Friday, May 20, 2011

Phonological sensitivity: A quasi-parallel progression of word structure units and cognitive operations (2003)

J.  L. ANTHONY, C. J. LONIGAN, K.Y. DRISCOLL, B. M. PHILLIPS, S. R. BURGESS (2003) Reading Research Quarterly, 38 (4),  470-487.


This study examined phonological sensitivity on four levels in preschoolers, aged 2-5, and focused on the order of acquisition of phonological sensitivity skills.  PS levels were assessed by order of linguistic complexity: words, syllables, onsets and rimes, phonemes. Complexity of the tasks ranged from blending detection, elision detection, blending, and elision.   947 children (2-5 yrs) participated. Data were analyzed using a hierarchical loglinear analysis that provided evidence of a “quasi-parallel pattern of development corresponding to a hierarchical model of word structure and a working memory model of task complexity.”  Findings suggest developmental phases of phonological sensitivity.


Experimental studies show that phonological sensitivity training for children with reading disability result in positive effects on their reading. These studies support a causal role for phonological sensitivity in reading acquisition (Brady, Fowler, Stone, & Winbury, 1994; Byrne & Fielding-Barnsiey, 1991, 1993).

Phonological Sensitivity 
Stanovich (1992) described  phonological sensitivity along a continuum from a shallow sensitivity of large phonological units to a deep awareness to small phonological units. Phonological sensitivity is viewed by Stanovich and others (e.g., Adams, 1990; Anthony et al., 2002; Bradley. 1988; Bryant et al., 1990; Goswami & Bryant, 1990) as a single, developing phonological ability in which there is continuity between lower and higher levels of ability. In early stages of development, phonological sensitivity manifests itself in the ability to detect large phonological units such as words and syllables. In later stages, phonological sensitivity manifests itself in the ability to manipulate phonemes. Rudimentary or shallow phonological sensitivity skills set the stage for more advanced or deep phonological sensitivity skills like phoneme awareness. (p. 473)
(*Important theory to challenge in my study)

Participants: 947 children, ages 24 months to 72 months

·         -The Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Revised (PPVT-R, 1981) and the Expressive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test-Revised (EOWPVT-R, 1990) formed a composite of estimated general language ability by averaging the standard scores from the PPVT-R and the EOWPVT-R.
·        -A composite of estimated nonverbal intelligence acquired by averaging the standard age scores from the Bead Memory, Pattern Analysis, and Copying subtests of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale (4th edition, 1986).
·        -Blending skills and elision skills assessed with 3 measures. Items on 6 measures examined four levels of linguistic complexity (i.e., word, syllable, onset/rime, and phoneme) with each of four tasks (i.e., detection of blending, detection of elision, blending, and elision).

Results and Discussion

     Hierarchical loglinear analyses (HLA) used to study the order of acquisition of phonological sensitivity skills according to linguistic and task difficulty. There were consistent patterns in the order of skills acquired. There did not appear to be discrete stages of development but some skills were acquired simultaneously.

Controlling for task complexity, children mastered
word-level skills before syllable-level skills
syllable-level before onset/rime
onset/rime before phoneme-level
Results "support the developmental theory of phonological sensitivity proposed by Adams (1990) and Goswami and Bryant (1990) that children's progression of sensitivity to linguistic units follows a hierarchical model of word structure (p. 481)."

Example overlap of skills: a child learning to blend onset-rimes could also be blending phonemes. Skills at one stage did not need to be mastered before moving to another stage.

Numerous limitations to this study: however, it may suggest development of more refined PA task assessment instruments and help practitioners in determining level of word reading (Ehri stages).

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