|Year : 2015 | Volume
| Issue : 3 | Page : 71-78
The effects of a teaching program targeting decoding and spelling with 7-8-year-old International School students
Department of Educational Sciences, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland
|Date of Web Publication||13-Sep-2016|
13D Chemin De Sales, CH-1214 Vernier, Geneva
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
Aim: The present study investigated the effects and temporal sustainability of the gains of skill-based decoding and spelling instruction (n = 33) with 7-8-year-old students in an International School. Materials and Methods: The 12-week long program with 2 × 40 min sessions per week was repeated twice within one academic year. G1 (n = 11) received training in the first, G2 (n = 11) in the second semester. G3 (n = 11), who did not receive any additional training to their mainstream curriculum, served as a second control group. Results: The findings suggest that direct instruction of decoding appears to be efficient, moreover, appears to have an indirect effect on sentence comprehension. Some independence was observed between decoding and spelling skills in the students' response to training. Second posttests 4 months after the training stopped revealed stable gain on all three variables of decoding, spelling, and sentence comprehension with G1. Conclusion: The study concludes that explicit, focused instruction of decoding and spelling in a small group setting has undeniable benefits.
Keywords: Decoding, effects, International School, intervention, primary education, spelling
|How to cite this article:|
Gabor G. The effects of a teaching program targeting decoding and spelling with 7-8-year-old International School students. Eur J Psychol Educ Studies 2015;2:71-8
|How to cite this URL:|
Gabor G. The effects of a teaching program targeting decoding and spelling with 7-8-year-old International School students. Eur J Psychol Educ Studies [serial online] 2015 [cited 2017 Feb 25];2:71-8. Available from: http://www.ejpes.org/text.asp?2015/2/3/71/190471
| Introduction|| |
In an alphabetic orthography, a basic level is the establishment of the correspondence between graphemes and phonemes.  Understanding the alphabetic principle is a necessary skill for the beginning reader. Subskills that contribute to the acquisition of reading had been and still appear to be the main focus of most studies, and conclusions are not without controversy. Part of the explanation is the dominance of correlational studies since these kinds of research designs are useful in determining or predicting co-occurring phenomena but they cannot reveal much about causal relationships.
A possible causal explanation for example that spelling instruction promotes word reading skills in beginning learners can be found in the work of Ehri and Wilce's.  This relationship is not based on readers' ability to sound out and blend but "rather by helping readers to store words in memory using letter-sound associations" (2, p61). A similar conclusion was drawn by Uhri and Shepherd  who found that children who were provided with direct instruction in spelling became stronger decoders than those in a control group. While the effectiveness of explicit instruction of the alphabetic principle, particularly in a small group setting, is undeniable, , the positive effects of this direct instruction do not always appear to generalize to students' spelling achievement. In fact, there appear to be some disparity between reading and spelling skills. ,,
Worldwide, it is also increasingly common that children do not learn to read in their first language. The number of bilingual and multilingual students is growing at a more rapid rate than research is progressing in this field. Consequently, a lot less is known about bi-, and multi-lingual students' reading acquisition than what is known in the case of monolingual individuals.  At present, no visible theoretical framework that is based on international collaboration exists. Moreover, a great deal of research has been published with only incidental reference to a theory about how multilingual literacy processes might function and develop.  At the same time, the possibility that each multilingual educational setting may require a theory of its own remains possible.
The present study was designed to examine the question, "What are the direct and indirect effects of spelling and decoding instruction on sentence comprehension skills and temporal sustainability of the effects?" By temporal sustainability, the maintenance of the level reached after the training stopped was meant. In order to test the question, following hypotheses were formulated.
- Direct instruction of decoding and spelling skills is efficient in terms of improvement of these skills
- Direct instruction of decoding and spelling skills has sustainable effect: Pupils maintain progress even when the training stops
- Direct instruction of decoding and spelling skills with 7-8-year-old students has an indirect effect on sentence comprehension skills.
| Materials and Methods|| |
The goal of this study was to examine the effects of regular stimulation using reading, writing, and spelling program in the unique, linguistically, and culturally diverse setting of an International School. The study has been performed in accordance with the ethical standards of the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences at the University of Geneva. It represented an attempt to teach a synthetic phonics based decoding and spelling program two times a week for 12 weeks. The program was inspired by teaching reading through spelling  and was an addition to the students' mainstream curriculum. Spelling rules that govern base words, as well as syllable division, and affixing rules were taught explicitly and strong emphasis was placed on creating visual representations of the rules learned. The 12-week long training program with pretests at the beginning and posttests at the end was designed in a way that it could be repeated twice in one academic year. Information gathered from the selected Wide Range Achievement Test 4 (WRAT4)  subtests as well as detailed analysis of misspellings using four column analysis strategy  facilitated decision makings in the process of preparation of a teaching program for the children.
The study was conducted with opportunity samples from 2 years 3 classes from the same international primary school. A third group that did not receive the additional training was included in order to show the differences in gains between those who received training sessions, and those who did not. The training was delivered by the researcher teacher [Table 1].
