to a traditional phonics condition followed by the novel intervention, or to the novel intervention followed by the phonics condition. The novel intervention significantly improved the literacy skills of the children including both word reading and spelling compared with the phonics condition. We conclude that early teaching of English literacy should include instruction in morphology, etymology and rules about form in addition to traditional phonics. We suggest that the results of the study could inform future policy on the teaching of English literacy skills.” (p.85)

Devonshire, V., Morris, P., & Fluck, M. (2013). Spelling and reading development: The effect of teaching children multiple levels of representation in their orthography. Learning and Instruction, 25, 85-94.

“This study suggests that instruction in morphological awareness will benefit other skills, particularly higher level skills. It is most beneficial to develop this skill in later elementary school and beyond. However, since it is moderately correlated with phonological awareness, phonological awareness cannot be neglected either. Phonological awareness and phonics develop before morphological awareness (Anglin, 1993), and research with children demonstrates that phonological awareness has a stronger relationship with these literacy skills for younger children. However, after the 3rd or 4th grade, MA becomes a more important and reliable predictor (Deacon & Kirby, 2004; Nagy et al., 2006). Therefore, developmentally, a student needs to have a good base in phonological awareness before adding the morphological complexity (Carlisle, 2012; Deacon & Kirby, 2004” (p. 53)

Bangs, K., & Binder, K. (2016). Morphological awareness intervention: Improving spelling, vocabulary, and reading comprehension for adult learners. Journal of Research and Practice for Adult Literacy, Secondary, and Basic Education, 5(1), 50-55.

“Because English is a morphophonemic language (Venezky, 1970 and Venezky, 1999), English spelling relies greatly on morphological rules that require analysis of vowel and consonant patterns at the end of base words that influence whether letters are dropped or added when adding suffixes (e.g. Dixon & Engelmann, 2001). Nagy and colleagues (e.g. Nagy et al., 1993) have conducted programmatic research for nearly two decades on the typical developmental course from simple to complex morphological processing that affects word reading and spelling and have shown that the morphological processing begins to contribute in a substantial way around grade 4 but continues to develop through the high school years and possibly even beyond” (p.3).

Richards, T., Aylward, E., Berninger, V., Field, K., Grimme, A.C., Parsons, A., Richards, A.L., Nagy, W. (2006). Individual fMRI activation in orthographic mapping and morpheme mapping after orthographic or morphological spelling treatment in child dyslexics. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 19(1), 56–86.

“ … both morphological awareness and reading comprehension might be influenced by a third factor. Unexpected poor comprehenders are poor at inferring the meaning of new words from context (Cain et al., 2004), at consolidating the meaning of newly acquired words (Ricketts, Bishop, & Nation, 2008), and in retaining information in working memory (Cain, 2006; Yuill, Oakhill, & Parkin, 1989). Their lower language skills in these domains, in spite of their adequate early morphological awareness skills, could lead to both poorer morphological awareness and poorer reading comprehension. Second, the relationship between morphological awareness and reading comprehension might be bidirectional, as has been suggested for the relationship between morphology and writing (Levin, Ravid, & Rapaport, 2001; Nunes et al., 1997). Children who have greater insight into the morphemic structure of words might be able to draw on this knowledge to better understand the meaning of written texts (Nagy, Berninger, Abbott, Vaughan, & Vermeulen, 2003). Similarly, children’s reading of texts for meaning might help to elucidate the meanings of morphologically complex words and reinforce children’s sensitivity to the internal morphemic structure of words. Children with lower reading comprehension skills, such as our unexpected poor comprehenders, might be less able to acquire the meanings of new morphologically complex words that they come across in texts. This possibility is supported by evidence that children identified as poor comprehenders at age 8 do not show the same rate of growth between 8 and 11 years in written or spoken vocabulary development as good comprehenders (Cain & Oakhill, in press). We would predict that such patterns and relationships would be increasingly important as morphologically complex words become more common in texts over the upper elementary school years (Anglin, 1993). … Several researchers (Carlisle, 2003; Moats, 2000) have commented that educators are less familiar with morphological awareness than with phonological awareness. Moreover, standard English word study programs emphasize memorization as a primary approach for learning complex words (Schlagal, 2001). Carlisle (2003) further pinpointed that “such programs do not seek to impart knowledge about our spelling system or teach principles and strategies to aid students with the challenge of reading and spelling polysyllabic words” (p. 311). The limitation of educators’ knowledge about morphology, along with decoding-focused word study programs, likely leads to what Carlisle referred to as “neglect of attention to instruction in the morphological structure of words” (p. 311). Our results suggest that children have much to learn about morphology; programs designed to support this learning would likely go a long way in supporting reading comprehension.” (p.530-5311)

Tong, X., Deacon, S.H., Kirby, J.R., Cain, K., & Parrila, R. (2011). Morphological awareness: A key to understanding poor reading comprehension in English. Journal of Educational Psychology, 103, 523-34.

So knowledge of morphology can be helpful in figuring out a word’s meaning. Is it beneficial in other aspects of literacy too?

“Teaching students a strategy of morphological analysis has the potential to foster vocabulary development and reading comprehension, given the report of a very strong association between morphological awareness and vocabulary knowledge (correlation of 0.91) and between morphological awareness and reading comprehension (correlation of 0.86) for fourth graders (Wagner, Muse, & Tannenbaum, 2007). Some researchers have argued that analysis of word structure might be related to other aspects of comprehension monitoring that have the potential to foster enduring habits of constructing meaning during reading (e.g., Baumann et al., 2002).” (p.468)

Carlisle, J.F. (2010). Effects of instruction in morphological awareness on literacy achievement: An integrative review. Reading Research Quarterly, 45, 464–487.

