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Unraveling the Contribution of Morphological Awareness to Reading: A Longitudinal Analysis of Word-Level Outcomes for Latent Profiles of Young Readers


Theories of English literacy development assume that both phonological awareness and morphological awareness are metalinguistic skills involved in word identification. While there is robust empirical evidence supporting the key role of phonological awareness in reading, there is a smaller – though growing - body of empirical evidence suggesting morphological awareness makes a unique contribution to word identification. Much of the morphological awareness research has focused on its contribution to decoding in general; analysis of its specific role in the identification of different word types (i.e., morphologically complex words compared to non-morphologically complex words; real words compared to pseudowords) is inconsistent and limited. This study aims to fill this gap by examining Grade 2 students’ accuracy reading a variety of word types, controlling for morphological awareness, phonological awareness, and verbal cognitive ability. Results suggest that morphological awareness contributes to the recognition of morphologically complex and non-morphologically complex real words, but not to pseudowords. Also crucial to the field of morphological awareness research is a more developed understanding of the reader. Latent profile analysis was used to empirically determine unique student profiles of phonological and morphological awareness ability. Reading outcomes (e.g., decoding accuracy and reading comprehension) were analyzed longitudinally for each profile, across Grades 2-4, a critical developmental period when learning to read. Students in the morphologically dominant group and the phonologically dominant group performed similarly across time on all outcome measures. Students with commensurate development of these skills outperformed the other two groups on all measures at all time points, suggesting both skills are needed for higher levels of reading achievement during elementary school grade levels. Because many students struggle learning to read, this finding is useful in identifying the different skill profiles that are more or less at-risk for future reading outcomes.

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