Multiple Linguistic Influences on Children with Language Impairment (PAR-10-055 R03 Award through National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders of the National Institute of Health)
Given that the basic foundational skills required to read and write language are also those required to understand and produce spoken language, it is not surprising that those children with language impairment (LI) also often have a literacy deficit. The linguistic skills such as the ability to form, store, and access complete mental graphemic representations of written words in memory (initial orthographic knowledge acquisition) and the ability to manipulate and combine the smallest units of language capable of carrying meaning (morphological awareness) may significantly and uniquely contribute to early literacy success for children with LI. These skills have been documented to be uniquely and significantly predictive of literacy success in typical children (Apel, Wolter, & Masterson; 2006; Deacon & Kirby; Hammill, 2004; Wolter, Wood, & D’zatko, 2009). The specific aims of this research are to determine: 1) whether or not children with and without LI, as early as kindergarten, demonstrate the use of orthographic knowledge and/or morphological awareness; 2) potential differences between kindergarten children with LI and those with typical language (TL) for how they acquire initial orthographic knowledge and morphological awareness; and 3) whether initial orthographic knowledge acquisition and morphological awareness uniquely influence reading and spelling abilities in children with LI and those with TL in kindergarten and first grade. If orthographic knowledge and morphological awareness acquisition are found to be less robust in children with LI and uniquely predictive of concurrent and later literacy success, then these findings may lead to a more all-encompassing early predictive literacy screening measure for those children with LI. A literacy screening that helps to identify the language impairment associated with literacy deficit may help to ensure children with LI will be placed in the appropriate early remedial programs designed to minimize or eliminate the effects of the identified deficit.
Orthographic Fast Mapping in Preschool Children with Hearing Loss
(Research Catalyst Award through Utah State University)
Dr. Wolter and Dr. Blaiser Co-PIs
Children with hearing loss (HL) have traditionally performed significantly lower than their age-matched hearing peers on measures of language and literacy skills (Marschark, 2007; Wauters, van Bon, & Tellings, 2006). More timely identification of hearing loss and improvements in hearing technology (i.e., digital hearing aids and cochlear implants) have resulted in improved language outcomes for children with HL using “listening and spoken language” or oral communication. However, there is little research examining how early literacy skills of children with HL may be impacted by these changes, particularly in preschool populations. The foundational language ability of orthographic knowledge, is well established as a significant predictor of children’s literacy success in children with normal hearing (NH) abilities (Hammill, 2004). Specifically, the orthographic ability to form, store, and access complete letter representations of written words in memory, referred by some researchers as orthographic fast mapping (OFM), has been found to be uniquely related to children’s later literacy success (Wolter, Self, & Apel, 2011). Additionally, a measure of OFM contributes uniquely to explaining variability in literacy scores of young NH children who are typically developing (Apel, Wolter, & Masterson, 2006) and young NH children with language impairment (Wolter & Apel, 2010) who, like children with HL, often have delayed literacy abilities. To date, however, no research has been conducted to show whether OFM is
predictive of literacy outcomes for children with HL. The main objective of this study is to examine the relations between OFM and early literacy skills with a population of preschool children with HL who use listening and spoken language compared to their peers with NH. This feasibility study will lay the groundwork to inform future investigations on the impact of OFM in clinical screening, assessment, and treatment practices.
Dynamic Assessment/Intervention and Morphological Awareness
There are contrasting theories and equivocal research regarding the role linguistic factors, such as morphological awareness (MA), play in children's literacy development. Stage Theory posits that morphological awareness does not influence children's spelling and reading until relatively late in the process of literacy learning. Conversely, Repertoire Theory (Apel & Masterson, 2010) posits that children use a range of linguistic knowledge, including MA, at an early age, and these factors converge to support literacy development into the school-age years. Indeed, morphological awareness has been found in children as early as first grade and related to literacy success (Wolter, Wood, D’Zatko, 2009; Lawrence & Apel, 2011). Dynamic assessment of children's MA may be a useful measure in determining whether young, primary school-age children have some explicit MA abilities and whether this skill is related to early literacy abilities. Moreover, the instructional scaffolds presented via a dynamic assessment measure may help to facilitate early elementary literacy skills. A dynamic assessment was developed and adapted for children in third grade (Wolter, Atwood, Barger, Martin, & Pike, 2010) and preschool (Wolter & Pike, in preparation) and tested in preschool and early elementary school children to determine whether a) dynamic assessment of MA is related to reading and spelling achievement, b) dynamic assessment of MA reveals a range of performance levels, and c) performance on a dynamic assessment task of MA may be significantly improved with dynamic scaffolding. Results may lead to future research to improve assessment and treatment practices for children with and without language and literacy deficits.