Is morphology helpful in spelling?

Spelling represents three layers of information:

  1. The alphabetic layer matches letters and sounds in a left-to-right fashion. In the word tap, the letter-sound match-up is obvious.
  1. The pattern layer operates within syllables, for example, knowing the VCe pattern (vowel-consonant-silent e) signals a long vowel enables spelling of a word like tape.
  1. The meaning or morphographic layer - word parts that are related in meaning are usually spelled consistently, despite differences in pronunciation:
    • crumb/crumble,
    • column/columnist,
    • paradigm/paradigmatic,
    • Newton/Newtonian.

Also there are useful commonalities in spelling between words sharing a common etymology, e.g., impugn and pugnacious.

Since “distinctions of spelling are used to indicate lexical identities, word derivations, and morphological structure” (Seymour, p. 319), it is unsurprising that morphology has been investigated as an under-utilised focus of spelling instruction.

Seymour, P.H.K. (1997). Foundations of orthographic development. In C.A. Perfetti, L. Rieben, & M. Fayol (Eds.), Learning to spell: research, theory, and practice among languages (pp. 319–337). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

“Behavioural studies show that children use morphemes in their spelling from an early age. Most evidence comes from the product of spelling processes, particularly spelling accuracy. For instance, Deacon and colleagues showed that children as young as 6 are more likely to spell whole root words correctly in inflected and derived words than in one-morpheme comparison words. Children are more likely to spell rock correctly in its two-morpheme relatives rocking and rocky than in the single-morpheme word rocket (Deacon, 2008; Deacon & Bryant, 2006a, 2006b). Similar evidence comes from effects of morphology on children’s spellings of single letters. For instance, 5-year-olds are more likely to spell the alveolar flap correctly as t when it is part of a root (e.g., dirty) than when it is not (e.g., city; Treiman et al., 1994 see also Treiman & Cassar, 1996). The size of these effects appears to increase with age, suggesting that morphological processing in spelling continues to develop through the early elementary years. The influence of root morphemes on spelling accuracy appears maximal by 9 years of age, both for whole roots and target letters (Deacon & Dhooge, 2010; Treiman et al., 1994). … In conclusion, we found significant evidence that children as young as 6 and 7 years of age engage in morphological processing as they prepare to spell in response to dictation. This supports theories that point to the role of morphemes in consolidation of lexical memory (Harm & Seidenberg, 2004; Nation, 2009; Perfetti, 2007) and statistical-learning theories of spelling development proposing that young children make use of multiple regularities in the orthography, including morphology (Deacon et al., 2008; Pacton & Deacon, 2008; Treiman, 2017). A great deal of further research is necessary to understand when and how morphological processing occurs during spelling production, and how these processes develop through childhood and into adulthood.” (p. 178, 189)

Breadmore, H.L., & Deacon, S.H. (2019). Morphological processing before and during children’s spelling. Scientific Studies of Reading, 23(2), 178-191.

“Nevertheless, significant consistencies, regularities and patterns do exist (Carney, 1994; Hanna, Hanna, Hodges, & Rudorf, 1966; Kessler, 2009; Kessler & Treiman, 2003; Venezky, 1970). According to Fischer, Shankweiler, and Liberman (1985), consistency in English orthography works at three broad levels. At the first level are words whose orthographic realisation is relatively close to their phonetic form, and whose spelling patterns have a high degree of occurrence (i.e., regular sound–letter associations such as cat, step, and take). At the second level are words whose sound–letter mappings are more or less straightforward, except that they contain a segment that is ambiguous or problematic, where the relationship between the symbols, sound and/or the morphemic structure is not transparent in the spelling. This typically occurs when rule-governed morphological changes are applied. For example, when the past tense morpheme <-ed> is added to the verb tap, the sound /p/ is represented not by <p> but by <pp>, the doubled consonant signalling that the letter is pronounced /æ/ rather than /ei/ as in taped. The third level consists of words whose foreign or archaic origins make it difficult to derive their spelling from morphophonemic knowledge alone. Such words contain one or more segments which either do not normally occur in English, or which occur infrequently, such as the words debt, indict, bourgeois, Fahrenheit, or zeitgeist.” (p. 173)

Mullock, B. (2012). An examination of commercial spelling programs for upper primary level students. Australasian Journal of Special Education, 36(2), 172-195.

“The most effective spelling instruction teaches spelling as a linguistic (rather than visual) ability by directly facilitating key skills that underlie spelling development (Bourassa & Treiman, 2001). There are three metalinguistic skills that are strongly related to spelling acquisition. One metalinguistic skill that is essential to the acquisition of spelling is phonemic awareness, which refers to the ability to reflect on and manipulate single sounds within words (Gillon, 2004). A second important metalinguistic skill for learning spelling is orthographic awareness which includes (1) alphabetic knowledge, for example, ‘sh’ makes the= R =sound; (2) orthographic pattern knowledge, such as knowing that the grapheme ‘ck’ cannot be used in initial position in a syllable; and (3) storage of mental representations of spellings in longterm memory (Apel, Wolter, & Masterson, 2006; Apel, 2011). A third skill that is fundamental for learning to spell is morphological awareness which involves the ability to recognize the parts of words that convey meaning, such as identifying connections in words sharing the same root, such as heal-health (Berninger, Abbott, Nagy, & Carlisle, 2010).” (p. 536)

Kirk, C. (2014). Theoretical beliefs and instructional practices used for teaching spelling in elementary classrooms. Reading & Writing, 27, 535–554.