Prior to the start, it was predicted that participants in the experimental groups (G1 and G2) would demonstrate more improvement in word reading and dictated spelling, which were directly targeted by the instructional program, than participants in the control groups. Concerning sentence comprehension, we hoped to see a transfer effect for both experimental groups. Preliminary data analysis has been carried out using IBM Corp. Released 2010. IBM SPSS Statistics for Windows, Version 19.0. (Armonk, NY: IBM Corp.) as an analytic tool [Table 2].
|Table 2: Descriptive statistics - mean standard scores and standard deviation in parenthesis |
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Twenty-two years 3 students from a nonselective International School (12 males, 10 females; age range 7 years 2 months to 8 years, with a mean age of 7 years 7 months) participated in the experimental groups, and eleven additional students from the same year group (5 males, 6 females; age range 7 years to 8 years 4 months) served as a control group. The students were enrolled in the same school and were from two different years 3 classes who follow the same curriculum. The language of instruction of the students' mainstream education was English, and all participants were proficient although not all of them had English as their mother tongue [Appendix 1].
Following careful examination, the WRAT4 th ed.ition  was found to be a suitable tool for the purposes of this study and the following subtests were used:
The spelling subtest was given as a group test by the students' class teachers. The teachers were explained the testing protocol and were able to organize the timing of the test at their convenience. In addition, the spelling words were dictated to the students by the familiar voice and pronunciation of their class teachers. The dictated spelling contains words of increasing difficulty and measures the examinees' ability to encode sounds into written form. Administration of the spelling test takes about 10 min.
The decoding contains individual words of increasing difficulty and was given as an individual test by the researcher. Examinees are asked to pronounce visually presented stimuli. Administration of this subtest takes about 5 min/child.
Sentence comprehension measures
The sentence comprehension subtest contains individual sentences with one missing word in them. The examinee is asked to read the sentence aloud or silently and identify the missing word. The subtest was given as an individual test by the researcher. Administration takes about 15 min/child.
Following pretest measures, G1 participants received two 40 min sessions each week for a duration of 12 weeks. Communication between all involved in the study, including the students, their parents and class teachers, the managements of the school, and the project supervisors at the university was ensured by setting up a private blog. The blog included the general description of the project, details about the methods, materials, and the exact timing of each step of the study.
The teaching program
The limited time of only 24 sessions posed some challenges. Therefore, in order to maximize the effectiveness of the sessions and to ensure only those grapheme-phoneme correspondences and rules of English orthography were addressed that the students appeared to have difficulties with, written samples from each student were examined using "Four Column Analysis Strategy"  in order to identify and target the specific problem areas. The analyses of the 22 students' (G1 and G2) written samples revealed a total of 165 different spelling errors. These errors were then organized according to orthographic patterns both at the word and syllable levels.
At the start of the program, the main linguistic terms, for example, alphabet, vowel, consonant, blend, and syllable were explained and formed the basis of the creation of a large terminology poster which was an ongoing group work lasting several weeks. Meanwhile, the program was progressing following the main principles that
The teaching program aimed to explicitly teach letter-sound/sound-letter correspondences through the teaching of spelling rules and to provide practice in the automatic recognition of initial and final blends, consonant, and vowel digraphs. It was also an important aim of the program to draw the students' attention to the reliability of many patterns of the English language. Focus on the spelling of irregular words remained minimal. This was partly due to the limited time available and partly because the spelling of irregular words was an integral part of the students' mainstream curriculum. The 24 lessons targeted the specific spelling rules and orthographic patterns as described in Appendix 2.
- Each new step is built on secure foundation
- Letter-sound/sound-letter correspondences are presented visually, auditorily, and where appropriate kinaesthetically
- Systematically provided overlearning is essential
- The teaching program should start going back to the basics and progress rapidly until a problem area is reached and dealt with
- The active participation of the students is necessary for progress
- Students should always be given choices in how they want to take responsibility for their own learning
- Collaboration rather than competition is the key to real success.
| Results|| |
In order to investigate the main question of the study, "What are the direct and indirect effects of spelling and decoding instruction on sentence comprehension skills and temporal sustainability of the effects?" each hypothesis was tested. Given the warning in the WRAT4  regarding the usefulness of the raw scores, only the results based on standard scores have been considered in the analysis and interpretation of the data.
In [Table 3] below, two-way mixed ANOVA results indicate significant differences between mean group standard scores before and immediately after the training on all three variables in case of G1. In the case of G2, differences were significant in the case of decoding and sentence comprehension but not in spelling. In this group, significant progress was measured between T1 and T2 without the training. In the case of G3, who did not receive any additional training, these differences were not significant. Although the training targeted spelling and decoding skills only, similarly significant gain was measured in sentence comprehension in case of both experimental groups. Second posttests 4 months after the intervention stopped revealed stable gain on all three variables with the first experimental group (G1).
|Table 3: Results of tests of within - subjects contrasts and effect size |
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| Discussion|| |
The present study examined the effects of regular stimulation using a synthetic phonics based decoding and spelling program in the linguistically and culturally diverse setting of an International School. The results showed that direct instruction of decoding appears to be efficient, moreover, appears to exert an indirect effect on sentence comprehension skills. This can be explained by the fact that prior to training, the students must have already possessed the necessary oral language to understand the sentences in the test but only when their decoding skills improved and were able to decipher longer and more complex words that they could complete more and increasingly difficult items.
