Ouellette, G. 1 & Tims, T. 2, 1
1 Mount Allison University, New Brunswick, Canada
2 Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, Canada
Proficient reading is proposed to rely largely on a reader's ability to store printed words in memory and link these representations to phonemes or sounds; developmentally, there is a transition on the pathway to literacy, where children progress from sounding out words to being able to more automatically recognize and spell printed text. This is often seen as a stumbling block to proficient literacy within dyslexia. Developmental theory has described this transition to more rapid word recognition and accurate spelling as being a consequence of orthographic learning. Orthographic learning refers to how longer letter strings and entire printed words are stored in memory along with connections to their respective sound patterns. This research evaluated the proposed links between orthographic learning and emerging reading and spelling skills and also evaluated different aspects of teaching practice that may influence orthographic learning. In particular, orthographic learning proficiency was evaluated within a sample of grade 2 (7-8 year old) students, who were also evaluated on measures of decoding, word recognition, and spelling. New non-words were then taught through spelling practice, with half the students practicing spelling by hand and the others via a computer keyboard. This latter test is especially important given the increased use of computers and software in the classroom. Analyses revealed a prominent role of orthographic learning in explaining reading and spelling skills, although it was not the lone predictor of success in these areas. Further, it was found that both groups of students acquired new orthographic representations through spelling practice. Pre-existing keyboarding skills were found to constrain or facilitate learning within the keyboard-typing practice group. A similar interaction was not found between printing skills and learning within the printing by hand group. These results clarify the role of orthographic learning in literacy and highlight important areas for literacy instruction.