“Noticeably absent from these interventions were the direct teaching of phoneme to grapheme correspondences and morphemic approaches, which are often used with students in the elementary grades (Sayeski, 2011; Simonson and Gunter, 2001; Wanzek et al., 2006; Williams et al., 2017). Previous research has also suggested that students who struggle with spelling benefit from being taught explicitly at their developmental level (Simonsen & Gunter, 2001; Schlagal, 2002).” (p. 2)

Williams, K.J., Austin, C.R., & Vaughn, S. (2017). A synthesis of spelling interventions for secondary students with disabilities. The Journal of Special Education, 52(1), 2-15.

“Few poor spellers are only poor spellers. More likely, such students are also poor readers and poor composers of written text and may have weaknesses in lexical, morphological, and syntactic domains that extend to spoken language as well (Catts & Kamhi, 1999).” (p.67)

Scott, C.M. (2000). Principles and methods of spelling instruction: Applications for poor spellers Topics in Language Disorders, 20, 66- 79.

"Recent studies suggest that including word study activities that explicitly teach aspects of morphology in the classroom can enhance students’ spelling ability and interest (Devonshire & Fluck, 2010; Devonshire, Morris, & Fluck, 2013; Diaz, 2010; Vitale, Medland, & Kaniuka, 2010)." (p.8)

Westwood, P. (2015). Spelling: Do the eyes have it? Australian Journal of Learning Difficulties, 20(1), 3-13.

“ … although the National Reading Panel emphasizes the importance of phonological coding based on typically developing students, the current results provide further evidence to support that orthographic and morphological coding are also important (consistent with other research, including Niedo et al., 2014), especially for those with language-related SLDs. More research is needed on implementing instructional interventions for SLDs for teaching students in grades 4 to 9 to read and spell words in English morphophonemic orthography who can learn to do so despite not past struggles (Tanimoto, Thompson, Berninger, Nagy, & Abbott, 2015).” (p.154)

Sanders, E.A., Berninger, V.W., & Abbott, R.A. (2018). Sequential prediction of literacy achievement for specific learning disabilities contrasting in impaired levels of language in grades 4 to 9. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 51(2), 137-157.

“Berninger and Richards (2002) proposed that the reading brain is initially constructed as children learn to relate existing phonological word forms to orthographic word forms, and during this process create memories of written word forms. In research on learning and teaching spelling, this stage is referred to as the phonological stage of spelling (Moats, 2000 and Templeton and Bear, 1992). This phonological stage involves encoding of phonemes into graphemes (1- and 2-letter spelling units). In the process of repeated encodings, typical spellers begin to create precise representations of all the constituent letters in the written word spelling (whether or not the letters relate to a phoneme in a one-to-one way). With sufficient practice in spelling written words, these representations in long-term memory organize as an autonomous orthographic lexicon that can be accessed automatically without the intervening phonological encoding process. Mental computations of the interrelationships among phonological, morphological, and orthographic words forms create mental maps of the word-specific orthographic word forms that underlie this autonomous orthographic lexicon (e.g. Berninger et al., 2001 and Nagy et al., 2003). Thus, triple word form theory (Richards et al., in press) is relevant to understanding how the autonomous orthographic lexicon underlying automatic spelling and fluent reading emerges from the earlier phonological stage—instead of relying only on phonological–orthographic mappings, children begin to rely on phonological–morphological–orthographic mappings. When children rely on the autonomous orthographic lexicon rather than phonological encoding, they have entered the orthographic stage of spelling development (see Moats, 2000 and Templeton and Bear, 1992). However, mature spelling requires an additional stage of spelling development. Because English is a morphophonemic language (Venezky, 1970 and Venezky, 1999), English spelling relies greatly on morphological rules that require analysis of vowel and consonant patterns at the end of base words that influence whether letters are dropped or added when adding suffixes (e.g. Dixon & Engelmann, 2001). Nagy and colleagues (e.g. Nagy et al., 1993) have conducted programmatic research for nearly two decades on the typical developmental course from simple to complex morphological processing that affects word reading and spelling and have shown that the morphological processing begins to contribute in a substantial way around grade 4 but continues to develop through the high school years and possibly even beyond” (p.3). 

Richards, T., Aylward, E., Berninger, V., Field, K., Grimme, A.C., Parsons, A., Richards, A.L., Nagy, W. (2006). Individual fMRI activation in orthographic mapping and morpheme mapping after orthographic or morphological spelling treatment in child dyslexics. Journal of Neurolinguistics, 19(1), 56–86.

“The spelling program for students with dyslexia should include explicit instruction in phonological, orthographic, and morphological awareness of word forms, their parts, and their interrelationships. Research supported instructional approaches for this goal are widely available (e.g., Bear, Ivernizzi, Templeton, & Johnson, 2000; Dixon & Engelmann, 2001; Fry, 1996; Henry, 2003; Masterson, Apel, Wasowicz, 2002) but not yet widely implemented in individual educational programs for students with dyslexia in upper elementary, middle school and high school.” (Berninger et al., 2008, p.13).

Berninger, V. W., Nielsen, K. H., Abbott, R. D., Wijsman, E., & Raskind, W. (2008). Writing problems in developmental dyslexia: Under-recognized and under-treated. Journal of School Psychology, 46(1), 1-21.