Direct instruction of spelling was efficient with the first experimental group (G1) between T1 and T2, but when the training program was repeated with G2 during the second semester, direct instruction of spelling did not result in statistically significant improvement. This group showed significant improvement between T1 and T2 without the training which might have been related to a subtle Hawthorne effect. Another possible explanation for the results may be given by referring to one of the key findings of a systematic review on the use of phonics in the teaching of reading and spelling by Torgerson et al. which found "no effect of systematic phonics instruction on spelling" (7, p8). In the same review, however, the significant positive effect was found on reading accuracy both for normally developing children and for those at risk of reading failure. 
The WRAT4 provides age-based norms in 2-month intervals. Therefore, if we expect age-appropriate progress, then no change in the standard scores would still mean normal progress. Since the standard scores improved between measurement times, improvement was most significant immediately after the training, and never significant in case of the third group who only received their mainstream curriculum, it strengthens the results. Of course, we cannot rule out that the scores reflect a small test-retest effect together with the training effect.
The first prediction that direct instruction of decoding and spelling skills is efficient in terms of improving these skills was proven in case of decoding. When the training program was repeated with G2 during the second semester, direct instruction of spelling did not result in statistically significant improvement. This may be explained by the fact that the students have been receiving additional explicit spelling instruction as a part of their mainstream curriculum. Another explanation is the possible dissociation between decoding and spelling skills as seen before. The second hypothesis regarding the temporal sustainability of the gain was confirmed, as well as the third hypothesis that direct instruction of decoding and spelling has an indirect effect on sentence comprehension with 7-8-year-old students.
One of the main limitations of the study was the lack of available testing instruments that are comparable in multiple languages. Therefore, the questions could only be examined relying on the students' mastery of English. While careful attention was paid to ensure matched groups (G1 and G2) from the start, it was not possible to exactly match the second control group (G3), who did not receive any intervention. Nevertheless, the data gathered from G3 revealed that explicit small group teaching appears to have a greater effect than regular classroom instruction.
To date, sufficient empirical evidence is lacking with regards to effects of intervention. This study has a number of educational implications. First of all, it confirms that explicit teaching has undeniable benefits.  The results of meta-analyses by the National Reading Panel mention that "small group instruction produces larger effects on reading than individualized or classroom instruction" (14, p2-28). This study has come to the same conclusion in a different context. Third, the "less is more" principle appears to be effective when the improvement of children's decoding skills is targeted. Similar findings were reported by the National Reading Panel's  above-mentioned review noting that programs that focused on teaching one or two skills yielded larger effects on learning that programs teaching three or more skills. Focused instruction that ensures that skills are fully mastered before moving on to the next create less confusion and result in more learning. Last but not least, the teaching of skills must be motivating, engaging, and age appropriate.
We must also bear in mind that heavily emphasizing the importance of skill-based approaches may not be suitable for all students. It is also important to note that one kind of phonics may not be equally suitable for meeting the needs of all students. As concluded by Wyse and Styles,  "the available research evidence supports systematic tuition in phonics at a variety of levels (e.g., phoneme and onset-rime) combined with meaningful experiences with print" (15, p40). While synthetic phonics does have its place in early reading instruction, the danger is too heavily emphasizing its importance rather than allowing teachers to find a balanced approach that is flexible enough to leave room for differentiating based on individual student needs. In this approach, students who struggle with spelling may indeed benefit more from synthetic phonics instruction. Analytic phonics may be suitable for teaching reading, and both kinds of phonics should be embedded in a variety of meaningful experiences with print. The systematic review of the research literature on the use of phonics in the teaching of reading and spelling  concludes that currently there is no strong evidence to support that any one form of systematic phonics would be more effective than another. There is also no evidence how much systematic phonics teaching is needed. Since sufficient evidence exists that systematic phonics teaching benefits all children's reading accuracy, it should be a part of every teachers' routine repertoire in balance with other elements.  The present study appears to confirm these recommendations also in the unique diversity of an International School. In an increasingly global world, and for similar future studies, it would be helpful to have testing instruments that are comparable in multiple languages. Further empirical studies examining the effects of a more balanced approach are much needed.
| Conclusion|| |
The study concludes that explicit, focused instruction of decoding and spelling in a small group setting has undeniable benefits.
I gratefully acknowledge the helpful comments and support of my supervisors Prof. Pascal Zesiger and Prof. Marcel Crahay in this study.
Financial support and sponsorship
Conflicts of interest
There are no conflicts of interest.
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[Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3]