Friday, January 20, 2012

Letter Names Help Children to Connect Print and Speech

Treiman, R., Tincoff, R., and Richmond-Welty, E. D. (1996). Letter names help children to connect print and speech. Educational Psychology, 32(3), 505-514.

Researchers proposed that children first connect print and speech by noticing the links between letters in print and letter names in speech. Example deaf says the letter f.  Ferreiro and Teberosky (1982) proposed that young children, familiar with the names of letters, use this knowledge to connect print with speech.

Methods Experiment 1
16 children avg age 5 yrs, native English, in Detroit daycare centers. Children were asked to repeat words then say the first letter of the words provided. In the "end" condition, the same procedure was repeated and children had to identify the last letter of the words provided.  At end of session, children had to relate printed letters to letter's names and sounds (random). Test of letter names had children identify letters on cards; for letter sounds test, same cards were shown with child asked to name sound of letters. Ability to relate letter names to printed words tested by using a selection of words. The test included ending letter names, not-a-letter-name control, and wrong letter names.  Words with beginning letter names /b/E/, /j/A/, and /t/E/ were interspersed randomly with words beginning with the initial phoneme but not a letter name /b/O/, /j/U/,  and wrong letter names, where the use of the letter name would lead to a wrong choice, example: wife uses the name of the letter y /w/I/ rather than "double-you" of w.

Sample word pairs in Experiment 1 of study: beach, jail; bone, June; wife, seem; wail, soup; feed, green; folk, group
deaf, gem; loaf ham; bed, desk; job, mask.

Results: Children did better when the letter name was apparent in the word, such as beach that begins with /b/E/ rather than bone /b/O/.  They also did better on the beginning condition rather than the ending condition. It was harder to notice the letter name /e/f/ in deaf. Children produced more errors when deciding the first letter in wrong letter name words than in other word types, suggesting the letter name influenced the task. Children did better at providing names of visually presented letters than identifying them in spoken words.

Discussion: Knowledge of letter names helps children understand the concept that print represents spoken language (alphabetic principle) and that printed words were not arbitrary strings of letters or logographic representations of meaning.

Theorists propose that children recognize syllables before phonemes, therefore, a second experiment was conducted to test this theory, using polysyllabic words containing letter names in one syllable.

Experiment 2
26 children ages 4yr 11mo - 5yr 7 mo, native English, in several Detroit daycare centers. All could provide the first letter of their first name.

Words included bisyllable words containing letter names such as beaver, where /b/E/ is evident in the first syllable. It also had monosyllable word containing the letter name, non-letter name controls, and wrong letter names both mono & bi. The third condition, however, differed in that it suggested invented letter names such as /m/E/ in meal or /w/E/ in weasel.

Sample words: bead, peek; bait, pole; beaver, peacock; bonus, poodle; meal, leap; moan, lane; weasel, meter; waiter, motor

Results: Children performed best on correct letter name words than any other condition, whether they were mono or bi-syllabic, with no significant differences in performance on either task. Results suggest that children do not necessarily relate print to speech at the level of syllable before phonemes, questioning Ferreiro and Teberosky's (1982) theory.

Children rarely produced false letter names and tended to provide the first letter of their own names rather than the letter in the word; some even used numbers.  Given printed letters, they were better able to produce letter names than sounds, often interfering with identification in spoken words when the entire letter name was not identifiable in the word.

Young children perceive writing as representations of semantic characteristics of words, relying on visual cues in written language rather than an awareness of the phonemic representations. They expect, for instance, that bigger objects are represented by long words. They need instruction in the alphabetic nature of language, in order to make the connection between the graphemes of the alphabet and speech.

Without this insight, they will not be able to make sense of the pronunciation map of speech that our writing system employs. Children often begin to develop alphabetic insight when they make the connection between letter names and spoken words, especially those words that contain the name at the beginning of the word.

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