Direct Instruction spelling programs incorporate morphemic strategies

"In this study, Spelling Mastery was shown to have a significant effect on trained spelling regular words, morphological words, and words that followed spelling rules and generalized to untaught regularly spelled word and untaught words that followed the spelling rules. Moreover, these 8- to 12-year-old students who had a learning disability in spelling maintained their progress on words that followed spelling rules, suggesting that the Spelling Mastery was effective in teaching students to pay attention to the patterns that occur in words. However, there was a lack of significant findings and smaller effects for irregular words at both posttest and maintenance” (p. 8, 9).

Squires, K.E., & Wolter, J.A. (2016). The effects of orthographic pattern intervention on spelling performance of students with reading disabilities: A best evidence synthesis. Remedial and Special Education, 1-13. Published online before print March 1, 2016, doi: 10.1177/0741932516631115

Spelling through Morphographs (also known as Morphographic Spelling) - publisher McGraw Hill:

A 140 lesson remedial program designed to teach students a generative spelling strategy. It emphasises morphographic word analysis, that is, an analysis of prefixes, suffixes and roots – and the ways in which they are combined in words. Suitable for students from Year 4 to adult. Excellent for secondary schools.


Change in brain function after 14 one-hour sessions based on Spelling through Morphographs.

Explicit spelling instruction is beneficial even to above average spellers

“ … the design strategy of using DI programs with above-average student populations has much to recommend it because in such settings, implementations with fidelity can be accomplished more readily, and under such circumstances the academic gains resulting from DI programs can be magnified.” (p.25)

Vitale, M.R., Medland, M.B., & Kaniuka, T.S. (2010). Implementing Spelling with Morphographs with above-average students in Grade 2: Implications for DI of comparisons with demographically similar control students in Grades 2-3-4-5. Journal of Direct Instruction, 10(1), 17-28.


Morphographs in DI programs

80% of all words readers encounter have one or more affixes (Cunningham, 1998). For example, if you teach these elements:

Prefixes: re, un, dis

Bases: cover, pute

Suffixes: ed, able – and a few rules for combining them - the following words can be spelled:

recover, recoverable, recovered, unrecoverable, unrecovered, repute, reputable, reputed, disreputable, disrepute, covetable, covered, uncover, uncoverable, uncovered, discover, discoverable, discovered, undiscoverable, undiscovered, dispute, disputable, disputed, undisputable, undisputed, etc.

Most, though not all morphographs share the same spelling wherever they occur, as in cover and un. Some words do change their spelling in different words, but the changes are rule-based and can be readily determined. So, pute drops the e in disputable; however, students learn a rule to determine when this is to occur. Five or six hundred morphographs combine to form thousands of words. Because students need to have knowledge of phonemic and whole word strategies to make the most of the morphographic approach, it is not introduced until Level C of Spelling Mastery, and from Levels D to F it becomes the main approach, though both the phonemic and whole word strategies continue to be developed.

Does morphology have any special benefits for students with dyslexia?

“Morphological awareness has been acknowledged as an essential skill in language development for both typical and non-typical readers, while morphological instruction is recognized to be beneficial for the enhancement of reading, spelling, vocabulary, and reading comprehension of students, especially those with literacy difficulties (Deacon et al., 2006; Bowers et al., 2010; Goodwin and Ahn, 2010, 2013; Gilbert et al., 2013; McCutchen et al., 2014).” (p.1-2)

Tsesmeli, S.N. (2017). Spelling and meaning of compounds in the early school years. Frontiers of Psychology, 8, 2071, 1-17.

“While the relationship between phonological processing and dyslexia has been extensively studied, much less in known about associations between morphological processing and dyslexia. In their pioneering work, Elbro and Arnbak (1996) presume that dyslexic readers are particularly inclined to rely on morphemes during visual word recognition. They, moreover, may adopt morphological analyses as a compensatory strategy to reduce the negative influence of their phonological deficit on visual word recognition (e.g., Elbro and Arnbak, 1996; Casalis et al., 2004; Leikin and Hagit, 2006). As dyslexic individuals have been shown to have difficulties reading new (Rack et al., 1992) and long words (Martens and De Jong, 2006), visual word recognition may be facilitated by their decomposing morphologically complex words into morpheme-size units (Quémart and Casalis, 2015). While typically developing readers are able to recognize words as a whole by rapidly accessing orthographic and phonological codes, dyslexic readers may be forced to employ morphological decomposition for lexical access as their decoding abilities are weak and whole-word processing would be slow and inefficient (Leikin and Hagit, 2006). Although some researchers argue that processing written morphemes requires the ability to also process small-sized grapheme-phoneme correspondences (e.g., Duncan et al., 2000), others suggest that reading development does not necessarily involve a small-to-large unit progression (Ziegler and Goswami, 2005) and that in dyslexic readers associations between orthography and phonology are made at a coarse-grained level involving multiletter or morphemic units (e.g., Hatcher and Snowling, 2002). … Several papers also included analyses of morphological processing in struggling readers such as dyslexics (e.g., Casalis et al., 2004; Burani et al., 2008; Siegel, 2008) and suggest that a deficient development of some of the processes related to word recognition can partially explain the reading difficulties of dyslexic readers (Berthiaume and Daigle, 2014). Although it is unlikely that dyslexic readers can become skilled readers without developing efficient phonological processing skills, they may compensate for their phonological deficit during visual word recognition by processing at the morpheme level (e.g., Elbro and Arnbak, 1996; Casalis et al., 2004; Leikin and Hagit, 2006).” (p. 9, 13)

Borleffs, E., Maassen,, B.A.M., Lyytinen, H., &  Zwarts, F. (2018). Cracking the code: The impact of orthographic transparency and morphological-syllabic complexity on reading and developmental dyslexia. Frontiers of Psychology, 9, 2534, 1-19.

