A current setback in the field of speech-language pathology is the lack of a gold standard assessment method and intervention strategy for deficits in morphological awareness. Morphological awareness is the conscious awareness of and ability to recognize, analyze, and manipulate the smallest meaningful units of language (e.g. Apel & Werfel, 2014; Wolter & Pike, 2015), termed morphemes, in both spoken and written form. Morphemes can be base words (e.g. cat, run), prefixes (e.g. preview, rerun), or suffixes (e.g. retirement, cats). Students begin to develop morphological knowledge as early as the preschool years, but its development continues into adulthood. As students develop the ability to comprehend and produce morphemes, they are also expected to develop an awareness of the underlying semantic and syntactic structure of those morphemes.
Deficits in this ability to consciously analyze the role of morphemes in written and oral communication have been linked to deficits in literacy skills. Poor morphological awareness has been linked to poor reading comprehension, vocabulary, and spelling abilities (e.g. Anglin, 1993; Apel, Wilson-Fowler, Brimo, & Perrin, 2012; Carlisle, 2000). As professionals who address all three of these literacy skills, speech-language pathologists must have an effective method for identifying deficits in morphological awareness as the root of these other academic setbacks.
Currently, there are no standardized tests that exclusively target morphological awareness, but there are some that include subtests to assess different facets of morphological awareness (Apel, 2014). In several research studies, morphological awareness has been measured using a variety of tasks (e.g. cloze tasks, analogy tasks, semantic relatedness tasks) or dynamic assessment. The utility of these subtests and tasks is hindered in that they are heavily focused on inflectional morphology and that most of them rely on spoken activities (Apel, 2014). However, the dynamic assessment and spelling probe used in the present study require awareness of morphemes in both spoken and written form, and further, assess awareness of both inflectional and derivational morphology.
The Dynamic Assessment Task of Morphological Awareness (DATMA; Larsen & Nippold, 2007), an orally administered assessment, has been used in research studies to measure morphological awareness. An assessment based on this model was given to our elementary aged students as part of a test-teach-retest approach. Since undergoing instruction and three rounds of dynamic testing (baseline, midway, and final measurements), our students were given a spelling probe targeting their morphological awareness. Using the scores from the final administration of dynamic assessment and the written spelling probe, my goals for this summer are to answer the following two questions: Is there a difference in performance on the tasks between children with and without language-learning deficits? Is there a correlation in performance on the oral dynamic assessment task and the written spelling task?
As I explore performance data and discover answers to these questions, I will gain a better understanding of the error patterns demonstrated by both children with typical language and language-learning disabilities. Further, as correlation is measured, I will draw conclusions about the potential for the written spelling probe to serve as an assessment measure or progress monitoring tool for morphological awareness skills. These conclusions will add to the literature concerning elementary aged students’ awareness of morphemes and assessment methods used to identify deficits in this metalinguistic skill.
Anglin, J. (1993). Vocabulary development: A morphological analysis. Monographs of the Society of Research in Child Development, 58(10, Serial No. 238).
Apel, K. (2014). A comprehensive definition of morphological awareness: Implications for assessment. Topics in Language Disorders, 34, 197-209.
Apel, K. & Werfel, K. (2014). Using morphological awareness instruction to improve written language skills. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 45, 251-260.
Apel, K., Wilson-Fowler, E., Brimo, D., Perrin, N. (2012). Metalinguistic contributions to reading and spelling in second and third grade students. Reading and Writing, 25(6), 1283-1305.
Carlisle, J.F. (2000). Awareness of the structure and meaning of morphologically complex words: Impact on reading. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 12, 169- 190.
Larsen, J.A., & Nippold, M.A. (2007). Morphological analysis in school-age children: dynamic assessment of a word learning strategy. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 38, 201-212. doi: 10.1044/0161-1461(2007/021)
Wolter, J.A. & Pike, K. (2015). Dynamic assessment of morphological awareness and third- grade literacy success. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 46, 112-126. doi: 0.1044/2015_LSHSS-14-0037
by Marissa DeVlieger