Scaffolds and Spelling in Preschool: Using a Movable Alphabet to Measure Early Literacy
AbstractUnderstanding young children’s spelling abilities may provide unique insight into their overall linguistic development as well as assist in identifying children at risk for reading difficulties in ways that typical reading assessments cannot (Chua, Rickard Liow, & Yeong, 2016; Clemens, Oslund, Simmons, & Simmons, 2014; Hofslundsengen, Hagtvet, & Gustafsson, 2016; McBride-Chang, 1998; Ouellette & Sénéchal, 2017). Yet, spelling assessments are not commonly conducted before Kindergarten (age 5) and no normed instrument exists for 3- to 4-year-olds.
When spelling assessments designed for 5-year-olds are administered to younger children, young children get lower scores (Clemens, et al., 2014; Puranik & Apel, 2010). These lower scores may reflect their less developed spelling ability (typical development) but they may also be influenced by aspects of development unrelated to spelling: lack of motor ability to write letters, working memory limitations, poor word choice of items to be spelled, and/or insensitive scoring systems (Apel, Wolter, & Masterson, 2006; Clemens, et al., 2014; Diamond, 2013; Puranik & Apel, 2010). These latter possibilities raise the question of what would happen if we controlled these factors. Would a preschool spelling assessment that did not require handwriting and that minimized working memory demands result in higher spelling scores than a handwritten assessment? Specifically, is a movable alphabet spelling assessment a more reliable, valid, and sensitive way of measuring spelling abilities in children younger than 5 than is a handwritten assessment?
The present study employed a within-subjects quasi-experimental design in which the spelling of 3- to 4-year-old children was assessed using a movable alphabet and handwriting. Results indicated that (1) preschoolers scored higher on a movable alphabet spelling assessment than on a handwritten assessment, (2) word choice did influence results, (3) movable alphabet spelling scores were a significantly stronger predictor of phonemic awareness and letter knowledge scores than handwritten spelling scores, (4) children were more willing to attempt to spell words with the movable alphabet than with handwriting, and (5) assessment scores were not closely tied to age or measures of behavior.
To date, few if any other studies have specifically evaluated the influence of different tools on capturing the spelling abilities of preschoolers. This study expands current knowledge about the influence of motor and working memory scaffolds on the word-building capacities of 3- to 4-year-olds.
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