“As a consequence of their formal and lexical characteristics, morphemes can be exploited to increase reading fluency (see also Deacon et al., 2016). A facilitation on reading times due to the morphological composition of the stimulus was also found in typically developing readers at different ages. However, whereas skilled readers were facilitated by morphemes only when they were present in newly encountered words (i.e., pseudowords; Burani et al., 2002) and in low-frequency words (see also Carlisle and Stone, 2005; Deacon et al., 2011), children with dyslexia were facilitated by the presence of morphemes both in reading new words and words of various frequencies, including high-frequency words (Burani et al., 2008; Marcolini et al., 2011). Overall, the facilitating effect of the word’s morphological composition was larger in children with dyslexia as compared to skilled readers of the same age (see also Elbrö and Arnbak, 1996; Carlisle and Stone, 2005; Suárez-Coalla and Cuetos, 2013).” (p.1)

Burani, C., Marcolini, S., Traficante, D., & Zoccolotti, P. (2019). Reading derived words by Italian children with and without dyslexia: The effect of root length. Frontiers of Psychology, 9, 647.

“Turning to the compensatory approach, as shown in previous studies [5, 34], morphological instruction can be beneficial to children with dyslexia given that it allows them to acquire knowledge and strategies that are accessible to them. In turn, this learning helps them to spell polymorphemic words, which are abundant in the French language [9]. Compensatory interventions might also enable children with dyslexia to focus more on their deficits. Indeed, given that the morphemic strategy facilitates the spelling of morphemes in polymorphemic words, it might also facilitate the use of alphabetic and orthographic strategies to spell other parts of these words. The morphemic strategy, however, cannot be used to spell all words correctly. It follows that a mixed approach to rehabilitation, combining elements from the remedial and compensatory approaches, could be an interesting avenue for interventions aimed at developing dyslexic students’ spelling skills. Like typically developing writers, these learners need to be able to use spelling strategies simultaneously and automatically in order to become proficient spellers. An interesting finding of this study was the improvements in the dictation tasks for untrained words. This was especially true for the compensatory approach, which further suggests that the morphemic strategy is accessible to children with dyslexia. This finding also suggests that children with dyslexia may be able to transfer their learning when spelling words that are linguistically similar to those in their orthographic lexicon.” (p.6)

Chapleau, N., & Beaupré-Boivin, K. (2019). Interventions to support the development of spelling knowledge and strategies for children with dyslexia. Education, 9(1), 1-8.

“Students with a self-reported history of reading difficulties (n = 54) showed moderate to large gaps in each area of reading achievement, and timed reading comprehension appeared more severely impaired than word-reading efficiency. These students had a deficit in morphological awareness that persisted even when (a) phonological awareness and orthographic processing skills, or (b) word-reading accuracy were statistically controlled. In the larger first-year sample (N = 211), morphological awareness contributed to variance in word reading beyond that accounted for by phonological awareness and orthographic processing. Furthermore, of the reading-related skills, only morphological awareness made a unique contribution to reading comprehension beyond variance accounted for by word reading. Taken together, these results demonstrate that morphological awareness makes unique contributions to university students’ reading achievement and is an additional difficulty for students with a self-reported history of reading difficulties.” (p.1)

Metsala, J.L., Parrila, R., Conrad, N.J., & Deacon, S.H. (2019). Morphological awareness and reading achievement in university students. Applied Psycholinguistics, Online First.

Is morphology helpful to English language learners?

“Many English language learners (ELL) experience academic and reading difficulties compared to native English speakers (NES). Lack of vocabulary knowledge is a contributing factor for these difficulties. Teaching students to analyze words into their constituent morphemes (meaningful word units) in order to determine the meaning of words may be an avenue to increase vocabulary knowledge. This study investigated potential benefits of morphological instruction for learning vocabulary words and generalizing taught words to untaught words containing these morphemes. … Thus, there is a pressing need to identify effective interventions to close the reading comprehension gap for ELL and mitigate adverse academic consequences. Comprehension of text requires both word reading and oral language skills (Gough &Tunmer, 1986; Hoover & Gough, 1990).With intervention, ELL can make gains on word reading skills comparable to NES (e.g., Chiappe, Siegel, &Wade-Woolley, 2002; Lovett et al., 2008); however, ELL tend to enter school with an English vocabulary knowledge gap, which persists despite improvements in word reading skills (Kieffer, 2011). The estimated vocabulary knowledge growth for typical readers is roughly 3,000 words per year, making it difficult to directly teach enough words to close this vocabulary gap (Nagy & Anderson, 1984). As students progress into the upper elementary grades, understanding academic vocabulary is crucial for academic success (Nagy & Townsend,2012). Academic vocabulary is characterized by words of Greek and Latin origin that are morphologically complex and appear extensively in textbooks from fourth grade on in schooling. Due to the prevalence of these words in text-books, some researchers (Kieffer, 2008; Orosco & O’Connor, 2011) have suggested that morphologically complex vocabulary should be an instructional target. … Kieffer (2014) found that difficulty with MA might be more pronounced for ELL than for NES; 58% of ELL with reading difficulties had weaknesses in MA compared with23% of NES with reading difficulties. MAS instruction may also increase reading achievement. Recent reviews (see Bowers, Kirby, & Deacon, 2013; Carlisle, 2010; Goodwin & Ahn, 2010) support White, Sowell, and Yanagihara’s (1989b) recommendation to begin morphological instruction in the middle elementary grades.” (p.1-2)

Davidson, S., & O’Connor, R.E. (2019). An intervention using morphology to derive word meanings for English language learners. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 9999, 1–14.

“ … researchers have focused on morphological awareness (MA), or the ability to recognize and manipulate the smallest units of meaning within words and to map them onto graphic symbols (Koda, 2000). For example, someone who has developed MA is able to recognize the words write, rewrite, writer, writing, writes, wrote, and co-wrote, as related to each other (they all have the root write, and their meaning is related to the act of writing). A person with MA also is able to identify the individual prefixes (re-, and co-) and suffixes (-er, -ing, -s) and how they transform the meaning of the root, respectively.

A growing body of evidence has identified MA as an important predictor of reading development in English (e.g., Carlisle, 1995; Deacon & Kirby, 2004; Mahony, 1994; Singson, Mahony, & Mann, 2000). Moreover, studies with English-speaking monolingual children have shown that MA makes a contribution to reading that is independent of that of phonological awareness and orthographic skills (Deacon & Kirby, 2004; Deacon, 2011; Roman, Kirby, Parrila, Wade-Woolley, & Deacon, 2009; Siegel, 2008), and that MA is a significant predictor of skills at the sublexical (pseudoword reading), lexical (word reading, spelling, and vocabulary knowledge), and supralexical level (reading comprehension) (for a review, see Bowers, Kirby & Deacon, 2010).

Some researchers have speculated that the impact of MA might be more prominent on reading comprehension than on word reading, or in the later stages of reading development (e.g., Carlisle, 1995; Carlisle, 2000; Mahony, 1994; Singson et al., 2000); however, empirical studies by Deacon and her collaborators (Deacon, 2011; Deacon & Kirby, 2004; Roman et al., 2009) have shown a significant influence of MA on reading across the full span from Grade1 through Grade 8. Other researchers have hypothesized on the direction of the relationship between MA and reading, suggesting that MA and literacy skills are “developmentally interdependent” (Koda, 2000: 299), so that MA contributes to the development of reading, but “an extensive exposure to print could lead to better morphological awareness” as well (Kuo & Anderson, 2006: 175). A recent longitudinal investigation of this relationship provided the an empirical confirmation of the above hypothesis by revealing the bidirectional nature of the relationship between MA and reading accuracy in a sample of English-speaking monolingual children who were tested in Grades 2 and 3 (Deacon, Benere, & Pasquerella, 2012).” (p.3-4)

Marinova-Todd, S.H., Siegel, L.S., & Mazabel, S. (2013). The association between morphological awareness and literacy in English Language Learners from different language backgrounds. Topics in Language Disorders, 33(1), 93-107.

“This study extends the research literature on morphology by providing evidence that robust academic vocabulary instruction infused with analysis of bound Latin roots enriches academic word learning for EL learners for some aspects of word learning. Prior work has overwhelmingly focused on derivational morphology. We anticipated that knowledge of roots would strengthen semantic networks, leading to more robust representations of target word meanings. We expected that extensive guided practice using roots to analyze word meanings (e.g., the relation between min meaning “small or less” and the meanings of root-related word such as diminish, miniscule, and minimal) would lead to enhanced morphological analysis skills to problem-solve the meanings of unfamiliar words. Finally, we hypothesized that instruction focused on morphological analysis of roots would support “constituent binding”—that is, strong, stable connections—between semantic and orthographic features of a word, leading to more efficient (faster and more accurate) access of words (Perfetti, 2007). … Taken together, our findings point toward added value of infusing lexical morphology instruction a robust academic vocabulary program. Integrated instruction about bound Latin roots seems to enhance the accuracy aspect of lexical access of academic words and may enhance fluency. Most importantly, instruction about Latin roots seems to equip EL students with an enhanced set of morphological analysis skills to enable additional learning of a larger set of academic words containing the bound Latin roots they have been taught. EL students were able to use to those skills to comprehend sentences with new words carrying the instructed Latin roots.” (p.30, 34-35)

Crosson, A.C., McKeown, M.G., Moore, D.W., & Ye, F. (2019). Extending the bounds of morphology instruction: Teaching Latin roots facilitates academic word learning for English learner adolescents. Reading and Writing, 1-39.

So, does it mean that systematic phonics is unnecessary? Bowers (2018) suggests that the research base for systematic phonics is not strong, and that initial teaching of morphology within his Structured Word Inquiry program may be at least as effective for beginning readers. This view is in the minority, and has not been seriously evaluated. Within the research community, there remains a strong consensus that initial systematic phonics teaching offers the best opportunity for beginning readers to make strong progress.

“One further reason to doubt whether a focus on morphology and etymology at the expense of systematic phonics is appropriate for the initial stages of reading acquisition comes from analysis of the text experiences of young children. Analysis of the Children's Printed Word Database (Masterson, Stuart, Dixon, & Lovejoy, 2010) indicates that in the first year of reading instruction, 58% of words that children are exposed to in standard reading schemes comprise more than one morpheme, but that this figure drops to 20% when token frequency is taken into account.4 Thus, morphological regularities are not relevant to the overwhelming proportion of tokens experienced in the first year of reading instruction. Of those words that comprise more than one morpheme, 86% contain the suffixes ‘-ed’ or ‘-s’ that attach to stems (Masterson et al., 2010). Thus, Masterson et al. (2010) argued that instruction on this limited set of suffixes may be appropriate during this period. This recommendation is broadly consistent with the approach to reading instruction in England, where the National Curriculum specifies that alongside systematic phonics, simple suffixes such as ‘-s’, ‘-er’, ‘-ing’, ‘-ed’ should be taught as part of the reading and spelling curriculum by the conclusion of 1st grade (when children are 5 or 6). The English National Curriculum then advances during the later years of primary school to higher-level morphological regularities that include a wide range of prefixes and suffixes, their functions or meanings, and any relevant spelling rules pertaining to their use (Department for Education, 2014).” (p.7)

Rastle, K. (2018). The place of morphology in learning to read in English. Cortex, xxx, 1-10.

“Both decoding and spelling rely on knowledge of the grapho-phonemic patterns of the language (Robbins, Hosp, Hosp, & Flynn, 2010). A review of research found that integrating decoding and spelling instruction in the lower elementary grades led to significant gains in phonemic awareness, alphabetic decoding, word reading, fluency, and comprehension (Weiser & Mathes, 2011). Moreover, the authors believed the spelling instruction might have fostered closer attention to the details of words’ orthographic representations. This seems supported by the results of a longitudinal study of children from ages 8–9 to ages 12–13 in which independent contributions to reading comprehension were made by children’s ability to use larger graphophonic units and morphemes to decode words (Nunes, Bryant, & Barros, 2012).” (p. 636)

Reed, D.K., Petscher, Y., & Foorman, B.R. (2016). The contribution of vocabulary knowledge and spelling to the reading comprehension of adolescents who are and are not English language learners. Reading and Writing, 29, 633–657.

Might teacher knowledge of spelling be a hurdle to student progress? 

“A further factor contributing to poor spelling achievement in children is an all too common lack of depth in teacher’s knowledge about the spelling system (including basic phonology, morphology and phonics), as well as of strategies used to teach spelling (Fresch, 2007; Hammond, 2004; Johnston, 2001; Loudon & Rohl, 2006; Mehan & Hammond, 2006; Templeton & Morris, 1999; Westwood, 2005, 2008a). Teacher preparation courses often do not include studies in the basic areas of linguistics (phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics), knowledge of which would greatly improve pre-service teachers’ understanding of how the English sound system, grammatical system, and orthographic system work (Carney, 1994; Coltheart and Prior, 2007; Mahar & Richdale, 2008; Treiman, 1998a; Westwood 2005, 2008a).  As Hammond (2004) rightly points out, ‘It is hard to teach spelling if you don’t know the rules about the English language yourself’ (p. 16). ’ It is possible that the same observation could be made of some teacher educators in universities, who were appointed mainly on the basis of their enthusiasm for whole language approach rather than knowledge of linguistics (Joshi, 2006; cited in Fielding-Barnsley, 2010).”

Mullock, B. (2012). An examination of commercial spelling programs for upper primary level students. Australasian Journal of Special Education, 36(2), 172-195.

“ … the weakest domains of knowledge across all teachers were in spelling and morphology, suggesting a need for improved training in these domains, given that they are identified deficiencies for persistently poor responders to reading intervention and in children presenting with late emerging forms of reading disability.” (p. 21)

McMahan, K.M., Eric L. Oslund, E.L., & Odegard, T.N. (2019). Characterizing the knowledge of educators receiving training in systematic literacy instruction. Annals of Dyslexia, 69(1), 21–33.

“Meta-analytic research has also demonstrated that Standard English spelling can be effectively learned if explicit and substantial instruction is provided (Graham & Santangelo, 2014). This means that ‘teachers must understand how the writing system works’ and how to teach it (Treiman, 2018, p. 3). Nonetheless, previous research suggests that some teachers may not be prepared to adequately support student learning in spelling (e.g., Adoniou, 2014; Dockrell, Marshall, & Wyse, 2016; Fielding-Barnsley & Purdie, 2005; Moats, 2014; Stark, Snow, Eadie, & Goldfield, 2016). …  Although not all teachers in this study appeared to explicitly teach spelling on a regular basis, meta-analytic research has shown that significant improvements in spelling can be made by increasing the amount of explicit instruction (ES=.70) (Graham & Santangelo, 2014). Teaching students to coordinate strategies that encompass phonological, orthographic and morphological aspects of the written language supports vocabulary development as well as reading and writing skills (Bahr, Silliman, Danzak, & Wilkinson, 2015; Farrington-Flint, 2015)” (p. 42, 52)

Daffern, T. & Critten, S. (2019). Student and teacher perspectives on spelling. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 42(1), 40-57.

“Further, even though there were some differences in the patterns of understanding between the two populations, teacher candidates from both the United States and England demonstrated an insufficient understanding of English phonology, phonics, and morphology needed to effectively teach early reading skills (Binks, Joshi, & Washburn, 2009). Furthermore, Washburn, Joshi, and Binks-Cantrell (2011a, 2011b) found that a majority of teacher candidates and inservice teachers reported misconceptions about dyslexia in conjunction with weak explicit knowledge about phonology, phonetics, and morphology.” (p.527-8).

Binks-Cantrell, E., Washburn, E.K., Joshi, R.M., & Hougen, M. (2012). Peter Effect in the preparation of reading teachers. Scientific Studies of Reading, 16(6), 526-536.

“For example, Moats (1994) used an Informal Survey of Linguistic Knowledge (ISLK), which assesses knowledge of linguistic terms, phonics, syllables, and morphology. The ISLK revealed scant knowledge of these concepts among 89 reading teachers, classroom teachers, special education teachers, speech-language pathologists, classroom teaching assistants, and graduate students who were participating in a university-level reading course. Similarly to Moats (1994) and Bos et al. (2001) found that both preservice and inservice teachers demonstrate a mismatch in their knowledge of effective early reading instruction. Furthermore, on average both groups felt only ‘‘somewhat prepared’’ (p. 112) to teach early reading to struggling readers, indicating that teachers are aware of the gaps in their knowledge and preparation.” (p.

Duguay, A., Kenyon, D., Haynes, E., August, D., & Yanosky, T. (2016). Measuring teachers’ knowledge of vocabulary development and instruction. Reading and Writing, 29, 321–347.

“We follow Carlisle and Stone (2005) in defining word reading as the ability to pronounce written words. We also highlight the importance of morphology in middle school word reading by extending models which emphasize the phonological and orthographic processing aspects of word reading (e.g., silly; Gough, 1972; Rumelhart & McClelland, 1986) to include aspects of morphological processing involved in reading morphologically complex words (e.g., hilly; Reichle & Perfetti, 2003; Schreuder & Baayen, 1995). By middle school, most readers no longer sound out words letter by letter or sound by sound but instead use larger units, such as rimes, syllables, and morphemes, to support their reading of morphologically complex words present within academic texts (Ehri, 2005). As Ehri stated, "Readers who know the relevant chunks can learn a word such as interesting more easily, because fewer connections are required to secure the word in memory. The number is reduced from 10 grapheme-phonemes to four syllabic chunks"” (p.40)

“A large body of evidence shows that general morphological awareness contributes to word reading even when controlling for other aspects of linguistic awareness or other sources of knowledge (Deacon & Kirby, 2004; Fowler & Liberman, 1995; Mahony et al., 2000; Nagy et al., 2006; Roman et al., 2009; Siegel, 2008; Singson et al., 2000). For fourth, sixth, and eighth graders, morphological aware ness made a moderate contribution to word and pseudoword reading controlling for phonological awareness, orthographic knowledge, and rapid automatized naming (Roman et al., 2009). For sixth graders, after controlling for short-term verbal memory, phonological awareness, and vocabulary knowledge, morphological awareness explained significant additional variance in word and pseudoword reading (Singson et al., 2000). Morphological awareness also contributed to sixth graders' word reading controlling for vocabulary and phonological awareness (Mahony et al., 2000). Additionally, beyond phonological awareness, morphological awareness contributed to fifth and eighth graders' word reading (McCutchen et al., 2009). It also explained significant additional variance in word and pseudoword reading for sixth-grade students (Siegel, 2008).” (p.42)

Goodwin, A.P., Gilbert, J.K., & Cho, S. (2013). Morphological contributions to adolescent word reading: An item response approach. Reading Research Quarterly, 48(1), 39-60.

“The study investigated English as a foreign language (EFL) teachers' knowledge of the linguistic foundations of the English language, teachers' reported classroom practices regarding time allocation to different language teaching and learning activities, and the relationship between these two parameters. An additional goal was to investigate teachers' beliefs regarding various aspects of literacy acquisition. Results indicated low scores for language constructs, especially those related to phonology and orthography. EFL teachers reported dedicating the largest amount of classroom time to vocabulary‐related activities whereas the smallest amounts of time were allotted to teaching phonemic awareness and word reading. Teachers with higher scores on phonological, syllabic, and orthographic knowledge allocated more time to teaching and practicing phonemic awareness, grapheme‐phoneme correspondence, and reading skills. Educational implications include the importance of research based, focused teacher professional training both in content knowledge of basic language constructs and in pedagogical knowledge of EFL literacy acquisition.” (p.1)

Vaisman, E.E., & Kahn‐Horwitz, J. (2019). English foreign language teachers' linguistic knowledge, beliefs, and reported practices regarding reading and spelling instruction. Dyslexia, Online First.

In conclusion, it appears that morphology offers benefits for literacy instruction. However, more research into the details and the timing of it remain necessary.

“The goals I set for myself in initiating this integrative review were to examine theories of the role of morphological awareness in literacy development, evaluate the nature and effectiveness of instruction in morphological awareness, and consider the contributions of current research to evidence-based practice. What we have seen is that theories of the way or ways morphological awareness contributes to different areas of literacy are, in general, underspecified. Still, the results show that in all but 1 of the 13 studies that compared morphological awareness instruction with a control group, there were significant effects on one or more measures of morphological awareness, and for the one exception (Carlo et al., 2004), the effect on the morphology test approached significance. Further, although there is enormous diversity among the studies in purpose and research design, the findings generally showed that morphological awareness instruction was associated with improvements in word reading or spelling and morphological analysis of unfamiliar words. Even kindergartners can acquire morphological awareness, if this is what they are taught. The results also suggest that effective morphological awareness instruction makes use of language-specific aspects of morphology in written language, as was the case for the Chinese studies. Now we need to consider the extent to which these results provide evidence of research-based practices, such that practitioners might want to implement them in their schools and classrooms. Research in the area of morphological awareness instruction has only partially reached a maturity that we would hope to see in studies that are used to make decisions about instructional practices.” (p.480)

Carlisle, J.F. (2010). Effects of instruction in morphological awareness on literacy achievement: An integrative review. Reading Research Quarterly, 45(4), 464–487.


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